The former manager of a Russian gay nightclub that has been attacked several times over the last few months told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview on Thursday he plans to seek asylum in the United States.
Arkady Gyngazov and three of his friends arrived in D.C. on Dec. 14 after flying from Moscow to New York the day before.
He told the Blade he has obtained a pro bono lawyer through Immigration Equality and the D.C. Center who agreed to take his case. Gyngazov has also worked with Larry Poltavtsev of Spectrum Human Rights, an organization that monitors the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record, since he arrived in the nation’s capital.
Gyngazov said he will formally seek asylum once his visa expires in June.
“I’m not going to go back to Russia because I feel my safety, even my life, is threatened,” he said.
Gyngazov was managing the Central Station nightclub in Moscow on Nov. 16 when two men whom security personnel refused to allow inside the establishment opened fire. None of the estimated 500 people who were inside the club during the incident were injured, but the assailants destroyed its surveillance camera and left bullet holes in the building’s facade.
An estimated 500 people evacuated Central Station on Nov. 23 after a group of assailants launched poisonous gas into the club. The Moscow Times reported roughly 100 people on Dec. 14 “dismantled” the roof of the building in which Central Station is located and either damaged or stole some of the club’s equipment that had been stored in the attic.
Gyngazov told the Blade during an interview from Moscow after the Nov. 16 incident the owners of the building placed a large neon sign above the club’s entrance the month before that reads “gay club here.” It also contains an arrow that points toward the door.
“I’m afraid because I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, what will happen to me,” he said on Thursday. “I’m not going to hide all my life.”
Gyngazov, 32, grew up in the Siberian city of Tomsk. He moved to Moscow in 2006.
Gyngazov is not out to his two younger siblings or his grandparents, even though he said he realized he was gay when he was a child. His parents are deceased.
He said life for LGBT Russians was “easier than now” in the 1990s under then-President Boris Yeltsin, in part, because his government was struggling to rebuild the country’s economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Gyngazov told the Blade “he never thought” the Russian Duma would pass a bill that sought to ban gay propaganda to minors and that President Vladimir Putin would sign it into law.
“He’s making a dictatorship, like the Soviet Union two,” said Gyngazov.
Gyngazov said he recently read an article in a Russian newspaper in which government officials said the suicide bombers who killed 34 people in two separate bombings in Volgograd late last month targeted the city because the West has sought to export homosexuality to Russia. Authorities said two men tortured and killed Vladislav Tornovoi near Volgograd last May after he came out to them.
The Duma last month approved a sweeping amnesty bill that prompted the release of two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot who had been serving two-year prison sentences for staging a protest against Putin inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012. Authorities in December also released a group of 30 Greenpeace members who had been in custody since they tried to board an oil rig in the Barents Sea in September and Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was serving a 10-year prison sentence after his conviction on fraud charges in 2005.
Gyngazov told the Blade he thinks Putin granted amnesty to members of Pussy Riot, the Greenpeace members and Khodorkovsky because he wanted to temper criticism of his country’s human rights record ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place next month in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. He said he remains fearful of what will happen to LGBT Russians once the games end.
“I’m afraid for my friends who stay there,” said Gyngazov. “When I talk to them, I can’t help them.”