Late in the evening of May 9th, Vladislav Tornovoi became the latest victim of homophobic violence in Russia. Discovered in a courtyard in Volgograd, Tornovoi had been beaten to death and sodomized with beer bottles, his face unrecognizable after three men bludgeoned him with stones. The motive of his attackers was simple: they had overheard Tornovoi discussing his sexual orientation.
Russia’s LGBT people are under an ever-present threat of violence, and recent actions by the government legitimize hatred. Last year’s 100-year ban on gay pride parades in Moscow and the passing of a bill in the first reading prohibiting so-called “homosexual propaganda” in February 2013 are attempts to codify discrimination. (The propaganda law has gone as far as to call attempts to confront homophobia “extremist” because they inherently “incite social and religious hatred.”) Likewise, attacks on the LGBT community often go unprosecuted, and on the rare occasions they are, homophobia as a motive goes unmentioned.
All of this makes the government’s response to the Tornovoi murder a rarity; investigators have acknowledged that that the attackers were fueled by homophobia. As the case proceeds, it is essential that the motive not be swept under the rug, and that prosecutors do not excuse a crime that was based solely on hate.
Russia needs to honor its commitments to international human rights standards and protect the rights of its citizens as guaranteed by their own constitution. The United States has made it a priority to promote LGBT rights globally, and now is the opportunity to follow through, by urging Russia to prioritize the prosecution of violent hate crime and provide justice for Vladislav Tornovoi.