Quorum is a live journalism forum focused on LGBT experiences around the world. Its mission is to lift up the voices of non-Western LGBT activists defining the struggle for justice. Visit Quorum.TheDailyBeast.com for more stories of persecution, triumph, adversity, and strength.
One of the most powerful moments of last year’s Olympics in Sochi took place not on the skating rink or ski slope, but in a public square in St. Petersburg, where a handful of courageous activists unfurled a banner protesting Russia’s persecution of LGBT people.
Ironically, the message the banner displayed was entirely neutral: It was an excerpt from the Olympic Charter’s Principle 6, which describes discrimination as “incompatible with the Olympic movement.” But even that was controversial enough for Russian authorities to arrest the activists.
One of those arrested was Anastasia Smirnova, who at the time was working with the Russian LGBT Network, an umbrella organization of a dozen LGBT groups across Russia. She was released, but further threats followed—and so she reluctantly made the decision to leave.
The award-winning journalist Masha Gessen had made a similar decision a few months earlier. Facing Russian laws that would take her own children away from her and her partner, she, too, fled into exile—a decision she has discussed in articles in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and elsewhere.
In this video, part of The Daily Beast’s Quorum: Global LGBT Voices project, Smirnova and Gessen talk about the media’s sudden interest in Russian LGBT people – and the equally sudden loss of interest after the Olympics came and went, and after Vladimir Putin’s subsequent annexation of Crimea and proxy war in Ukraine.
Gessen and Smirnova have heroically worked on the front lines of social change, and continue to do so today. This conversation is a unique look into the price they have paid for doing so.