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In this May 1, 2013, file photo, gay rights activists carry rainbow flags as they march during a May Day rally in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press)
In this May 1, 2013, file photo, gay rights activists carry rainbow flags as they march during a May Day rally in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press)

Tabatha Southey

Russians don’t seem to have trouble seeing those ‘invisible’ gay people Add to ...

The way the Russian law against “promoting homosexuality” is phrased, one would think Russian legislators view their children as a veritable dry tinderbox of gay ready to go up in flames should they be exposed to the tiniest hint of gayness.

Shown a rainbow flag like the one Pavel Lebedev held up as the Olympic torch was relayed by him, they seem to believe the children will be flaming within minutes. Mr. Lebedev was arrested and detained.

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No report on the number of bystanders who became bi-standers as a result of being flagged was released, but then Anatoly Pakhomov, the mayor of Sochi, has said there are no gay people in his city, suggesting the possibility that some Russians suffer from gay blindness. This would indeed make an accurate head count of the gayified difficult.

Russian President Vladimir Putin promised, amid much concern about his new law and about the recent wave of attacks against gay people across Russia, that homosexuals are welcome in Sochi for the Olympics. “We don’t have a ban on non-traditional sexual relations,” he said. “We have a ban on promoting homosexuality and pedophilia among minors.”

When Elena Klimova, a journalist, wrote a column decrying this law, she received a grateful letter from an underage lesbian, who said she had saved her life. Inspired by this, Ms. Klimova started an online group, Children-404, where gay and lesbian teens can post supportive letters to one another. She was charged for “distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at creating non-traditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes non-traditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in non-traditional sexual relations.”

Last Sunday, Alexander Suturin, editor of a weekly paper in the country’s far east, was also fined under this law – for publishing an interview with a teacher who lost his job for being gay.

This law isn’t merely symbolic, vile enough as that would be, and passing something this vaguely and broadly worded is like attaching a detonator to the life of every gay person in Russia, one that can be triggered at any moment.

I’m sure there are children in Russia who would be surprised to learn that the family raising them has been imparting information that “equates the social value of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations,” and even more surprised to find their mommies gone one day.

Their mothers’ love, those children would have to accept, was not Putin-approved. In Mr. Putin’s Russia, I sense it’s fine to feel tenderness toward the deer you have just killed with your crossbow, but deviant for a man to have such feelings toward that mysterious, brooding guy who works at his suddenly favourite bike repair shop.

If it were true, as the Sochi mayor might lead us to conclude, that a sizable portion of the Russian population simply cannot see gay people, that straight Russians live in fear of invisible gay people coming undetected into their houses and taking all their stuff, or merely living with them, unseen – like gay Borrowers – that might explain a certain amount of frustration on the part of the leadenly visible heterosexual population.

Or if straight people lived in awkward fear of taking a seat on the subway and finding themselves on an invisible gay person’s lap, covered in invisible gay coffee, a certain amount of frustration might occur.

That frustration, however, would not even begin to explain or excuse the many documented instances of barely visible gay people in Russia being savagely beaten of late.

It would not account for what happened to Dimitry Chizhevsky in St. Petersburg, where, at a private event held by an HIV testing and counselling group, two masked men carrying baseball bats and pneumatic pistols arrived, shouted, “Faggot, faggot, faggot!” and left him blind in one eye.

And besides, as fanciful as the notion of the Invisible Gays of Russia is – they would be sort of like the Huldufólk of Iceland but less inclined to interfere with roadwork – I think it more likely the mayor of Sochi is just an idiot.

All week I have been seeing images of frightful Sochi hotel rooms and thinking, “You know what Russia needs? More gays.”

Pleased as I was with my rather glib thought, I know full well that gay people in Russia built those rooms and booked them and are competing for their country, and I wish all the athletes well. But I won’t be watching.

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