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HIV prevention among MSM in Russia, interview with Andrey Beloglazov

Russia passed in 2013 a law, banning ‘gay propaganda’. Due to the timing of the law coming within a year of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi there has been ongoing  protests and discussions worldwide about Russian homophobic policy. AIDS Action Europe wants to know what happens on the ground. How are our members who stand up for gays and MSM in Russia being affected? We interviewed Andrey Beloglazov, who launched the ‘LaSky’ project, the most wide-scaled project on HIV prevention among MSM in Russia. Beloglazov is an epidemiologist working in HIV prevention in Russia for 24 years.

What did change in Russia after passing the anti-gay law?
The new law and homophobic policy of the Russian government untied the hands of the nationalists and aggression driven citizens. Mass media imposes stereotypes and pictures gays as outcasts, who are “constantly having fun being naked in boa and sparkles”. The words “GAY” and “Pedophile” have the same meaning to many people in Russia now. More and more cases of attacks, psychological and physical violence towards LGBT community are taking place. On the 3rd of November 2013 the clients of the La Sky community center in Saint-Petersburg were attacked by armed unknown people with masks, 2 people were seriously injured. Despite the fact that this case became known to the public and the international society expressed its support to the injured, the police failed to find who was to blame. 

Do juridical implications make it more difficult for LaSky to operate in Russia? 
After passing the new law the LGBT community was alert and everybody was prepared for the worst to be happening. Prosecutors were empowered to check and investigate NGOs like us. As the law was vague, we did not for example know how it would interfere with our safe sex behavior and HIV prevention information campaigns for MSM. To be on the safe side we decided for example to deliver all the printed materials, condoms and lubricants personally and only in the special places for MSM meetings, e.g. community centers and gay clubs.

Looking at these developments how do you see the future?
Because international funds are drying up and leading donors left Russia many NGO’s working with MSM seized to exist. We do not have to expect any financial support from the Russian government. This really worries me, since 2011 very little in Russia is said and done on HIV prevention. Today 771 527 people are HIV infected in Russia and MSM are deeply involved in the epidemic. The situation is only getting worse. According to the leading HIV-specialist of the Ministry of Health of RF Alexey Mazus, each 4th case of HIV infection in Moscow is related to MSM. Every day about 286 people in Russia find out that they are HIV infected and one out of 40 man in Russia already lives with HIV. The Russian LGBT community is worried about the possibility of introducing the new law forbidding the same-sex couples to have children, which is supposed to be discussed in the State Duma after the Winter Olympic Games. 

What does  the future of LaSky look like?
Because of the difficult financial and political situation the “LaSky” project team decreased significantly. However, we are still able to support three community centers in Saint Petersburg, Arkhangelsk and Tomsk and the work of outreach teams in Saint-Petersburg, Arkhangelsk, Kaliningrad, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Kazan, Tver, Nizhnii Novgorod, Pskov for 6 more months. The project consultants continue to work with MSM and MSM living with HIV and assist tens of people coping with difficult life situations and offer LGBT members a safe environment to discuss their vital problems. We hope the international attention for MSM in Russia will make it possible for us to continue our work.

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