By Stephen Wilson
A female music teacher has just been fired from her job. She was dismissed not for incompetence, or physically assaulting students or failing to consistently turn up for work. She was dismissed because an oddball by the name of Timor Isaev intrusively entered her facebook, down-loaded a photo of her kissing another girl and gathered material on her sexual orientation and then handed over the material to the headmaster as well as educational officials. In the letter Isaev states, 'An unhealthy person is working at your school who has a psychiatric inclination incompatible with the norms of teaching. You need to fire her to the extent her immoral example represents a rejection of the family values of the school.'
Isaev claims that he has been attempting to oust gay teachers from schools for a considerable time. He boasts that he has driven out 29 teachers and is at this moment of time working on getting 2 teachers in Moscow dismissed. Timor Isaev has yet to produce a list of the names of all those 29 teachers he has exposed. What Isaev does is scan the facebooks of teachers and attempts to obtain as much evidence as possible pointing to their sexual orientation and then sends the material
and letters to the teacher's headmaster and officials at the local school board insisting they be fired. The main basis for dismissal is seen as a new law passed in June 2013 against 'Gay propaganda'.
After this correspondence, with the acquiescence of officials and headmasters, the teachers is invited into a room and pressurized to resign or face being sacked. Most have resigned until one brave music teacher refused and decided to go to court. Not only this. The teacher took a dictaphone and recorded her meeting with the headmaster, Stanislavsky Vinograd. The recording is very revealing.
During the interview the headmaster admits that Timor Isaev is 'a psychopath' but that he is under pressure to dismiss the teacher with great reluctance. The recording indicates a headmaster under great pressure from officials who seek to fire a teacher who he admits, works very diligently. What the recording reveals is a rather surreal situation where a disturbed bigot can run a school rather than officials or teachers. Indeed, the Russian Ministry of Education has lost its crown! The music teacher, 'Tatiana', has been illegally dismissed from school and has a solid case. Tatiana states, 'I 'm not an activist and have never been to an L.G.B.T. demonstration. I simply want justice.’ All the teachers and parents of children feel sorry for Tatiana and want to support her case, but Tatiana expressions reservations
over whether they will turn up in court to support her at the end of December. Her lawyers have informed her she has a '50-50 chance' of winning her case.
The case itself exemplifies the stark problems of many Russian teachers. For the hard-pressed teacher has to get by on three jobs; one as a shop-assistant, another as a private tutor and another job at the music school. Due to Tatiana's work, many musical choirs have won competitions and medals. Tatiana's main reason for taking up a position at the Music school was because she has a disabled brother and genuinely wants to greatly assist her students. She really puts her heart and soul into her work. One begins to wonder on what basis was Tatiana fired? Certainly not on a rational or intelligent basis. It is futile to ask the headmaster as he is conveniently busy. During the interview, the headmaster announced he was firing her under 'Article 81, Point 8 (workers in education carrying out immoral acts incompatible with work.'
However, despite his vain boasting and posturing, Timur Isaev does not always get his own way. In one case where he tried to have a Spanish teacher, Katya Bogach, of School Gymnasium 67, fired, officials could not find any evidence of gay propaganda and absolved her. She is still teaching!
A new report by Human Rights watch 'Licenced to Harm', was launched on December 15th. The study reviews 78 cases of assaults on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in 16 cities throughout Russia since 2012. The report represents disturbing as well as disquieting reading. We hear of gays being insulted, humiliated, beaten up and in the worst cases, tortured by being taken into a forest, stripped naked and having toenails pulled out. The report claims, 'L.G.B.T. people in Russia face stigma, harassment , and violence in their everyday lives, and most people who spoke with Human Rights watch said that this intensified in 2013. In some cases they were attacked by anti-L.G.B.T. vigilante groups that sprang up in late 2012 across Russia.' Those groups have been recorded as pouring urine over their victims and forcing them to drink it, calling them 'pedophiles', receiving threatening phone calls, being beaten up and being hounded out of their jobs. As many as 22 of the victims interviewed claimed to have developed anxiety and deep depression following attacks.
However, it is the attacks on teachers which mostly concern us.
'Human Rights watchdog documented 7 cases in which vicious smear campaigns sought to pressure L.G.B.T people or supporters of L.G.B.T. rights to resign from their job as educators in schools, universities or community centres for children. In almost all cases, the campaigns accused the victims of trying to spread what they called propaganda. Most eventually lost their jobs as officials. For example, one geography teacher called Aleksander Ermoshkin, a secondary school teacher in Khabarovsk, told H.R.W. he had lost his job as a result of an alleged petition by a group of unknown people. They had sent a letter to educational officials calling for Ermoshkin to be dismissed on the grounds he was openly gay and a political activist.
The school forced him to resign on the basis his presence in the school violated the federal Anti L.G.B.T. 'propaganda ' law because he presented homosexuality and equality for L.B.G.B.T. in a positive light.' Officials claimed they had obtained a petition of 700 names on it against him. When Ermoshkin asked if he could see it, the officials declined. So Ermoshkin lost the job he had held for the past ten years. In another case, Olga Bakhaeva was forced to resign from her teaching job in the city of Magnitogorsk after a long sustained campaign of harassment. She received an unpleasant phone call threat, 'I know how to destroy someone's life'. She eventually resigned because, 'I could no longer stand working in an increasingly hostile atmosphere.'
HOW HOMOPHOBIC IS RUSSIA?
How bad is this hostility to gays ? It is important to put this in proper perspective. One can easily overestimate or underestimate the level of homophobia in Russia. For example, one young Russian student who visited Amsterdam expressed astonishment at how Russia is portrayed by the media as wholly homophobic. 'They think we all hate gays and this is just not true '. One problem is officials don't
go out of their way to compile records of attacks on gays and very little research on how Russians actually feel about gays has been carried out. Violent assaults against gays are viewed as little more than 'hooliganism'. I asked one gay teacher, 'Dima', 'How bad is this prejudice against gays?' Dima stated, 'I would not say the situation is critical. Russia is by tradition mainly a homophobic country. This is not new. But the main problem is not in the cities where people tended to be educated, but in the countryside. There the prejudice is far worse.
This prejudice is certainly making our relationship with European countries problematic. The people in Saint Petersburg are having a problem with an insane senator called Vitaly Milonov'. Incidently, the recent repressive law on gay propaganda was his brainchild.
The attitudes to gays in Moscow is certainly not homophobic but complex. Not all Russians are against gays. There is also a lot of ignorance. Many people believe being gay is just 'a disease' or 'a fad'. The presumption is the person chooses to be gay. One teacher told me, 'This gay culture comes from the west. They are trying to force us to become gay. Look at all the support which America and Europe are giving gay marriage. We will never accept that'.
Some educated person I came across even warned me, 'Be careful that this gay does not molest you'. In fact, this gay person was the most harmless and pleasant person I have met.
One Russia teacher, 'Olga', informed me, 'When I asked my school students, 'What do you think of gay marriage', they answered they had nothing against it. I was shocked by the response. I never expected such an answer!' I also got the same response from one school student.
So the attitude to gays in Russia is much more ambiguous and varied than we think. A lot of Russians might respond with, 'I don't know what to make of 'gays' or are baffled by it. They can scratch their heads rather than become indignant or self-righteous. It is likely that homophobics are in a minority and that the term 'homophobic Russian culture ' is an oversimplification as well as misleading generalization. Nevertheless, it only takes a small group of unpleasant oddballs to inflict widespread misery on countless people. Homophobia has undoubtedly been increasingly as officials either condone or turn a blind eye to violent assaults on gays.
Not all officials and judges make decisions against gays. In fact, the Spanish Russian teacher in Saint Petersburg won her campaign against the self-styled 'Parents of Russia' who were attempting to dismiss her for allegedly being 'a supporter of perverts' and claiming that she was harmful to her students' psyche'. Over 100 former students signed a petition in her support and two deputies of Saint Petersburg expressed their support for Bogach. Bogach won her case. She kept her job! The case demonstrates that dismissed or pressurised to resign teachers can win their cases if people actively and ardently support them. Trade unions such as 'teacher' should staunchly defend the cases of fired teachers irrespective of whether they are members or not. Dima stated that 'Trade unions could do a lot to defend dismissed teachers by heightening public awareness of the problems they face'.