MOSCOW, Russia —Friday night on Russian state television. Prime time.
Anton Krasovsky quickly downs a glass of whiskey backstage before stepping in front of the cameras on “Angry Guyzzz”, his controversial entertainment program.
His guests are transgender people from Moscow, and he has a message for his viewers that he saves for the end of the show.
“I Am Gay”
During his sign-off, Krasovsky speaks the words that still follow him to this day. It might well be the most important message of his life.
“I am gay,” he says straight into the cameras. “And at the same time I’m still a person like you, my dear viewers, like President Putin, like Prime Minister Medvedev and like the members of the Duma (the Russian parliament).”
It was the first time and, to this day, the only time a public figure has come out on state TV in Putin’s Russia. And it was an affront to the powers that be, who consider homosexuality a disease and throw gay and lesbian people in prison for their sexuality.
That same night, Krasovsky lost his job. His profile vanished from the channel’s website, and all editions of the show were removed from its online media library. It was as though they had never existed.
A Statement Against Homophobia
That was five years ago.
I meet the 48-year-old at a café in central Moscow. He’s wearing three-day stubble, a dark blue suit, and a white shirt. Accompanying him is a cameraman capturing his every step for his YouTube channel.
A month ago, Krasovsky announced that he was running for mayor of the Russian capital in the elections to be held on September 9. Krasovsky is not sure his candidacy will be approved by the authorities. Also, he is quite certain that he can’t win the election.
But his running for office is a signal to one of the most homophobic countries in Europe, which will be at the center of the world’s attention in the coming weeks for hosting the football World Cup.
Homosexuality is a social taboo, even in this modern Russian metropolis, where every newsstand accepts credit cards but men who kiss on the street will be beaten up by police and right-wing hooligans alike, and rainbow flags will be burned.
‘No Faggots Allowed’
Since 2013, there has been a law that punishes making positive statements about homosexuality in front of minors. Of course, this also casts a shadow on the World Cup.
Stickers reading “No faggots allowed” have cropped up in the streets.
A report published by the human-rights organization Fare (Football Against Racism in Europe) indicates that homophobic chants are on the rise in stadiums ahead of the World Cup.
Brazil has put out a brochure advising homosexuals to “refrain from engaging in public displays of affection” during the World Cup.
The German foreign ministry, too, warns that “passing on information about homosexuality or protest and support for homosexuality in public” may result in “fines of up to 1360 euros ($1,600US/£1,200), up to 15 days in jail, and deportation from the Russian Federation.”
‘Don’t Make A Statement Here In Public’
Krasovsky is not a soccer fan. He has also never tried kissing his partner of seven years in public. But he still has a message to all LGBT soccer fans traveling to Russia.
On the one hand, Moscow is worth a trip for LGBT people, he says. There is a massive underground scene in clubs and bars.
“But what I’d also like to tell everyone is: don’t take a stand in public. It’s not safe.”
And according to Krasovsky, Russia has only become more homophobic since he came out.
State propaganda has increased — on the radio, on television — and has riled up the Russian people. He says that, to him, it’s a sign he did the right thing in coming out.
“I didn’t want to follow the path any longer that Russia was taking, and I wanted to make a statement.”
‘You Are My Hero’
Krasovsky’s coming-out made the news around the world. Of course, hateful messages flooded in on email, Twitter and Facebook. “But I ignore those. I think those trolls are a disease of the internet that I don’t want to engage with,” he says.
After all, apart from the hostility, he has received a lot of encouragement. Thousands of people wrote him telling him: You are my hero.” Overnight, Krasovsky had turned from a TV host into an icon for LGBT people around the world.
Now, he makes the streets and the political arena his stage instead of TV studios.
In 2017, he ran the campaign of Ksenia Sobchak, the most promising rival candidate against Vladimir Putin. He runs a foundation helping people affected by HIV. Krasovsky himself is HIV positive.
Fight for your rights, take to the streets
At the same time, the mayoral race takes him to Moscow’s corporate boardrooms and living rooms. People tell him of their concerns.
When he meets them, they tell stories of out-of-control bureaucracy, living with eight people in one room or having to make a living with 8000 rubles a month, slightly less than 120 euros ($140US/£100). This kind of poverty seems a long way off in Moscow’s city center with its luxury cars, boutiques, and swanky cafés.
“These people don’t know freedom or prosperity. At the same time, they now live amid the wars with Ukraine and Syria, and it’s traumatic for them,” he explains.
To combat this trauma, he intends to provide security to the people by raising taxes for the rich and lowering them for the poor. By running, he’d also like to show the people that change is possible after all.
And he wants to make a statement: “I’m the first homosexual politician in Russia — an extremely homophobic country with an extremely homophobic capital in the midst of a very homophobic Eastern Europe,” he says.
“That’s a statement. And I believe that Russia needs more statements like this — not just for the LGBT scene but also perhaps for women’s rights.”
The Russian people must understand: “Fight for your rights, take to the streets.”
For now, Krasovsky’s struggle is going to last until the elections in September.