A gay Russian doctor told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview on Feb. 7 that he plans to seek asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he said he faced in his homeland.
“I have suffered persecution and discrimination in Russia due to my political views and sexual orientation,” said George Budny. “I am fearful for my safety, the safety of my family and friends and fearful of the fact that I will never be allowed to become a productive and successful member of society in my home country.”
Budny, who is from St. Petersburg, spoke with the Blade in Dupont Circle hours after the 2014 Olympic Games officially opened in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi – and police in his hometown and Moscow arrested 14 LGBT rights advocates. Budny and his boyfriend also attended an opening ceremony viewing party at the Human Rights Campaign.
He said he began to experience homophobia after his mother began to inquire about why the Supreme Council of the United Russia Party in Moscow replaced her and other local officials ahead of the country’s 2007 parliamentary elections.
Budny, 29, said party bosses told his mother they replaced her with a civil servant who was affiliated with Russia’s Federal Security Bureau – which succeeds the former Soviet Union’s KGB – because of him.
An employee at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg told Budny’s father that she knew his ex-boyfriend with whom he was very close. An official with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told his father he had seen Budny at a gay bar.
Budny told the Blade his father realized his is gay when he found “Queer As Folk” DVDs in his apartment.
“I had to admit, yes I am, please forgive me,” said Budny.
Budny said his mother was “crying for about a year” after she learned about his sexual orientation. She thought he “turned out gay” because she had sinusitis when she was pregnant with him.
Budny told the Blade his father sent him to treatment and to female prostitutes because he said “they will fix you.”
He said his father eventually kicked him out of his family’s apartment early one morning in late 2007 because “the scandals became intolerable.” Parliamentary elections took place around the same time.
Budny told the Blade he had secretly saved $1,000 because he said he expected his parents would force him to leave their home. He said his father took the aforementioned money before he kicked him out.
“I stopped being their son and they regarded me as a cancer in the family, destroying them from within,” said Budny, noting his younger brother was only 8 years old when his father forced him to leave the family’s apartment. “The reason was to save their younger son because he didn’t know what he was dealing with.”
Life with boyfriend in St. Petersburg ‘amazing’
Budny moved in with his then-boyfriend from Malaysia with whom he studied at a St. Petersburg medical school. The couple worked and traveled to Sweden, Norway, Germany and other European countries during their relationship that lasted five years.
“We would earn money and spent it on trips,” said Budny. “It was amazing.”
Budny had a post-doctoral fellowship at an Ohio university for three years. He returned to St. Petersburg in the fall of 2011 as protests against Putin and the United Russia Party he heads took place ahead of parliamentary elections.
“I felt like I was gaining hope in Russia when I saw all these people,” Budny told the Blade, noting it was the first time he had ever seen LGBT rights advocates protesting openly. “I was impressed at how things changed when I was gone. I felt like there was a lot of freedom in the air.
He supported the opposition Yabloko party ahead of the December 2011 parliamentary elections. Budny became a member of a St. Petersburg election commission where he educated the public about voting rights, counted votes and confirmed the final results before submitting them to the authorities.
The party did not gain any seats in the Russian Duma.
Budny subsequently filed four complaints against those he felt falsified St. Petersburg election results.
“Due to the high-profile nature of my position, I was under immense scrutiny,” he told the Blade. “To my distress, I discovered election fraud and publicly exposed it (video footage, etc.) on my blog, on television and in newspapers.”
Election officials removed economist Grigory Yavlinsky, whom Yabloko nominated as its presidential candidate, from the ballot less than two months before Russians went to the polls again in March 2012.
Budny said any optimism that had remained “all ended very quickly” when Putin succeeded now Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during Russia’s presidential election that took place in March 2012.
Being outed at hospital ‘terrifying’
A bill St. Petersburg Legislative Assemblyman Vitaly Milonov introduced that sought to ban gay propaganda in the city became law in September 2012. A Russian law that requires non-governmental organizations that receive funding from outside the country to register as “foreign agents” took effect two months later.
Budny had been a resident at St. Petersburg’s largest hospital when the city’s law that bans gay propaganda to minors took effect in September 2012. He said a university student who worked part-time at a gay bar began working at the facility where people with HIV, Hepatitis C and other infectious diseases receive treatment on the same day the statute came into force.
Budny said other residents and their supervisors began making “derogatory and horrible jokes” against his colleague because he was “very feminine by Russian standards.”
“If I come out or if they ever find out I’m gay at my job, this would happen to me,” Budny told the Blade. “It was terrifying.”
Budny said the residents and the physicians who supervised them soon began to harass his colleague to his face. They also mistreated their patients, including an 18-year-old dancer with HIV who contracted meningitis.
“’You should be working; you’re getting all these horrible diseases,’” one of the doctors told the patient, according to Budny. “He was dying from AIDS.”
Budny said the hospital fired his colleague in December 2012 after he took sick time. He told the Blade the residents and physicians’ response was “the faggot got kicked out.”
Budny told the Blade they started “painting me with the same brush” because someone had seen the two men having lunch together and “being friendly.”
“That hate campaign started against me,” said Budny. “I had to make up a girlfriend story. It was just a really bad story.”
Budny told the Blade the St. Petersburg gay propaganda law made it illegal for him and other hospital staff to talk about LGBT topics with any patient who was younger than 18. These include anal sex and other risk factors associated with contracting HIV.
“Do I violate the Hippocratic oath or do I violate the propaganda law,” said Budny. “Either way I should be making compromises on my professional level or on my legal level. I can’t focus on my professional growth under this condition.”
Anti-gay attacks in St. Petersburg
Budny said he has been attacked three times since 2009 because of his sexual orientation.
He told the Blade more than half a dozen men whom he described as “skinheads” tried to choke him with a thick metal chain while he and his then-boyfriend walked through a theater district near St. Petersburg’s largest park.
Budny said the second incident took place after he and his then-boyfriend from Malaysia left Central Station, a gay club in St. Petersburg. Its owners also operate a gay bar in Moscow outside of which two men opened fire last November.
Budny told the Blade the third attack took place “just out of nowhere” last year as he walked home from a St. Petersburg Metro station late at night. Budny, who is Jewish, said two skinheads called him a “faggot” and used anti-Semitic slurs during the attack.
He said his assailants punched him in the face and broke his nose before he ran into a nearby restaurant.
Skinheads are among those who frequently joined Milonov at anti-gay rallies in St. Petersburg. Budny filed a complaint with city prosecutors late last year that urges them to investigate the lawmaker for voter fraud.
Budny told the Blade that his supervisor told him after he completed his residency in January 2013 that hospital administrators didn’t “want to see me anymore.” He noted the 2012 presidential election results showed nearly everyone at the hospital backed Putin, even though Budny said some of his colleagues said they never even voted.
“I found it out too late unfortunately and realized my hospital officials really, really hate me for exposing the election fraud in my own precinct,” he told the Blade. “I realized what can I do if this will be happening in every clinic that I go to. I want to be a physician I don’t want to quit.”
Mother: Stay in U.S. because of propaganda law
He received a student visa and arrived in the U.S. less than three weeks before Putin last June signed a bill that sought to ban gay propaganda to minors into law.
Budny currently lives near Union Station in D.C. as he studies at Kaplan University near Dupont Circle to secure the necessary credentials to apply for a residency program. His roommate introduced him to his boyfriend shortly after he arrived in the nation’s capital.
Budny told the Blade he speaks with his mother, although she remains uncomfortable with his sexual orientation. He has not spoken with his father since he kicked him out of the family apartment in 2007.
Budny said his mother has told him to stay in the U.S. because of Russia’s gay propaganda law.
“She is afraid for the safety of my younger brother and all of us,” said Budny.
He said authorities last month conducted what he described as an emergency inspection on the St. Petersburg children’s clinic he and his mother opened more than a decade ago.
Budny told the Blade the officials wanted to investigate the building’s electrical and plumbing systems, the windows and whether the first-floor of the apartment building in which the facility is located had been properly zoned. He said local officials in 2009 allowed the clinic to move into the building.
“They are attacking us by basically saying we are starting a clinic in an apartment building,” said Budny. “My mother is sure that this happened right after I filed my complaint against [Milonov].”
Budny told the Blade a D.C. lawyer has begun working on his asylum case. He expects she will formally file his petition with the U.S. government in the coming weeks.
“Right now I realize there is no way back,” said Budny, discussing Russia’s gay propaganda law. “They’re not going to repeal it. It’s going to be reinforced.”