Occasionally, being important as I clearly am, I am given the opportunity to attend early screenings of films and television shows; particularly those pertaining to LGBT issues. Reprobait Magazine, which my pal (@that_boom_ting) and I co-founded and co-edit will (after its launch) be covering these sorts of events, but since the magazine is still a bit foetal, I had to put some words down here… whilst it’s all so horrifyingly fresh in my mind. The last time we went to Channel 4, it was to a showing of Sugar Rush. We drank Champagne and at C4 branded cupcakes. Going to watch a Dispatches documentary about gay people being hunted and humiliated in Russia was not, thankfully, a cupcake occasion.
Now I’m not going to sit and detail every minute of the programme – it’s on at 10pm (GMT) on Wednesday on C4. But I am going to sit and tell you about how parts of the programme made me feel, and that will involve a bit of context.
Hunted begins with a brief introduction to Russia, a “supposedly civilised” country with a streak of savagery, a “hell for homosexuals” where it is estimated that only 1% of gay people are out. We are shown, let’s face it, normal looking family men, who have normal jobs and normal lives, aside from the fact that their hobby is hunting down and beating the shit out of gay people. We are introduced to an active member of a vigilante group bent on exposing and humiliating gay people, taping interviews wherein intimate questions are asked under the threat of physical violence. This man proudly talks of this organisation as if they’re genuinely doing Russia a favour by exposing, shaming and degrading gay people, with the express intent of creating a gay free country. I noted with slight amusement that this bloke, with a wife and child, was also a jewellery designer. Now I know I shouldn’t stereotype, but that’s a gay job if ever I did see one. He muses that gay people commit suicide “because they are psychologically unstable” – seemingly unable to make the connection that perhaps gay people kill themselves because they are being persecuted so viciously by their fellow humans? No. That would involve some logic, wouldn’t it? He works according to that common, yet sickening misconception that homosexuality is some sort of offshoot of paedophilia, where gay men supposedly pass the time between interfering with children by, you know… falling in love with each other. Apparently “having a wife and child changes the way you think”, which confuses me greatly, because when I one day have a wife and child, I’m pretty sure that won’t suddenly give me the impetus to start torturing people.
The documentary (with astonishing levels of access) follows the St Petersburg branch of the group, “Occupy Paedophilia” who regularly carry out “stings” where they bait gay men online, lure them to apartments on the premise of meeting another man, ambush them, film them performing degrading acts that are unthinkably disturbing, subject them to violence, pour urine on them, and then release them back into the wild. Because this is what it is; a ‘safari’. The ringleader, a woman with the most sinister laugh this side of a Disney villain, orchestrated the whole event with a coldness that I didn’t think most humans were capable of. She reasoned that she wasn’t homophobic; it’s just that out of the 30 paedophiles she had allegedly caught, 28 of them were gay. I’m not really sure how they teach maths in Russia but I’m not sure that’s how conclusions are made, so I’m going to assume that since she readily accepts that correlation equals causation, she also has pretty loose criteria for how she defines a paedophile. At no point during the documentary did anyone ask why people believe that paedophilia and homosexuality are intrinsically linked, which, I’ll admit disappointed me a little.
But the comparisons with undesirables didn’t just stop there – in a discussion with a Religious leader, gay people were thought no different to paedophiles, thieves and murderers. “Gay marriage” is apparently a sign of the apocalypse, and all of those phrases that we’ve heard so often are so (pardon the pun) religiously upheld with these people, that there is no room to educate them. In fact, educating people as to the real truth surrounding homosexuality is illegal. To even speak of gay people in a neutral manner is to support and promote that “lifestyle” and is as such, propaganda. Abject hatred for gay people is so widespread that the documentary shows police more willing to prosecute silent, solo picketers requesting that “violence ends” than the vigilante groups that film and publicise their vicious attacks on gay people. The law practically protects the attackers, because to speak out against them could be construed as casting the homosexual victims in a positive light. It is unthinkable in our country, but the documentary does gently remind us that section 28 still existed in our lifetimes.
I noticed that even in the short breaks between sections, the small audience at Channel 4 this evening was stunned into silence. Many people watched with horrified expressions, hand to mouth; my friend @k8films included. I realised that through parts of it I was actually holding my breath. This documentary is not light viewing, but I think it is essential viewing. Admittedly, I would have liked to have seen the crew take it further; I wanted deeper questioning. Really, I wanted to know what these vigilantes would have done if they had found out their children were gay; why, if they thought that gay people were mentally ill, did they believe that kicking the shit out of them was preferable to encouraging them to seek treatment (and finding that mythical gay cure)?
Suddenly, after watching a lesbian couple fret over the possibility of their children being wrenched from them, I felt frivolous – my quandary had previously been “Should I watch the winter Olympics or not?” In my disconnection from the true atrocities going on, I had naively thought that to boycott the Olympics was some sort of show of solidarity with the “people like me” in Russia. Now I know that they ask that people don’t boycott the Olympics on their behalf, in case they get the blame for it and the torment gets worse. Like the child that won’t let his parents speak to the school about a bully; because he thinks they’ll just make it worse.
I was left with a horrible, heavy, guilty feeling – how do we help? What do we do? Can we stand idly by knowing that this is going on? My Olympic query seems irrelevant, now that I have the knowledge that things are likely to get worse for LGBTQ people in Russia after the world’s spotlight on them fades in a few weeks. Thankfully, the answer came after a person much braver than I asked a question; help and support has to come from the angle of human rights, as opposed to gay rights. It seems so backward that gay rights have to fly under the radar like that, but I can understand why gay Russians are asking that we take it easy on the rainbow wars, and take them for what they are, regardless of their sexuality – persecuted humans.
Honestly, after watching Hunted, and discussing it at length, I am truly exhausted. Emotions like anger, confusion, guilt, disgust, sadness and overwhelming tiredness at this still being a thing are fighting for space in my head right now. So much that I can barely order my thoughts, let alone my words. On my journey home, I pondered my own experiences of homophobia, and I know deep down I’m one of the lucky ones. About the worst (and most regular) thing that happens to me is that some incredibly observant person will holler “lez-be-unnnnnnnz” at me and my girlfriend. To which there is usually some retort before carrying on with my day. The idea of someone kidnapping me and pouring urine all over me is unthinkable and terrifying. In fact, I worked myself up so much about this that by the time I was sitting on the tube home I was shaking. And as someone who regularly squares up to 800kg animals, I’m not often that flappable. I have been affected by this programme and think I am going to have to take a few days to really think about it, research the facts and decide how I can best support some cause, somewhere to help. It certainly left some of the most hard hitting questions sadly unanswered, but that being said – it’s a jumping off point for caring more about what happens to other people, and for that I am both guilty and grateful.
I think also, it hammered home the very legitimate point that the people who hold these terrifying views and carry out such monstrous acts look like just everybody else. They could be anywhere; they could be that sweet looking old woman or the (depicted) family man who genuinely believes that he is protecting his child and doing the right thing. The vindication that these people have is unflinching, and they remain charismatic, persuasive and have the ability to appear so rational whilst divulging opinions that are just mystifying in our day and age. That’s almost what makes this threat a little more terrifying, and makes me all the more grateful to be living in London, where yes, the occasional drunk man offers to “cure me” with his magic bedroom skills – not where burly men threaten me and my girlfriend with corrective rape in broad daylight and without fear of reproach because, ultimately, the authorities are on their side. Thanks, Putin.
I’d love for you to make up your own mind about the depth of the programme, so would urge you all to watch Dispatches: Hunted (10pm, Channel 4, Wednesday 5th February), and would love to hear your comments, or chat about it on twitter (@ayemiy or @reprobaitmag) (#Hunted).