WEST HOLLYWOOD—The city of West Hollywood is making strides to provide asylum to LGBT Russian immigrants fleeing the oppression created by President Vladmir Putin’s 2013 Gay Propaganda Law, which makes it a federal crime in Russia to recognize homosexuality as a norm.
Putin’s Gay Propoganda Law, known in the American media as the “Russian Anti-Gay Law,” was unanimously approved and enacted on June 30, 2013. It resulted in an immediate surge of violence, harassment and persecution against the LGBT community, as well as a 34 percent increase in applications for asylum. The law aims to protect children from ‘homonormativity’ (recognizing homosexuality as a societal norm), on the grounds it contradicts traditional family values, making it illegal to:
- Publicly make statements or distribute materials in support of LGBT rights
- Hold Pride parades or similar demonstrations
- Publicly state that homosexual relationships are equal to heterosexual
- Publicly display LGBT symbols, like the Pride flag
- Kiss a same-sex partner in public
Russian LGBT Network chairman Igor Kochetkov said in a statement that the law “[has] essentially legalized violence against LGBT people.”
West Hollywood’s history as a safe-haven for the LGBT community, as well as its huge Russian community along the eastern side of the city, encouraged officials to create a coalition dedicated to conducting a needs assessment and developing a specific program for Russian LGBT asylum seekers, according to a pilot program update published on May 2, 2016.
West Hollywood Public Information Officer Joshua Schare said in a statement, “The city of West Hollywood was incorporated in 1984, by a unique coalition comprised of gays, lesbians, Russians, Seniors and others who advocated rent control.”
The program’s working group—comprised of Director of Human Services and Rent Stabilization Elizabeth Savage; Social Services Manager David Guigni; Social Services Program Administrator Derek Murray; and City Council Intern Cally Hardy—met in February 2016 to prepare its first needs assessment for LGBT immigrants, with special consideration for the unique challenges facing Russian and Eastern European asylum seekers, like the need for affordable and secure housing, their difficulty finding stable employment, and vulnerability to human trafficking.
At that same meeting the group drafted an LGBT resource guide, which has since become West Hollywood’s official “Guide For LGBT Immigrants and Asylum”; it outlines a citywide effort to improve the experience of Russian and Eastern European LGBT immigration and integration by doing things like:
- Expediting asylum processing; asylum processing can often take up to four years because of the volume of applicants – during this time, asylum seekers have no protected legal status and are especially vulnerable, putting them at a particularly high risk for human trafficking.
- Connectivity with local service providers, like Jewish Vocational Services; the Los Angeles LGBT Center; Bet Tzedek; and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles – which all offer services and expertise to LGBT immigrants, including: financial documentation and food and housing assistance; transportation services; human trafficking support; and cultural competency training.
According to the guide, city staff will remain up to date on local service providers and offer referrals to LGBT asylum seekers as needed. To monitor its effectiveness, the Social Services Division will keep a record of all service and report referrals in the Goals and Accomplishments section of the budget.
“Now, more than ever, we must demonstrate our commitment to social services and support for the LGBT community and, especially, those who are most vulnerable,” said West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister.