For all of his life, Russian filmmaker Askold Kurov struggled with being gay. He felt repulsed and even homophobic.
“(In the Soviet Union) nobody talked about it. I felt like a monster, and I was the only person like this,” Kurov said in an interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Then in June 2013, Russia passed a law that bans the spreading of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors and sets heavy fines for violations.
“Because of this bill, some people became more and more aggressive”, says Kurov, “People believed that children could be made gay. This law has changed a lot of the attitude of the society.”
Kurov set out to make a film about the law, and in the process discovered the Children 404 web site – set up by activist and former journalist Elena Klimova only three months before the passage of the gay propaganda ban – that gives LGBT children a place to express their feelings towards the law and share their life stories.
Klimova had derived the name of the web site from the “404 error” message that appears when a web page cannot be found on the Internet.
“Children remain invisible in our society, because the government doesn’t speak about them, and the mass media does not write about then and many even don’t believe they exist,” she said in the film.
For the “Children 404” documentary, Kurov and co-director Pavel Loparev interviewed 45 children through Klimova’s website. The interviews struck a chord for Kurov.
“I am gay, and I know exactly what those children feel,” he said. “I had some inner homophobia. Only when I talked to those children, did I realise how strong my homophobia was.”
“YOUR STUPID LAWS”
In the film, the audience sees appalling scenes where one boy, Pasha Romanov, is verbally abused by former classmates, while teachers and adults ignore the assault.
While homosexuality is legal, gay rights activists have said that violence against homosexuals had risen since President Vladimir Putin courted conservatives through the Orthodox Church, whose leader has suggested that homosexuality is one of the main threats to Russia. After the law was passed, the situation further deteriorated.
One child in the film says: “We need protection from you and your stupid laws.”
“The law states that it protects the minors under the age of 18, but of course, no one has asked those under 18 for their opinion”, says Klimova.
Because of the new law, says Kurov, psychologists can no longer tell children seeking help that being gay is normal.
“They will be in danger and to be fined,” Kurov said. “You should hide your relations - this is the only way. People who are homophobic can chase you because they can say they are just trying to protect their children (according to the law).”
During the production of the film, Klimova was charged with violating the very law that she and the children criticise. The court ruled in her favour as her site provides a space for children to share their experiences and connect with each other.
And Kurov, while working on the film, came out to his mother.
(Correction to Kurov quote in paragraph 15: psychologists will be fined, not put in prison)