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As the World Cup comes to a close, questions rise about future about LGBT rights

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As a dynamic World Cup comes to a close, with this weekend's electrifying final match between France and Croatia, Russia will say goodbye to a lot of foreign visitors that authorities have really worked hard to impress.

One uncomfortable truth remains, however, that Russia has remained unwelcoming to “western values”. Attitudes to LGBT people, in particular, are often openly hostile.


Images courtesy of Three Lions Pride and Di Cunningham

While last year St. Petersburg celebrated its largest Pride parade since 2010, reports of homosexual Chechnyan men being detained and tortured started to emerge. This shadow still hangs on the country’s less than stellar human rights record.

Incidents happened: British LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell was detained for protesting the torture of Chechnyan gay men. But then the country went to great lengths to forge more inclusivity for the duration of the World Cup, relaxing its protest rules for foreign fans.

Now, however, questions remain about what happens after the guests leave. I spoke to Joe White, co-founder of Three Lions Pride, England’s LGBT+ Fans Group, who went to Russia to watch the World Cup.

Three Lions Pride has connected to local LGBT+ groups in every place they have been for the Cup. After hearing about Chechnya and day-to-day life, they are even more keen to focus on the legacy of a Rainbow World Cup, both in Russia and beyond.

“We can’t just look to Qatar, we need to support LGBT+ communities in Russia and across the world through the power of football,” Joe tells us.

“The World Cup has affected them by giving them a profile and opportunity to talk openly to us and others about what resources and help they need, and the reality they face.” 

And while Joe has enjoyed a superb tournament, both in terms of the visit itself and the matches, there have been sinister undertones as well: “You see that going into any LGBT+ venue - metal doors, no signs, huge security going in," he says.

“We can’t forget the reality, and once you scratch the surface you see it - especially in the last week; the reality of Russia has been more obvious.”

In one incident, a group of men spent 20 minutes in a metro station after the England game telling him how homosexuality is a disease - just because they saw the Three Lions Pride scarf. Joe says: "We have to support the local Russian communities however they need it post-tournament.” 

Showing visibility and solidarity in person was clearly more accessible for foreign fans, highlighting how there are two sets of rules in Russia: one for locals and one for visitors. Members of Three Lions Pride have had to deal with death threats, but Joe felt they had to do it because no one else would. 

Three Lions Pride first showed a rainbow banner at England’s first game, when the team played against Tunisia in Volgograd on 18th June. The win took the rainbow-coloured lions and cross all the way to the semi-finals, not only giving hope that football might come home, but also raising visibility on a really important issue.

“It’s been great the reach we’ve had - we hope to see more LGBT+ Fans Groups internationally by Qatar 2022,” Joe says.

“It’s also been heartwarming to see the positivity we’ve helped instil within LGBT+ Russians - throughout the tournament we have been shocked, surprised and overwhelmed with the feedback, despite the well-publicised issues we had in Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod.”

Find out more about Three Lions Pride here. 

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