A posed portrait of 25 year old bisexual Olga Bakhaeva who resigned from her position as a high school history teacher in Magnitogorsk city when the director of the school found out her sexuality. Her director, under pressure from the Education Board, told her not to support LGBT and other groups in opposition to the government. The environment at the school became hostile when Olga continued to be active on social media. She felt humiliated by the director of the school when she outed her in front of other teachers. Privately, afterwards, she was told by the director of the school “It would be better if you found another job”. Olga says that the director in fact was not concerned with her sexuality but was worried about the reputation of the school should she not act. In Russia, laws have been made, purportedly, to protect children from LGBT “propaganda.” State schools are very pro-government. According to several LGBT teachers, even if there is no law stating LGBT teachers cannot be employed, it is, in reality, not possible to be openly LGBT and a teacher in Russian Government schools or Universities. After Olga resigned her activism increased. Now she is a strong supporter of LGBT non-governmental organization ComingOut SPB and bi-sexual non-governmental organization LuBi. St Petersburg, Russia. November 2014.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent, same sex relationships are legal in South Africa. The country has the most liberal laws toward gays and lesbians on the continent, with a constitution guaranteeing LBGTQI rights. Because of this, LGBTQI Africans from all over the continent fleeing persecution have come to South Africa. Despite these laws, many lesbians have been victims of ‘corrective rape’ and homosexuals have been murdered for their sexuality. Homophobia is by no means just an African problem. In Russia, politicians spread intolerance. In June 2013 the country passed a law making “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual relationships” a crime. Attacks against gays rose. Videos of gay men being tortured have been posted online. In predominantly Muslim Malaysia, law currently provides for whipping and up to a 20-year prison sentence for homosexual acts involving either men or women. Increased extreme Islamification in the Middle East is making life more dangerous for gay men there, as evidenced by ISIS’s recent murders of homosexual men. While homophobic discrimination is widespread in Lebanon, life is much safer there than Iran, Iraq, and Syria from which refugees are fleeing due to homophobic persecution. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos for Witness Change

Olga /

“‘It would be better if you started looking for another job.’ I heard this much-anticipated statement in August of 2013. A resolution to my summer epic, ‘Love vs. fascism’. The title is not literal, but I like it. Love in this case is humanity and common sense, and fascism – homophobia. In the end, Roditeli Rossiyi [Parents of Russia], namely Timur Isayev, could start celebrating because I wrote a statement declaring that I was leaving School #56 in Magnitogorsk. And… I felt relief. A great weight fell from my shoulders, because the only way to save my job was to compromise my conscience. It sounds dramatic, but I can’t call it anything else.

The whole story started in the beginning of June, when I wrote a comment in the group ‘Alliance of Heterosexuals for LGBT equality’ on the social network V Kontakte [a popular Russian alternative to Facebook], about the fact that I work in a school and I belong to LGBT. In an hour or so, I received a private message with a threat from a user named Valkiriya Repina. The message said that I must resign of my own free will within 10 days, or they will publicize all information about me, and will ruin my life in my hometown of Magnitogorsk.

Over the course of about a week, Valkiriya posted about me in all her homophobic groups, and at a certain point, the information reached the media. I got a call from a journalist from the Moskovskij Komsomolets [a Moscow-based newspaper] with a request for an interview, during which I said that I’m not a lesbian but I do belong to LGBT. (Valkiriya had called me a lesbian, but I’m bisexual.) The administration got wind of everything, and the director of the school called upon me to write an explanatory note to the education directorate of Magnitogorsk. At the beginning of the story, the director was saying that she’s not going to fire me, and that we just need a way out of this situation.

After the start of summer vacation, in the beginning of August, I had a conversation with the director of the school, during which it was made clear to me that I must accept her conditions: disappear from all LGBT groups; stop putting any similar information on my wall; and not participate in discussions on the subject… That is to say, ‘make a choice, what is more important to you – being a teacher, or your activist views.’ Just the chance to accept these conditions put me into a two day depression of looking at myself in the mirror with constant abhorrence. In essence, it meant the betrayal of myself, and everything I believe in. How to confess that I’m deficient, and because of this, I must stay silent, hide, and be afraid… No, I don’t agree, we aren’t supposed to live like this, we don’t deserve this. And exactly then I made the decision that at THIS price, I don’t need the job of a teacher. But I decided not to do anything right off the bat, but to observe the development of events, because obviously the homophobes had something else up their sleeve.

‘Something else’ came in the form of allegations against me to the district attorney’s office, accusing me of homosexual propaganda. Some especially ethical guardian of the morals of Magnitogorsk declared that her not-yet-of-age son entered my page by mistake, and was ‘propagandized’!!! In the declaration, she also requests to check why the parents weren’t informed about the ‘untraditional’ orientation of their childrens’ teacher. But I should also mention that before the run-in with Isayev, my interest in LGBT didn’t particularly concern anyone. Essentially they outed me, I just didn’t deny it.

Returning to the allegations, the whole issue of the accusation of propaganda boiled down to my V Kontakte page. A page on a social network!!! This is apparently the root of all evil. I lost my job, I lost so much sleep over it, I lost my privacy, all this because of a pathetic account on a social networking site?! I never thought that such a thing was even possible. All in all, the district attorney’s office was the last straw. I wrote a declaration that I was resigning from the school of my own volition.

To those who think that I gave up, I’ll answer them now: Forgive me, perfect people, but I wanted my life to belong to me. I understood that I alone didn’t have enough resources to fight against ‘windmills’ because actual support came only from activists in St. Petersburg and Moscow. My own friends and acquaintances in LGBT thought that I was the one to blame.

Together with my resignation, it was decided to make the reason for my departure public. Coercion of LGBT teachers to resign from their jobs happens everywhere, but very few know about it. Considering the fact that Magnitogorsk is a small, provincial city, I knew that if this story got picked up by the media, my life would become difficult. Having established friendly contact with LGBT activists in St. Petersburg, I moved to continue my life there.”

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