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Lesbian woman speaks candidly about Russian persecution, her family’s decision to flee Russia

In 2021, the police showed up at our house. They began to ask my wife questions about her living situation. “Who is raising your youngest daughters,” they demanded. We knew why they were there, and the absolute terror completely overwhelmed us. We did our best to stay cool, reciting the story we rehearsed for this kind of scenario.

  • 11 months ago
  • July 23, 2023
6 min read
For years, Anastasia and her wife Anna lived in constant fear that government in Russia would take her children away simply for being in a lesbian relationship. For years, Anastasia and her wife Anna lived in constant fear that government in Russia would take her children away simply for being in a lesbian relationship. | Photo courtesy of Anastasia Domini
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
Anastasia Domini (Right) is a Russian lawyer and member of the LGBTQ+ community. After facing police questioning about their living situation, in January 2022, she left Russia with her wife Anna (left) and their four children. The family fled to Argentina where they eventually sought asylum. In their new home country, they were finally able to get married under the Equal Marriage Law.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Argentina finally recognized same sex marriage 12 years ago, starting on July 15, 2010, when Law No. 26,618 on Equal Marriage was enacted.
In Russia, on the other hand, Putin unleashed homophobic laws that persecute members of the LGBTQ+ community in the country. The Russian Parliament is also processing a hateful bill that prohibits transgender people from changing their sex or getting access to medical assistance in their transition.

MOSCOW, Russia — My family and I sought asylum in a foreign country because we faced persecution in Russia for being gay. For the longest time, my wife and I lived in fear. I met Anna in 2009 while I worked as a lawyer and activist for the LGBTQ+ organization Krug Karelia. We hosted an event to discuss the film Rainbow Families and when Anna and I talked, I instantly felt butterflies in my stomach. We started dating and in 2016, welcomed our first set of twins Mikhail and Aksinia. In Russia, we legally took on the same last name, Domini, and passed ourselves off as sisters. By 2019, we welcomed two more children, Agata and Uma.

[Amidst all these incredible moments, Russia made a devastating move against the LGBTQ+ community.] The government passed a law prohibiting all LGBTQ+ “propaganda,” effectively rendering us silent. We could not risk openly acknowledging our relationship or status as a family unit.

We knew what could happen; we heard the stories of Russian authorities separating children from families and placing them into custody. Our fear expanded by the day and soon I felt crippled by the heaviness in my chest. Every time I heard a siren or saw something suspicious near me, terror ran through my veins. I thought they were coming for us. Then, something critical happened.

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The police showed up at our door, leaving us stunned and terrified

In 2021, the police showed up at our house. They began to ask my wife questions about her living situation. “Who is raising your youngest daughters,” they demanded. We knew why they were there, and the absolute terror completely overwhelmed us. We did our best to stay cool, reciting the story we rehearsed for this kind of scenario.

Every passing minute felt like an eternity. My heart started to beat so fast, I could feel it throughout my entire body. Somehow, we managed to fool them. However, the confrontation left us with a looming sense of uncertainty, and it wasn’t the only time. On another occasion, we took our youngest daughter to the doctor for an eye injury. The doctor quizzically asked us about our living situation. A couple weeks later, the police stood at the door.

They demanded to know the whereabouts of the children’s father. Their intrusion left us so shocked that we came clean with the kids about the danger. While they knew we were their mothers and not just friends living together, we made it clear, “Our family is forbidden in Russia, and we need to flee.”

Within four months, we sold our apartment, disposed of all our belongings, quit our jobs, and left Russia – but the decision was not a hasty one. We considered it for many years as we watched the situation worsen. I felt an intuition, deep down inside, saying, “Something big is going to happen here.” It went beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic and the poising of prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Something seemed to be escalating in the Russian government, and we simply needed to go.

A foreign land and a dream wedding

When we fled Russia, we also left behind many challenging situations. I thought about the times our four kids ran around the playground and we watched as mothers pulled their children away, whispering in their ears. Those experiences left our kids confused and hurt, unable to comprehend why other Russian families acted differently toward us.

A photo of Anastasia and her wife Anna walking with their son. | Photo courtesy of Anastasia Domini

When we decided to move to Argentina, we reassured the children they would find new friends. We promised them a welcoming school and a beautiful home surrounded by trees and flowers. Most of all, we told them we would finally be free.

When our plane finally landed, we held hands as a family, staring at each other in disbelief. We cried as we embraced, barely able to believe we had found that freedom. Throughout my relationship with Anna, we yearned to get married. We just wanted to be accepted, respected, and have legal rights like anyone else. Argentina seemed the safest option for us, and we wasted no time.

Two months after our airplane landed, Anna and I celebrated our dream wedding. The small, intimate ceremony proved everything we hoped for. By then, people in Russia knew why we left. As a lesbian family, our friends strongly advised us never to return, so as soon as the wedding ended, we applied for asylum.

Of course, I hold many wonderful memories of my life in Russia, but a pervading sadness covers all of that. Government-endorsed homophobia threatens so many Russians. To this day, I have nightmares of government officials barging into my house to take my children away.

We wanted to live as far away from Russia as possible

For Russian people, the situation remains complicated. Homophobia was not the only issue that drove us out of our homeland. Russian policy revolves around confrontation. It affects everyone including natural-born Russians and foreign nationals living there. The repression and actions of the government can only be described as terrorism.

They hide the truth from the public and while even Russian citizens lack a complete understanding of our government, we know one thing. If you have a different ideology than Vladimir Putin, it puts you in grave danger. Anna and I could no longer live that way.

When we began to consider leaving Russia, I made a careful comparison of the options. I created a list of essential aspects of our new home country. The list included human rights, democracy, and the quality of life for the LGBTQ+ community. We had to pick a place that allowed gay marriage.

No country is perfect; they all have their issues. Yet, Argentina emerged as the winner based on our criteria and its distance. We wanted to live as far away from Russia as possible.

It still disheartens me to know we were shamed, simply for being who we are. Although it is not my shame to bear, I feel the weight of it. No one deserves to be treated as inferior. It feels delightful to say that today, we are a truly happy family. We finally feel the security and freedom we desperately longed for, for so many years.

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