Russia may be one of the world’s most hostile nations to LGBTQ people, but gay fans attending this year’s FIFA World Cup games will have at least one safe space. Local advocates plan to create a Pride House in St. Petersburg for queer and trans visitors, as the Russian news service Fontanka reports.
The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver were the first international sporting event to feature the LGBTQ-affirming shelters, which are open to queer fans, volunteers, and athletes.
The presence of a Pride House at the 2018 World Cup, which commences in June and runs through July, is something of a surprise to global LGBTQ advocates. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed queer visitors would be welcome to attend the 2014 Olympics in Sochi should they “leave the children in peace,” authorities dismissed an application to host a Pride House at the games.
It’s also news to Pride House International (PHI), which traditionally is in charge of operating the LGBTQ spaces. The organization claimed in a statement it’s not aware which organization is spearheading the St. Petersburg Pride House.
“Pride House International does have a history working with local LGBTQ activist organizations to develop safe spaces for LGBTQ fans, athletes, and allies and we have been in talks with local activist groups to strategize around the 2018 World Cup but this initiative in St. Petersburg is unknown to us,” PHI said in a press release.
“Although we at Pride House International are learning about these plans for the first time, we would invite the local Russian activist group to reach out to us for support,” it continued.
The safety of LGBTQ tourists and athletes participating in this year’s World Cup games has been a topic of widespread concern in light of Russia’s 2013 anti-LGBTQ “propaganda” law. Approved unanimously by the state Duma five years ago, it forbids the spread of information concerning “nontraditional sexual relationships” to minors.
In the years since the bill’s passage, the propaganda law led to a twofold increase in hate crimes against LGBTQ people.
Nearly 40 percent of Russians predicted in a recent poll that queer and trans visitors were “likely or highly likely” to be targeted for violence during the prestigious sporting event. In the same survey, 13 percent of Russians claimed they were “irritated” that LGBTQ people would be visiting the country.
Sporting groups have attempted to prepare queer and trans soccer fans for Russia’s homophobic climate. The anti-discrimination group FARE is offering a resource guide for LGBTQ visitors on staying safe during their stay.
Meanwhile, the organization has warned same-sex couples not to hold hands during the World Cup to prevent retaliation.
In the face of international criticism over the nation’s treatment of LGBTQ people, Russian authorities have vowed that queer folks have nothing to fear while attending the tournament. Officials hinted that the propaganda codes would be temporarily disbanded and reversed an earlier ban prohibiting the presence of Pride flags during the event.
Photo by Vitaly Nevar\TASS via Getty Images