Main article illustration
Illustration by Casey Litchfield

PSU Russian Club speaks on LGBTQ+ activism

Student organization hosts event discussing LGBTQ+ rights in St. Petersburg

Portland State’s Russian Club, a student organization that meets to practice the Russian language and celebrate Slavic and Eastern European cultures, is working to further their education on social differences between the United States and Russian cities. On Friday, the club invited guest speaker Timofey Sozaev—Russian native, gay activist and co-founder of the St. Petersburg LGBTQ+ Organization—to talk about LGBTQ+ issues within Russia and specifically in St. Petersburg.


Historically there are similarities between Portland’s methods of activism and those in St. Petersburg, but while across the U.S. states have progressed in their policies, Russian politics have oppressed the LGBTQ+ community.


Sozaev, who is vying for activism and gay liberation in St. Petersburg, shared that historically Russia has gone back and forth between liberation of LGBTQ+ individuals and conservatism. “Since February of 2021, there has been a wave of repression over all civil organizations, including those that advocate for LGBT individuals,” he said.


These aspects of repression include cutting off financing for civil projects, arresting protestors and removing books that discuss sexuality and gender from libraries.


According to, not only is Portland seen as a largely safe and accepting place, but based on population percentage it maintains one of the five largest LGBTQ+ communities in the U.S. Portland has opened many doors to its nearly 100,000 self-identified LGBTQ+ members by means of mental health resources, arts and culture events and safe spaces like the Q Center.


According to Sozaec, in St. Petersburg citizens focus on liberation by means of political involvement, social projects and pushing the medical field to refrain from referring to homosexuality as a disease as it had still been in the mid-to-late 1900s. Citizens found, however, that the harder they pushed for liberation, the harder the pushback against them was.


In Portland, where there are many resources readily available for individuals seeking community or a safe space, it can be hard to comprehend how other countries do not have these opportunities. Social issues differ from country to country and even from region to region within a country.


“In 2017 there were physical attacks against LGBT people who lived in regions that were within the Russian Federation, even though there was no law against homosexuality,” Sozaev said. There was a change in the law, however, between 2017 and 2020. In 2020 the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, became more firm on demanding that marriage stay between a man and a woman, persecuting those who participate in gay activism and relationships, and instilling traditional values among citizens.


Aviva Zelkind, a member of the Russian Club, had their own view on the subject of social differences. “It is important to observe the viewpoints of those in other countries so we can learn how to better our own systems,” they said. Zelkind is also an advocate for diversity and believes that the best way to make change is by discussing these issues and not being offended by other points of view, since everyone thinks differently. 


While there are still individuals who are against LGBTQ+ rights and expression in Portland, they are not repressed in the same way as expressive members of the community in St. Petersburg. Sozaev shared that he was arrested more than once in St. Petersburg for participating in what was considered gay propaganda, in which he wore a visible rainbow on his clothing. He states that law enforcement in St. Petersburg could decide what they considered gay propaganda when they chose to and it was not limited to a specific list.


“Listening to [Sozaev’s] presentation helped me to put our own country into context,” said Logan McDowall, Russian Club member and linguistics major. “It raises awareness on the pros and cons of our country and how we can change.”


When asked about how St. Petersburg is handling their current issue with activism and how LGBTQ+ people are handling the newer installment of traditional values and persecution against LGBTQ+ individuals, Sozaev shared that it’s a loaded question and a heavy answer.


He said that last fall, Putin’s laws were updated and have been made even more demanding than previously. Now there is a complete ban of discussion about LGBTQ+ issues, more censorship around knowledge which includes the banning of websites and even further removal of what is considered gay propaganda.


Sozaev expressed his concern for others still in St. Petersburg, because many people are unable to leave the country and are also unable to raise awareness regarding LGBTQ+ issues and movements because they put themselves at risk of being fined or being placed under an administrative code.


Sozaev said that if a person was placed under an administrative code initially and then once again participated in a pro-LGBTQ+ situation or propaganda, they would be put under a criminal code, which is much more serious.

“Learning about these [social differences in Russia] has helped me to learn that there are shared identities between people in America and other countries,” said Maddie Engler, a PSU student who is passionate about LGBTQ+ activism. “It gives us [an] opportunity to strive for social change.”