I was born and raised in Russia. It’s a beautiful country with a long, interesting history, but not everybody can enjoy this beauty or even feel safe in Russia. For example, people like me—gay people.
As a gay man in Russia, I am prohibited by law to tell people about my sexual orientation. I am not allowed to marry a person I love. I am not allowed to adopt a baby. And I am not allowed to work in education, especially if it’s work with children because I am considered to be a bad example.
That’s only what it says in our laws; I also want to tell about real examples. For people who were raised with stereotypes, sometimes it’s hard to accept any other kind of “truth.” One of my best friends couldn’t accept the fact that I am gay. Our friendship became weak so fast. After very few arguments and quarrels, she started to act like my enemy, even though I tried to save our friendship. Later, she even told everybody at my job that I am gay. My first thought when I found out about it was, Well, maybe it’s my chance to start living more openly and honestly with the people I see at least five times a week. But I never actually had a chance to live openly after this incident. Why? Because I got fired from this company a few days later. I had worked there for over a year and even was promoted two times, which means I was doing a great job, I guess.
People used to say that there are at least two people in this world who will never turn against you—your parents. I was always an excellent student; I finished music school, as my parents always wanted, and I even got a scholarship for university. I was almost an ideal kid, but I guess it wasn’t enough for my parents to accept me after my coming out. The easiest way for them was to reject me. It’s been almost six months since we stopped speaking to each other.
Once I also had to survive an attack from group of homophobic guys. According to research from the resource center for LGBTQ+ in Ekaterinburg, Russia, 96 percent of LGBTQ+ people in Russia experience bullying and physical and psychological abuse because of their identity. In Russia, police usually don’t investigate LGBTQ+ cases.
I think I’m a strong man, but some people can’t handle that much hate and bullying. At least 20 percent of LGBTQ+ teenagers tried to hurt or kill themselves, 10 times more than straight teenagers. There are 72 countries in the world where gay marriage is a crime. In eight of those, gay people face capital punishment. In 84 countries, LGBTQ+ rights are limited, and in only 42 countries gay marriage or partnership is allowed.
I like that nowadays people can learn about all issues by watching movies, and I think it really helps to go through someone’s experience and possibly even become more polite and tolerant. My favorite LGBTQ+ movies are Brokeback Mountain, Prayers for Bobby, Carol, Call Me By Your Name, Milk, Moonlight, and the TV show Tales of the City. Some of these just show that there are a million ways you can express yourself and love, but some can educate you about issues and problems that many LGBTQ+ people have had to go through.
I can tell you that living in New York, I feel way more safe. I don’t have to lie about myself, and I don’t have to live in a shadow, pretending to be another person. I appreciate that here, most people respect everybody’s rights. It doesn’t matter who you are—man or woman, transgender or nonbinary, white, Asian or black. Sometimes I feel bad that I had to leave my country and my friends, but as I’ve learned, sometimes fighting for your rights can be very dangerous.
There are people in the world who might never have a chance to speak about their rights as openly as I do right now. So I would like to use this chance to say that the world doesn’t need another human to die fighting for his rights; what the world actually needs is a little more kindness as a first step to equality for everybody.
Georgii Tsoi, age 21, left Russia in 2019 because of fear of persecution. “My real passion is traveling around the world and learning about different cultures. That’s why New York became my new home—a place where all the cultures can live together. In my free time, I like learning languages and writing about topics on my social media that I think might help people. I also enjoy reading 20th-century literature. My favorite places in New York are Hudson River Park and Union Square.” Georgii Tsoi studies with Terry Sheehan at the New York Public Library’s Seward Park branch.