By Steven // Gay in the gulag – Historical information about the repression of gay men in the Soviet Union in the wake of the government’s re-criminalisation of homosexuality in 1933, after its decriminalisation in 1922. Trigger warning for sexual violence.
Anal and genital contact between consenting males became a criminal offence in the USSR on 17 December 1933. On 1 April 1934, article 154 (later 121) was introduced specifying a punishment of up to five years imprisonment. One theory currently popular among Moscow gays has it that the adopted son of the leading proletarian writer, Maxim Gorky, was seduced by a homosexual and that Gorky’s personal petition to Stalin led to the subsequent formal prohibition. On 23 May 1934, Pravda and Izvestiya published an article by Gorky declaiming, in language reminiscent of a political trial, that homosexuality was the result of pernicious influences from the Western bourgeoisie and German fascism. The article concluded with the slogan: “Destroy homosexuality and fascism will disappear!”
Article 154 quickly became a tool of reprisal against political dissent. In January 1934, homosexuals were arrested en masse in the Soviet Union’s main cities. Among those imprisoned were many actors, musicians and artists. Historians have noted numerous suicides in the Red Army and a growing mood of panic among Soviet gays at that time.
In 1936 the Commissar for Justice, Nikolai Krylenko, declared homosexuality a political crime against the Soviet state and the proletariat. It became an object of NKVD (later transformed into KGB) investigations, possibly with a view to recruiting new informers from among known homosexuals.