While homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, LGBTQ rights in Russia are still severely lacking, in large part due to a hostile mentality among the population. Is Russia gay-friendly? Given the attitudes of most people and the laws in place, we can say it is certainly not. Gay marriage is illegal, as is the adoption of children by same-sex couples. There are no anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and health spheres, and anti-propaganda laws have limited the freedom of expression of the LGBTQ community. This lack of gay rights in Russia is of course a major concern, with the country ranked among the least gay-friendly in the world. According to IGLA-Europe, Russia attained an overall score of 10% in terms of LGBTQ rights, which places it in position 46 among 49 European countries.
LGBTQ rights in Russia pale in comparison to those in many neighboring European countries, some of which lead the world in gay-friendliness, such as Belgium or The Netherlands. In Russia, hate crimes are common, including homophobia-motivated murders and attacks on gay bars and nightclubs. Furthermore, while people are allowed to legally change their gender, there is no legal protection against discrimination, with trans rights in Russia essentially being non-existent. Despite this sobering reality, Equaldex cites that LGBTQ people can still serve in the military, and can legally donate blood.
There is a long history of anti-LGBTQ sentiment and consequential legal discrimination in Russia. Same-sex sexual activity was illegal in the country until 1993, and, while it is now allowed in private, the answer to the question “is Russia gay-friendly?” remains a resounding “no.” As recently as 2019, only 47% of Russians agreed that gays and lesbians should enjoy the same rights as other citizens. And this sentiment has manifested itself in further legal discrimination, like the 2013 law banning the distribution of materials to minors that support ‘non-traditional’ relationships. This law has been used to stifle the LGBTQ movement in the country.
While gay rights in Russia are a general concern, what about the major cities? Is Moscow gay-friendly? Is Saint Petersburg gay-friendly? While these cities reflect the prejudices of the country, LGBTQ communities are still prevalent there. While there is no gay area in Moscow, there are numerous bars, tours, and clubs that cater to the LGBTQ community. With three gay nightclubs in the same building in Russia’s second city, Lomonosova Street is technically the gay area in Saint Petersburg. Although caution is advised outside these clubs, both cities can be safe for LGBTQ travelers.
The lack of authorization for Pride events in Moscow suggests that the answer to the question “is Moscow gay-friendly?” remains “no.” Parades do take place, but are not sanctioned by the government. Looking at the history of Pride events in Saint Petersburg also suggests that Russia’s second city is equally unfriendly in terms of LGBTQ rights, and just in 2019, LGBTQ activists were arrested at a parade.
So is Russia gay-friendly? Unfortunately, no, and trans rights in Russia are also disturbingly lacking. But Russia can still be an excellent LGBTQ destination. With no gay area in Moscow but many clubs by the center, and the gay area in Saint Petersburg offering excellent entertainment options, both of these cities are appealing destinations, and cater to a very certain extent to gay and lesbian travelers.