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Russian teachers face persecution because of sexuality

One teacher fired from university and faces dismissal from his school, another forced to resign

Russian teachers are being pressured to resign because of their sexuality. Credit: 123rf.com

The crackdown on LGBT Russians is now affecting teachers, with news that a teacher has been fired from his university position and faces dismissal from his school, while another was forced to resign, because of their sexual orientation.

The plight of the two teachers, Olga Bakhaeva, 24, and Alexander Yermoshkin, 38, was detailed in the Russian online magazine colta.ru. A translation of the story was sent to Xtra Sept 18.

Bakhaeva, who taught history and social studies at School No 56 in Magnitogorsk, says that her response to a post written by the Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality on VKontakte, a Russian networking site similar to Facebook, attracted the attention of an anti-gay activist.

Bakhaeva, who identifies as bisexual, says that the activist told her to resign from her teaching position or her life would be ruined. After the threat was made, Bakhaeva says, a post with private information about her appeared on the site of an anti-gay organization called Parents for Russia, followed by further threats that if she resigned, they wouldn’t circulate the post.

“I didn’t answer. I mean, I realized that this story wouldn’t die of its own accord. However, the demands were fascist. I was happy in my job, and wasn’t going to change it,” Bakhaeva told journalist Yelena Racheva.

Bakhaeva says the story was eventually leaked to the media.

She recalls telling one journalist who contacted her that she “supported the LGBT movement and had never viewed that as a crime.”

She added, “My social networks contained no indecent photographs or information which could have been regarded as immoral, and there had never been any trouble with parents of my pupils.”

Bakhaeva’s situation gathered momentum as a result of the media attention, and her district’s department of education got involved in the matter.

“In August, I was summoned to the education department. I wrote a statement explaining that I conducted my lessons in accordance with the curriculum and that I didn’t refer to my views on LGBT issues in front of the children,” Bakhaeva says.

Her school’s administration also called her in. She says the head of the school told her that she didn’t want to fire Bakhaeva but that Bakhaeva would have to stop commenting about LGBT rights, and politics in general, on networking sites if she wanted to keep her job.

“I hold libertarian views and believe that we need liberal reforms, and I have never concealed the fact,” Bakhaeva says. “Suddenly I was being told that I must not write anything ‘oppositional.’ They said, ‘You teach history, yet you wrote bad things about our head of state and the Kremlin,’ when all I had actually done was to share postings.”

In the end, Bakhaeva says she was given a “public telling-off” in front of her teaching colleagues and a prosecutor who had taken up the case.

“Everybody was silent. All the teachers listened, and no one spoke up for me. They were all afraid. Ours is a small town, there is not much employment,” Bakhaeva says. “The head-teacher repeated her idea that I should change my profession. So I wrote a letter of resignation.”

In Khabarovsk, Yermoshkin still teaches at School No 32 but has been fired from the Far East State University for the Humanities.

Yermoshkin, who is gay and has organized LGBT and anti-homophobia events, says he had never considered Khabarovsk to be homophobic until the passage of the anti-gay gag law earlier in the year.

After the laws passed in April, he says, two flash mobs that he helped organize were attacked, the first by a group of Nazis, known as Shtolts, and the other by Baptist Christians.

Yermoshkin says both groups teamed up to collect signatures for a petition calling for his dismissal from his school.

Yermoshkin says his district’s department of education put pressure on his school’s head teacher to fire him or they’d look into her “professional suitability.”

“A female colleague rang me and said that the head teacher had ordered her to take my classes,” he says. “‘No matter,’ I thought. I’ll go to school and sit my lesson-time out in the staff-room, so as not to let it look as if I were skiving.”

Yermoshkin says that if necessary he will take legal action.

He adds, “As for now . . . the most terrible thing is that I have actually been banned from my profession. That’s like forcing an artist to stop painting. As recently as last spring there was a school that was trying to get me to work there, but now there’s no school anywhere that will take me.

“I shall, of course, fight for my right to teach, but I don’t know how long I’ll manage to keep fighting.”

As for Bakhaeva, she says she probably won’t work in a school again.

“The whole situation is extremely unpleasant, and I do not want any repetition of it,” she says. “Life as an LGBT in Russia is unpleasant.”