If you’ve been reading the news about LGBT oppression in Russia, you’ve surely come across Alexeyev’s name. His Wikipedia entry testifies to a long and loud history of protest: He is the chief organizer of Moscow Pride, and has successfully sued the Russian government several times in international courts. In a 2011 profile, the New York Times called Alexeyev “Russia’s best-known gay activist.” (I have personally written not one but two essays about him.)
For years, Alexeyev has been everywhere in the Western news, getting word out about the darkening situation for LGBT Russians under Putin. "Homophobic hysteria is being increasingly promoted in Russia," he told Agence France Presse. In a TV interview with the CBC, he reported that gay activists had been “violently and very brutally arrested by police.” As recently as early August, he was retweeting supportive texts from Lady Gaga — “Lady Gaga has said it all. The Russian government is criminal” — and telling the AP that Russian legislators would “end up burning all of us."
Now Alexeyev has changed his tune. No longer is he saying that Russian homophobia had reached hysterical proportions; suddenly, it is the Western reaction to it that is hysterical.
On August 17, he wrote on Facebook: “My revelation, I hate the West not less than Putin.” What the Western media writes about Russian LGBT issues was “a sham.” The next day, he was still railing against “the recent Western hysteria around LGBT rights in Russia and Sochi Olympics.” When someone on Twitter suggested that the West was trying to help fight oppression in Russia, he replied: “I don't have any oppression. I am now in Moscow and there is not a single hint of gay oppression here.”
In an August 23 interview on Russian television, Alexeyev opined that the Western media was exaggerating the dangers faced by sexual minorities in Russia: "What is happening with the Olympics — it is making the topic absurd. In fact, there are none of the persecutions here that the Western media keeps talking about." This from the man who, since 2005, has devoted himself full-time to the fighting the persecution of LGBT people in Russia.
This week, the “new” Alexeyev published a long piece in Russia Today that is full of misdirection, anti-Western smears and outright lies. “Russia’s 'horrific laws,' which are being used by a growing number of Russians to secure asylum and a better life in the West, are actually rarely applied,” he argues. The West should stay out of Russia’s business and patiently let the situation play itself out. Russia, he insists, will surely bow to the international court decisions that have declared its laws illegal — even though the most odiously antigay Russian national laws (against so-called “gay propaganda” and against adoption of Russian children by anyone in countries where gay marriage is legal) were passed just months ago, in complete defiance of those same court decisions.
Alexeyev also tries to discredit other prominent Russian activists, such as journalist Masha Gessen, accusing them of “claiming that the Russian authorities are taking children from their homosexual parents, which of course has nothing to do with reality.” In fact, as he well knows, it has everything to do with reality: Russian lawmaker Yelena Mizulina, who chairs the Duma’s Committee on Family, Women and Children, has openly stated that the Russian parliament is “looking into the possibility of creating a legal basis for taking children out of families that are de facto gay marriages.”
Having spent years seeking foreign interest in his cause, Alexeyev now says foreigners are an intrusion on Russia. Having bragged continually of his many interviews in the Western media, and built a large part of his career on them, he now rails against that same Western media. Once the most vociferous public opponent of Russia’s ugly antigay laws, he now says their dangers have been exaggerated by “the West.” It is indeed a remarkable change.
So why, you may ask, am I not surprised by Alexeyev’s outrageous reversal? Because I remember the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Republic.
In the 1970s and 1980s, no one in Russia was talking about gay people. The scapegoats then were the Jews, who were demonized by government propaganda campaigns (under the guise of “anti-Zionism”) and faced widespread discrimination. Russian Jews who wanted to escape this treatment by emigrating were forbidden to do so, and by the early 1980s these “Refuseniks” had become a major problem for Russia’s international relations.
So in 1983, a desperate Russia tried some public-relations trickery. The Department of Propaganda set up the Anti-Zionist Committee and recruited or pressured various prominent Soviet Jews — soldiers, writers, artists, scientists — to join it. To decline meant repercussions. The idea was to show that even the Jews themselves agreed with the Kremlin’s smears. Happily, the effort failed; neither Jews within Russia nor the international community were fooled by the Kremlin’s “pocket Jews,” and the AZSCP collapsed into irrelevance.
If “gays are the new Jews” in Russia, as many people have said, then Nikolai Alexeyev is the new Anti-Zionist Committee. Russia is desperate again: The upcoming Sochi Olympics are important to Putin’s sense of his standing in the world, and the international campaign against Russian homophobia is staining them more every day. This campaign is working, and Russia knows it. What better way to slow this movement’s momentum — and to confuse and discourage those in the West who have been working for it — than for its most visible advocate to minimize its importance and dismiss it as a Western, anti-Russian plot?
It could not be clearer to me that the Kremlin is up to its old tricks — and that somehow, it has gotten to Alexeyev.
We can’t know for certain how exactly that happened. Perhaps he was threatened: Mizulina and another Duma member have brought criminal charges against him for nasty remarks he made on Twitter, and he was officially interrogated on August 14. (Mizulina, somewhat ominously, said that she hoped his punishment would be served “somewhere where he can't be involved in gay propaganda, like in a morgue van.")
Or perhaps he was simply bought off. It is amazing, in modern Russia, what money can buy.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter why Alexeyev has betrayed his former cause. It matters only that everyone now knows he can no longer be trusted as an advocate for LGBT Russians. Stick a sickle in him: He’s done. The Anti-Zionist Committee didn’t work, and neither will this latest Kremlin subterfuge.
MICHAEL LUCAS is the creator of Lucas Entertainment, one of the largest studios producing all-male erotica. He lives in New York City. This article is the opinion of the writer.
UPDATE: Russia Today is now correctly identified, though the link in the story has not been changed.