What happens when two Russian men hold hands in public

Homophobia reigns in Moscow’s Red Square.
Homophobia reigns in Moscow’s Red Square.
Image: ChebuRussiaTV/YouTube
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In Russia, even pretending to be gay can be hazardous to your health.

That’s the conclusion of a new viral video investigating homophobia on Moscow’s historic streets. On July 12, a Russian organization decided to try a “social experiment” in the capital city, secretly filming a pair of men holding hands in public. Shot by ChebuRussiaTV and posted to YouTube, the video shows abuse—both verbal and physical—that openly LGBT Russians are still subjected to on a daily basis.

Although the two men featured, Artem Frantsuzov and Jay Babenko, are not actually gay, they decided to stop filming after only a few hours because they felt threatened, reports the Washington Post. Nikita Rozhdestv, who shot the video, told the Post that the group was inspired to create the video—which has since been viewed over 3.6 million times—after the US Supreme Court handed down a ruling defending gay marriage.

Their intentions were clear. “We thought it was strange that, in the US, if two guys have a walk holding hands, it isn’t a big deal. So we wanted to see the same situation in Russia,” Rozhdestv told Quartz. “We were surprised as too how many negative reactions we got,” Rozhdestv added.

Never a particularly LGBT-friendly nation, Russia has cracked down on displays of LGBT affection in recent years. In 2013, the Kremlin passed a law banning the adoption of Russian-born children by gay couples, as well as public discussion of gay rights in the presence of children. And although Russia technically decriminalized homosexual relationships in 1993, following the fall of the Soviet Union, president Vladimir Putin has expressed his opposition to allowing gay rights to permeate Russian society.

“Without the values ​​embedded in Christianity and other world religions, without the standards of morality that have taken shape over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity,” the Russian president noted during a speech in 2013. “We consider it natural and right to defend these values,” Putin continued, framing homophobia as a national moral imperative.

European countries such as France, meanwhile, that have recently legalized gay marriage “are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual,” according to Putin.