Andrew Nasonov was at a protest in the Russian city of Voronezh against the country’s controversial proposal that sought to ban so-called anti-gay propaganda to minors on Jan. 20, 2013, when a lawyer with the country’s Orthodox Church encouraged nationalists and hundreds of other people to attack him and the handful of other LGBT rights advocates who were protesting.
He said local police questioned him about the attack before another group of people who identified themselves as members of the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department kidnapped him and brought him to a basement. Nasonov said the men took his passport, backpack and cell phone, beat him and threatened to take him to a nearby forest before releasing him five hours later.
“They tried to make me say that I had tried to murder someone,” he told the Washington Blade during an interview in Lafayette Park adjacent to the White House, speaking through an interpreter. “At the same time they assaulted me and abused me and called me gay.”
Nasonov, 25, and his boyfriend arrived in D.C. on July 2 in hopes of receiving asylum in the United States.
Nasonov told the Blade they decided to leave Russia after the Voronezh Human Rights House, a local advocacy organization with which he was connected, was attacked. Nasonov said those affiliated with the group were also targeted.
“I worked with those people,” he said. “After all those things happened, I decided to move to the U.S.”
Mother urges lawmakers to oppose gay propaganda law
Nasonov told the Blade he came out when he was 19 after “a long process.”
He does not speak with his father, and his grandmother is unaware of his sexual orientation. Nasonov said his mother cried when she found out he is gay, but she soon accepted his homosexuality.
Nasonov said his mother in a video she made urged Russian lawmakers not to approve a bill that sought to ban so-called gay propaganda to minors in the country.
He told the Blade she did not experience any repercussions from Russian authorities over her opposition to the measure that President Vladimir Putin signed in June 2013.
“She lives in a small village and they don’t have that much information about all this LGBT activity,” said Nasonov. “People know (that I’m gay) and they sometimes terrorize my mother (by asking her) do you know that your son is a ‘faggot.’ And she says OK, but he’s born this way.”
Russia’s LGBT rights abuses ‘may change’ when Putin leaves office
Nasonov, who worked as a part-time freelance reporter for Novaya Gazeta, an opposition newspaper, told the Blade he feels Russia’s LGBT rights record has continued to deteriorate since Putin signed the propaganda bill into law.
Two masked men last November attacked members of a Russian HIV/AIDS group with air guns and baseball bats as they attended a meeting of a support group in the organization’s St. Petersburg offices.
Police in Moscow and St. Petersburg in February arrested more than a dozen activists who tried to stage pro-LGBT protests hours before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics that took place in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. Russian authorities detained Vladimir Luxuria, a transgender former Italian parliamentarian, twice during the games.
Bomb threats and venues abruptly cancelling events disrupted the Russian Open Games that drew more than 300 LGBT athletes from Russia and other countries a few weeks after the Olympics ended. Authorities in May arrested several people who took part in separate LGBT rights demonstrations in Moscow.
Coming Out, a St. Petersburg-based LGBT advocacy group, waged a 16-month battle against a 2012 law that requires groups that receive funding from outside the country to register as a “foreign agent.”
A local judge in July ruled Coming Out must register as a “foreign agent.”
National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown is among the American anti-LGBT advocates who attended the International Family Forum in Moscow that ended on Sept. 15.
“As far as Putin is the head of state, there is no chance for the situation to get better,” said Nasonov. “It’s only after he resigns or whatever it is that it may change.”
Nasonov seeks to help fellow asylum seekers
President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and other American and European officials have repeatedly criticized Putin over his support of Russia’s gay propaganda law. The Kremlin has also faced scathing criticism from the West over the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists.
Nasonov told the Blade the lawyer who organized the attack against him in January 2013 has recruited what he described as “volunteers” to fight in eastern Ukraine. He said this man subsequently went to the region to fight alongside the pro-Russian separatists in the country’s Donbass region that includes the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Voronezh is less than 200 miles from the Ukrainian border.
“It’s just like an invasion of Russia into Ukraine,” said Nasonov.
Nasonov and his boyfriend, who have been together for more than four years and currently live in Silver Spring, have yet to formally apply for asylum because they said they need someone to translate the necessary paperwork into Russian. The couple continues to receive support from Spectrum Human Rights, an advocacy organization that works with LGBT Russians and those from former Soviet republics who are seeking refuge in the U.S.
Nasonov has also begun standing outside the White House on some afternoons with a large sign that highlights his plight and those of other LGBT Russians.
He hands passersby a flier that details his experiences in Voronezh. It also contains a picture of him laying on the ground with blood on his face after he was attacked during the January 2013 protest.
“I’m trying to tell Americans who come to the White House about the situation in Russia,” Nasonov told the Blade before he walked onto Pennsylvania Avenue and stood in front of the Executive Mansion while holding his sign. “I’m trying to put pressure on the Russian government from here and to help other Russian LGBTs who are here already who came to Washington seeking asylum.”
Editor’s note: Nasonov is the first in a series of LGBT Russian and Ukrainian asylum seekers the Blade plans to highlight in the coming weeks.