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Gay Russian talks coming out, seeking asylum in America
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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When Alexander ( who requests that his last name be withheld ) was in kindergarten he, like the other kids, had crushes on his fellow students but in his case it was another boy.

The following year, Alexander moved to another city closer to Moscow and it was there that teachers and other parents started calling him a "soft character boy" because he was not interested in fighting and playing "war" with the other boys and instead wanted to hang out with the girls in his class.

"Boys from my school started bullying me and called me 'a girl,' 'sissy' and 'fag'," said Alexander. "This escalated as I got older with boys at my school beating me up after class and even though it was happening all the time I could not get help from others. I would miss a few weeks of class because the bullying would also occur while we were in the classroom."

The first time Alexander saw an adult explain LGBTQ people in a positive way was one of his middle school teachers. Alexander explained that the teacher said genes were responsible for many things, including one's sexual orientation.

"Many classmates began laughing and booing, but our teacher told everyone to keep quiet and started talking about gay people," said Alexander. "As she spoke, I heard myself in her words, 'People do not choose who they are when they are born. The child does not understand what is happening, but when they grow up, they realize that inside them there lives a person who likes someone of the same gender and there is nothing they can do about it.' That is why she was my favorite teacher."

From that point forward Alexander knew being gay was not wrong but he had to keep it a secret because of growing anti-LGBTQ sentiment in Russia. Alexander explained that there were numerous attacks on LGBTQ people but the media did not report on it. He said that this was one of the ways the government would erase LGBTQ people from society.

While all of this was happening, Alexander took a month-long trip to the Chicago in the summer of 2013 to learn English at a language school and saw how LGBTQ people lived here. When he returned to Russia he decided to "become a bit braver and open the door of my closet where I spent my 19 years."

This action made things worse for Alexander because people found out where he lived and worked and during the summer of 2014 he got attacked twice. Due to the attacks, he had to quit his job and leave college even though he only had a year left to get his degree. Alexander decided to escape Russia shortly thereafter and came to Chicago because he knew it was a safe place to live. He sent a request to the language school and got his Visa with their assistance. He currently lives in Boystown and works in hospitality.

"Since I left Russia, the situation has gotten worse because the government outlawed 'Homosexual Propaganda' which means mass media cannot write or show anything good about LGBTQ people," said Alexander. "Also, there are anti-LGBTQ purges that include persecution, imprisonment and torture for anyone who is LGBTQ or an ally of the community."

In 2015, Alexander started the asylum process.

"Once people overheard my story they told me about the National Immigrant Justice Center," said Alexander. "After an interview they decided to help me with my case. We filled out the forms and now I have a lawyer who is guiding me through the process—Timothy Knudsen."

Having to re-live the negative things that happened to him in Russia during the asylum process has taken an emotional toll on him, Alexander explained. He said he would rather start forgetting everything about his past life and look toward the future. Alexander explained that when his asylum status has been approved and he has his green card he would like to work in the airline industry as a flight attendant.

Alexander has also gotten involved with the LGBTQ community, most recently with the Legacy Project. Executive Director Victor Salvo contacted him after he saw Alexander' story in other publication and invited him to be involved with the recent induction of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky onto the Legacy Walk, including an event honoring Tscaikovsky at Ravinia.

"Ravinia was a beautiful place with beautiful people there," said Alexander. "I was asked to show the other guest what it is like to grow up in a society that does not accept LGBTQ culture at all. A lot of people were shocked when I told them Tchaikovsky's sexual orientation was erased from his biography in Russia."

Alexander said the Legacy Project does a great job in educating people about the LGBTQ community. He explained that knowledge is power and can also save lives.

"If you feel that you are alone or not understood, there is always a person that will help you," said Alexander. "In my case it was my teacher, even though she does not know about it. She made me realize I was not alone and there are millions of people like me. She also gave me the power to break the cage and leave it and that was something I did not believe could happen when I was a teenager, that I would be open about being a gay man."

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