Human Rights First said in a press release the Federal Security Service launched an investigation into Oleg Kluenkov of Rakurs, an LGBT advocacy group in Arkhangelsk, after meeting with activists and local officials in Portland, Maine, which has a sister city partnership with the Russian city. He discussed Russia’s gay rights record with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus staffers and State Department officials while in D.C.
Human Rights First noted FSB officials raided Kluenkov’s office at the Arkhangelsk university where he teaches psychology. The group said Russian security personnel seized documents related to his work to determine whether he was teaching during his 9-day trip to the U.S.
The organization said administrators at the university where Kluenkov teaches asked for his resignation after the FSB investigation, citing absenteeism and discussing it with his colleagues. Human Rights First noted Kluenkov has refused to leave his position.
“We were alarmed to learn that Oleg may be forced out of his teaching position for promoting the rights of Russia’s LGBT community as part of Arkhangelsk’s Sister City delegation,” said Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First. “We urge the city government of Portland, Maine, along with the appropriate federal officials to immediately condemn the actions targeting Oleg and to offer support and assistance to the members of Rakurs and Arkhangelsk’s LGBT community.”
Gaylord told the Washington Blade that media attention surrounding Kluenkov’s trip to the U.S. may have prompted the FSB to investigate him. This coverage includes an interview with this reporter while he and a colleague were in D.C.
“We’re concerned by reports that LGBT activist Oleg Kluenkov was targeted and harassed by Russian authorities,” Carole Jackson of the State Department told the Blade.
Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Blade on Thursday that other Russian educators have either been asked to resign or have been terminated “just because of their support for equality or the promotion of LGBT rights” since President Vladimir Putin last June signed into law a bill that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.
“This situation is absolutely unacceptable,” said Zakharova.
Arkhangelsk officials in 2011 banned propaganda that promotes homosexuality and bisexuality. They quietly repealed the law last October, but Kluenkov told the Blade the statute was a “test pilot” for the nationwide gay propaganda ban.
“The informational campaign that surrounded the regional ban in Arkhangelsk was a miniature version of the mass media campaign that surrounded the adoption of the federal ban,” he said. “It was quite aggressive as we were just slandered and slimed. We were accused of undermining the demography of Russia, undermining traditional values, being a threat to traditional values.”
The Kremlin’s LGBT rights record overshadowed the 2014 Winter Olympics that took place in Sochi, Russia, in February.
The U.S. and other European countries have sharply criticized Putin over escalating tensions between his country and Ukraine that includes last month’s annexation of Crimea. President Obama last month authorized sanctions against the Russian lawmaker who introduced the anti-gay propaganda bill over her role in support of the March 16 referendum on whether the strategic peninsula should declare its independence from Kiev.
“It is crucial that the United States continue to support and protect Russian human rights defenders, who often face persecution and discrimination for their work promoting equality,” said Gaylord.
Zakharova said the Russian LGBT Network plans to launch a public campaign to highlight the scrutiny that Russian officials who discuss and promote gay rights face.
The Blade will provide further updates on this story as they become available.