‘I don’t know how long I can manage for’.

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Elena Racheeva spoke to two teachers, persecuted in schools for not hiding their association with LGBT.

Olga Bahaeva, 24, history and social sciences teacher of Magnitogorsk School 56

It all began with a group in Vkontakte [Russian version of Facebook]. In May ‘Straight alliance for LGBT equality’ posted a news story about persecutions of an LGBT-teacher. I commented on it, saying that I am also LGBT and I work in school. So it all began! In a couple of hours I received a private message in Vkontakte from a user named Valkyrie Repina (according to the Straight alliance it is a username of a man who took part in attacks on LGBT-activists in Saint Petersburg). It stated that I had to immediately resign from my school; otherwise they would ‘break my life’. In ‘The parents of Russia’ society [an aggressive movement against homosexuals], which is administrated by this Valkyrie, appeared a post about me with my personal photos and unpleasant information. More letters followed: ‘Why don’t you respond? Inform me of your decision. If you resign we won’t distribute the information [about her sexuality] further’.

I did not respond. I understood that this story wouldn’t just quietly disappear, but those were fascist demands, I was satisfied with my job and I didn’t want to change it.

A week later this story got to the mass media. A journalist from ‘Moscow komsomoletz’ called me – moreover, he called the school first, said that he is looking for me and got my phone number from a school official. I explained to her [the official]: no, I am not a lesbian, I am bi, I support the LGBT movement, but I never saw it as a crime. I don’t have any indecent photos or any information to be deemed immoral in my social networks and never had any conflicts with my students’ parents…

Naturally, I never told most people about my orientation. I understood that school is a special place, and wouldn’t want to speak of such things anyway: it is my private life.

The article was copied by other papers; the story appeared on the local TV channel… I was summoned by the school principal. I didn’t see any homophobia on her part, she said: ‘I don’t want to discuss your views, you may think as you wish, but we need to get out of this situation somehow’. She didn’t want to fire me, but wanted a quiet ending for this story. But I already understood that it was not going to end quietly! These people are inadequate fanatics and their aim is to ruin other people’s lives.

In August I came back from a holiday and was summoned by Ludmila Vasilievna, the principal, once more. Somebody from Saint Petersburg called to the local education authorities in Magnitogorsk and informed them that a lesbian worked there. And then he kept calling for the whole summer to check upon whether I had been fired or not.

In August I was summoned by the local authorities. I wrote an explanatory letter, saying that I taught the lessons according to the education plan and did not mention my views on LGBT around the children.

The principal’s attitude was different this time. She said that she didn’t want to fire me, but if I wanted to work as a teacher I had to stop posting in Vkontakte not only about LGBT-rights, but also about any politics whatsoever, otherwise I would need to change my profession. I am a libertarian and believe that we need liberal reforms, I never denied that. And now they are telling me that I cannot write anything dissenting! ‘You are teaching history, but you wrote bad things about our leader, about the Kremlin’. And all I did was reposting!

Moreover, I don’t think the principal is a Vkontakte user. When she summoned me she showed me print outs of my page: ‘Did you do that? Did you write this?’. So somebody had always been monitoring my page and informing the principal. Spying on me.

So, Ludmila Vasilievna said: ”If you have nothing to do – go and help the head of maintenance’. And she sent me off to clean the territory of the school, to wash the cellar…No harm done – I had to work as a cleaner for a bit.

Several days later the principal came to me and said that the public prosecutor came ‘for my soul’. On the 18th of August ‘The Parents of Russia’ wrote a statement against me, highlighting two points: what basis on which I had been accepted to work at school (I was still on part-time studies back then), and the basis upon which the parents hadn’t been told about my orientation. And the statement was not even submitted by them, but by a random parent from Magnitogorsk. Apparently her son, who had nothing to do with my school, visited my page, became affected by propaganda and asked his mother about same-sex marriage. Apparently he visited it by accident.

After the prosecutors visited, the principal summoned all the teachers and started…a very public reprobation. ‘Olga Vladimirovna was behaving carelessly. The school is a small state, one needs to behave carefully’ – so that no one sticks out and speaks out. And they were all silent. All the teachers were listening to that – but no one intervened. They were all afraid. We live in a small town, there isn’t enough work down here…The director insisted again that I needed to change my profession. And I submitted a resignation letter.

You know, I wouldn’t sit down and be afraid, as a mouse. I would have been disgusted to look in the mirror if I had accepted all that. By then I’d stopped adding any LGBT-related things to my page, I kept only the politics. It turned out that politics is prohibited, as well. Kittens are acceptable, politics isn’t.

I will never work at school again. This whole situation is profoundly unpleasant and I do not want it to be repeated. Never mind, I’ll do something else. Don’t know what yet, but life is long, we’ll see.

Also, I would have to move somewhere else. I can’t find a proper job in Magnitogorsk. Valkyrie claims that they will keep writing to higher authorities to Chelyabinsk – apparently, two of my female students are prepared to write a statement that I practiced propaganda of homosexuality in my lessons. I have resigned, that should be all! But it is not enough for them. They keep writing about me in their groups, keep insulting me, keep trying to find out my phone number and address under the pretense of being journalists. They are lying, saying that I have been fired without a right to work with children ever again, that I am a pervert. It seems that I am some sort of a criminal who committed an unthinkable offense!

It was unpleasant, what else can I say. LGBT-life in Russia is unpleasant per se.

Aleksander Ermoshkin, 38, geography teacher in Khabarovsk school 32.

I have been working as a teacher for 18 years: 10 of them in this very school. I can’t say that I either denied or demonstrated that I am gay. My coming out happened through activism. Four years ago I started to organise flashmob ‘Rainbow over Amur’, take part in LGBT-events, organised a ‘Week of fighting homophobia’, and gave interviews.

Whether my orientation was known by my students wasn’t on the top of my list of priorities… How can you participate in activism if you think it is wrong? I did not hide the fact that I organised such actions, I think the students may have known about them. Once I found a mark on a back desk, saying ‘Litefoolary’ and ‘GayGraphy’. I laughed at that – connecting foolishness and literature is way more insulting that gays and geography.

When a new principal, Natalia Sergeevna, had been appointed, I came to her just before an LGBT-flashmob, said that I was going to host an LGBT-action and that if she deemed it to be incompatible with my job in school, I will resign. She answered that she does not mix up my work and my civil position, so I remained at my job.

But after this anti-gay law… I had never deemed Khabarovsk to be a homophobic place, we’d never been told anything bad on the matter of LGBT-events and protests. However, in April, just after the law was put into force, our event was attacked by ten Nazis from the group ‘Schtolz’.

Our girls were very afraid, but the pressure was more of a psychological sort. It seems that they did not have orders to beat us up but to threaten us. Then there was an attack on our flashmob on the 17th of May – not the Nazis this time, but people from a Christian Baptist group.

Lately, on the 26th of August, they attacked me on my own, when I was coming back from work. It was an “occupypaedophile” method attack – they switched on a camera, tried to ask questions, threatened me, broke my glasses. They weren’t drunk, that would hardly be likely: they are all for a healthy lifestyle. I remember them all by names by now. Some of them were from ‘Shtoltz’ and others from the new Movement for fighting the propaganda of sexual perversions or something along those lines.

In short, the Nazis allied with the Baptists, then an organization called ‘The Green House’ joined in. The latter are in fact a local organisation for the development of democracy, it’s head Sergey Pleshakov talked some bollocks about our ‘position below the belt’ and ‘licentious libido’. That trinity spent the whole summer collecting signatures in favour of my dismissal from school.

In August they submitted 678 signatures to the regional ministry of education, which redirected them to the education authorities of Khabarovsk. On the 31st of August Natalia Sergeevna, the principal, got a phone call from the deputy head of education which very sharply put it in these terms: either you fire him or the question of your own professional qualification for the job is at stake. On Monday the 2nd of September they called again: ‘So, is the question settled?’.

Natalia Sergeevna informed me on Monday evening, apologised, and said that she tried to stretch it out for as long as possible. I understand her, and I don’t know how I would have behaved myself, in her position.

On Tuesday morning a colleague called me and said that the principal told her to take on my lessons… No worries, I’ll come to school and sit through my lessons in the staff room, so it doesn’t look like absenteeism…

You understand, I cannot write a resignation statement. I cannot raise my hand to it. I made an appointment with the head of the regional education department. I will ask the head to either fire me officially or to react to this situation according to the Labour Codex. I’ll go to court if needed.

I don’t know who “needs” so badly to see me fired. Probably the Nazi organisations need to build up a public profile – I have no other theories.

I worked as a researcher in an ecology institute and I had been asked for many years there, how long I planned to work in school. Then they stopped. I don’t see myself outside of school. I feel like a traitor if I cannot give more time to children. I gladly work on school competitions, work as a lecturer for teachers’ professional development courses. I have a sort of “August syndrome,” when I start dreaming of coming back to school at nights.

And now… The most frightening thing is that they in fact are introducing a prohibition on a profession. It is like forbidding an artist to paint. In the spring I was offered a post in another school, they were trying to win me over – now nobody will ever take me.

Of course, I will fight for my right to teach. I don’t know how long I can manage for, though.

P.S. Just after the interview with Alexander Ermoshkin it became known that he was fired from Far East State Humanities University, where he lectured in biology and geography.

Elena Racheeva

The original can be found here.

The translator’s comment:

I contacted Olga Bahaeva to ask her if she is happy with this story being more widely publicised and she replied that she has ‘nothing to hide anymore’. I also followed up Aleksander Ermoshkin’s story – several days after the interview was taken he ended up resigning from his school position becuase of the alledfed threats to the principal’s family.  His comment on the situation was:

‘The family. The family is a unit of society and at the same time it is the only bastion which can protect one from that society, first of all, protect psychologically.  The family is the real institution of human feelings, those of trust and responsibility. I have a family, a big one, as everyone with a tough story has, but this family has not been created by me. I don’t have a family created by my heart; in that respect the fates and lives of others do not depend on me.

THE PRINCIPAL HAS A FAMILY, AS WELL.

I ask for forgiveness from everyone who supported me, by word, deed or a thought. From this moment onwards I do not have any moral right to ask for further support, but I will continue to hope for it’.

There is a petition to reinstate Aleksandr at his former position, it can be found here. It is unlikely that he will be, but any amount of moral support is important for him at this difficult time.

 Nailya Shamgunova

 

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