Donald Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin has sparked concern and suspicion among LGBT Russians and their allies.
Elvina Yuvakaeva, a Russian LGBT rights activist who is a member of the Russian LGBT Sports Federation, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday in an email that Trump and Putin “don’t care about LGBT rights at all.”
“Putin doesn’t mind LGBT rights at all,” she said. “He just manipulates them for the sake of implementing his current political agenda.”
“It is the same with Trump,” added Yuvakaeva. “If speaking out for LGBT [rights] provides a benefit, he speaks out. If a statement against LGBT [rights] is useful, he makes it.”
Yuvakaeva spoke with the Blade hours after President Obama criticized Trump for praising Putin.
“I have to do business with Putin,” said Obama during a Hillary Clinton campaign rally in Philadelphia. “I have to do business with Russia — that’s part of foreign policy — but I don’t go around saying, ‘That’s my role model.’”
Larry King’s interview with Trump aired on the Kremlin-owned RT America last week.
The Independent reported that Putin described Trump as an “outstanding” man and an “absolute leader in the (U.S.) presidential race” during a December 2015 press conference. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair who resigned last month, has ties to former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych and other pro-Russian politicians in the country.
“As a KGB man, Putin reads people exceptionally well,” said James Kirchick, a gay journalist who frequently criticizes Putin and Trump. “He could tell from thousands of miles away that Trump is an emotionally needy, malignant narcissist and that flattery would win him over.”
“Trump is such an egomaniac that he will put his craving for praise before the interests of his own country,” added Kirchick.
Trump criticized propaganda law before 2013 pageant
Putin sparked outrage among LGBT rights activists in Russia and around the world in 2013 when he signed a law banning the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors. The statute took effect less than six months before the Miss Universe 2013 pageant took place in Moscow.
Trump, who co-owned the pageant at the time, told gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, who co-hosted the event with singer Mel B., he did not like what the law is “all about.” Pageant participants did not discuss the gay propaganda ban or Russia’s overall LGBT rights record during the broadcast of the event.
LGBT activists with whom the Blade has spoken say discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity has increased in Russia since the law took effect.
Ivan Nikitchuk and Nikolai Arefyev, who are members of the Russian Communist Party, introduced a measure in the Russian Duma last October that critics said would have effectively banned gays and lesbians from coming out. A parliamentary committee earlier this year expressed opposition to the draconian measure.
Yuvakaeva told the Blade the Obama administration’s efforts to promote LGBT rights abroad have had a positive impact in Russia. She expressed concern that these efforts may end if Trump were elected president.
“As a Russia-based organization we’ve got a lot of inspiration and support from both U.S. individuals and organizations to help us in our struggle,” said Yuvakaeva. “My great concern is that the situation in Russia could become even worse if Trump will be elected.”
Kirill Sabir, chair of the FtM Phoenix Group, a group that advocates on behalf of transsexual Russians around Moscow, was less pessimistic.
“The relationship between two successful men who are close in age promises to be more productive than between a strong man and an ambitious woman,” Sabir told the Blade on Monday in an email, referring to Clinton.
Sabir suggested a Trump presidency would temper the hostility that has existed between the Kremlin and the White House during the Obama administration. This detente of sorts could have a positive impact among LGBT Russians.
“The [possibility of having] a good relationship between our countries does not upset me,” said Sabir. “It would be beneficial for both nations as well as for our LGBT communities.”
Polina Andrianova of Coming Out, a St. Petersburg-based LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade she is “personally” interested in the outcome of the election.
“There is not much discussion in the community about Trump and the U.S. election,” she said. “It’s hard for me to say why.”
“It seems that no one is taking seriously the possibility that Trump might be elected,” added Andrianova.
Gay Russian asylees ‘worried’ about Trump
Trump reiterated his call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. in the wake of the June 12 massacre at the Pulse nightclub that left 49 people dead and 53 others injured. He also said he would suspend immigration “when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe and our allies.”
Trump said in a speech he gave in Ohio last month his administration would require potential immigrants to the U.S. to pass an “ideological test” that would include questions about LGBT rights. He also called for banning immigrants “from some of the most dangerous and most volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism.”
The brothers who carried out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings were ethnic Chechens who were living in Cambridge, Mass. Their parents received asylum in the U.S. in 2002.
Oleg Tomilin, who is from the Russian city of Voronezh, lives in D.C. with his husband, Maksim Kochura.
The couple left Russia in 2014 to escape anti-gay persecution. Tomilin and Kochura married at the Wilson Building less than three months after they arrived in the U.S.
Tomilin told the Blade on Tuesday that he and Kochura “are very worried about Trump becoming president” because their asylum case is still pending.
“We are not sure about the policy USCIS (U.S. Customs and Immigration Services) will follow regarding LGBT asylum seekers,” said Tomilin.
A Trump campaign spokesperson did not return the Blade’s requests for comment.