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Identity, Belonging and Solidarity among Russian-speaking Queer Migrants in Berlin

  • Richard C. M. Mole

Drawing on the experience of Russian-speaking queer migrants in Berlin, the article furthers our understanding of queer migration by analyzing the motivations and integration strategies of LGBQ migrants, as well as their attempts to maintain and perform both their sexual and national identities in the post-migration context. The risk that they could be doubly marginalized—as ethnic minorities within the host society and sexual minorities in the established diasporic community—led to the establishment of Quarteera, a forum for Russian-speaking queers to perform and maintain both their sexual and ethno-cultural identities and give and receive social and psychological support, as well as a channel for expressing feelings of solidarity towards other Russian-speaking queers in the post-Soviet homeland. A further contribution of the article is thus highlighting the benefit of “queer diaspora” as a heuristic device to think about identity, belonging, and solidarity among sexual minorities in the context of dispersal and transnational networks.

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1. See, for example, Bielby, William T. and Bielby, Denise D., “I Will Follow Him: Family Ties, Gender-Role Beliefs, and Reluctance to Relocate for a Better Job,” American Journal of Sociology 97, no. 5 (March, 1992): 1241–67; Buijs, Gina, Migrant Women: Crossing Boundaries and Changing Identities (Oxford, 1993); Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette, Gendered Transitions: Mexican Experiences of Immigration (Berkeley, 1994).

2. As my aim is to examine the relationship between migration and sexuality, I will focus on LGBQ migrants given that trans is a gender and not a sexual identity. I also acknowledge that the terms “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual” and “queer” are not universally accepted or understood in the Russian context, with other terms, such as goluboy or tema often used instead. I am thus using “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual” and “queer” as categories of analysis, rather than assuming they are categories of practice. See: Binnie, Jon, “Invisible Europeans: Sexual Citizenship in the New Europe,” Environment and Planning A, 29, no. 2 (1997): 237–48; Mai, Nicola and King, Russell, “Love, Sexuality and Migration: Mapping the Issue(s),” Mobilities, Special issue on Love, Sexuality and Migration 4, no. 3 (2009): 295307; Manalansan, Martin F. IV, “Queer Intersections: Sexuality and Gender in Migration Studies,” International Migration Review 40, no. 1 (February, 2006): 224–49; Gorman-Murray, Andrew, “Intimate Mobilities: Emotional Embodiment and Queer Migration,” Social and Cultural Geography 10, no. 4 (2009): 441–60; Gorman-Murray, Andrew, “Rethinking Queer Migration through the Body,” Social and Cultural Geography, Special Issue on Lesbian Geographies 8, no. 1 (2007): 105–21; Cantú, Lionel Jr., The Sexuality of Migration: Border Crossings and Mexican Immigrant Men (New York, 2009); Luibhéid, Eithne, “Sexuality, Migration and the Shifting Line between Legal and Illegal Status,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 14, no. 2–3 (2008): 289315; Luibhéid, Eithne, Entry Denied: Controlling Sexuality at the Border (Minneapolis, 2002); Luibhéid, Eithne and Cantú, Lionel Jr., eds., Queer Migrations: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossings (Minneapolis, 2005); Kuntsman, Adi, Figurations of Violence and Belonging: Queerness, Migranthood and Nationalism in Cyberspace and Beyond (Oxford, 2009); Eng, David L., “Out Here and Over There: Queerness and Diaspora in Asian American Studies,” Social Text, Special issue on Queer Transections of Race, Nation and Gender 52–53, vol. 15, no. 3–4 (Fall/Winter 1997): 3152; Watney, Simon, “AIDS and the Politics of Queer Diaspora,” in Dorenkamp, Monica and Henke, Richard, eds., Negotiating Lesbian and Gay Subjects, (New York, 1995), 5370; Manalansan, Martin F. IV, Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora (Durham, 2003).

3. For information on legal equality for LGBTI citizens in Europe in 2015, see the ILGA-Europe Rainbow map: (last accessed May 10, 2015).

4. Fortier, Anne-Marie, “Queer Diaspora,” in Richardson, Diane and Seidman, Steven, eds., Handbook of Gay and Lesbian Studies (London, 2002), 184.

5. “Queer” is also used to refer to non-cisgender individuals, although trans migrants are not part of this research.

6. Martin F. Manalansan IV, “Queer intersections,” 229.

7. For an in-depth discussion of queer approaches in sociology, see Seidman, Steven, ed., Queer Theory/Sociology (Cambridge, Mass., 1996).

8. Stark, Oded and Bloom, David E., “The New Economics of Labor Migration,” The American Economic Review 75, no. 2 (May 1985): 173–78.

9. Andrew Gorman-Murray, “Intimate Mobilities,” 443.

10. Ibid., 446.

11. Cohen, Robin, Global Diasporas: An Introduction (London, 2008), 4.

12. Ibid.

13. Safran, William, “Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return,” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 1, no.1 (Spring 1991): 8399.

14. Cohen, Global Diasporas, 8.

15. Brubaker, Rogers, “The ‘Diaspora’ Diaspora,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 28, no. 1 (2005), 3.

16. See, for example, Waterbury, Myra A., “Internal Exclusion, External Inclusion: Diaspora Politics and Party-Building Strategies in Post-Communist Hungary,” East European Politics and Societies 20, no. 3 (2006): 483515.

17. William Safran, “Diasporas in Modern Societies,” 83–84.

18. Clifford, James, “Diasporas,” Cultural Anthropology 9, no. 3 (August 1994), 305.

19. Anthias, Floya, “Evaluating ‘Diaspora’: Beyond Ethnicity?,” Sociology 32, no. 3 (1998), 557.

20. James Clifford, “Diasporas,” 305–6.

21. See Hall, Stuart, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Rutherford, James, ed., Identity: Community, Culture, Difference (London, 1990), 222–37.

22. Penrose, Jan and Mole, Richard C. M., “Nation-States and National Identity,” in Cox, Kevin R., Low, Murray, and Robinson, Jennifer, eds., The SAGE Handbook of Political Geography (Los Angeles, 2008), 345.

23. Warner, Michael, “Introduction,” in Warner, Michael, ed., Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory (Minneapolis, 1993), xvii.

24. See David L. Eng, “Out Here and Over There” 31–52.

25. Watney, 59.

26. Fortier, “Queer Diaspora,” 183.

27. Ibid., 184.

28. Consenting sexual acts between adult women had never been specifically criminalized in Russia.

29. For detailed statistics on public opinion on homosexuality, see “Homophobia,” press release of the Levada-Center, at (last accessed September 2, 2015).

30. Ibid.

31. Stella, Francesca, Lesbian Lives in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia: Post-Socialism and Gendered Sexualities (New York, 2015), 110–25.

32. See Essig, Laurie, Queer in Russia: A Story of Sex, Self and the Other (Durham, 1999).

33. Baer, Brian James, “Now You See It: Gay (In)Visibility and the Performance of Post-Soviet identity,” in Fejes, Nárcisz and Balogh, Andrea P., eds., Queer Visibility in Post-Socialist Cultures (Bristol, 2013), 3556.

34. An earlier version of this discussion was published on the LSE EUROPP European Politics and Policy blog, at (last accessed September 2, 2015).

35. President of Russia. 2014. Interv΄iu rossiiskim i inostrannym SMI [Interview with Russian and Foreign Media]. Website of the President of Russia (last accessed December 28, 2016) at

36. The full text is available on the Rossiyskaya Gazeta Dokumenty website: (last accessed July 14, 2015).

37. Pecherskaya, Natalia, “Perspektivy rossiiskoi semeinoi politiki: Prinuzhdenie k traditsii [Prospects for Russian Family Policy: The Drive towards Tradition],” Zhurnal Sotsiologii i Sotsialnoi Antropologii 69 (2013), 94105, quotation on 96.

38. Wilkinson, Cai, “Putting “Traditional Values” into Practice: The Rise and Contestation of Anti-Homopropaganda Laws in Russia,” Journal of Human Rights, Special issue on Not Such an International Human Rights Norm: Local Resistance to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights 13, no. 3 (2014), 368.

39. “Putin: Russia must ‘cleanse’ itself of gays, but no need to fear in Sochi,” Aljazeera America, January 19, 2014 at (last accessed April 21, 2015)

40. Daniel Healey, “Russia,” glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture, at (last accessed September 3, 2015), 11.

41. Alyosha, interview, Berlin, March 23, 2012.

42. Alyosha, interview, Berlin, March 23, 2012.

43. Boris, interview, Berlin, April 3, 2012.

44. Alyosha, interview, Berlin, March 23, 2012.

45. Hirschman, Albert O., Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge, Mass., 1970).

46. See “Gay Russians are seeking asylum in the United States because of anti-gay hostility and attacks in their homeland,” Daily Mail, 29 November 2014: (last accessed November 29, 2015); “Gay Poles head for UK to escape state crackdown,” The Guardian, 1 July 2007: (last accessed June 16, 2012).

47. Andrew Gorman-Murray, “Intimate Mobilities,” 445, emphasis added.

48. See the German Federal Law on Refugees and Exiles [in German]: (last accessed November 21, 2015).

49. Since 2005, Jewish migration from the former Soviet Union to Germany has been governed by the Immigration Act. The text of the law can be found at: (last accessed November 21, 2015).

50. Boris, interview, Berlin, April 3, 2012.

51. Masha, interview, Berlin, May 2, 2012.

52. Zoya, interview, Berlin, April 25, 2012.

53. Boris, interview, Berlin, April 3, 2012.

54. Masha, interview, Berlin, May 2, 2012.

55. Zoya, interview, Berlin, April 25, 2012.

56. Stark and Bloom, “The New Economics of Labor Migration.”

57. Vladimir, interview, Berlin, April 11, 2012.

58. Binnie, “Invisible Europeans,” 240.

59. For a photographic representation of gay men who fled Russia and sought asylum in the United States on the grounds of their sexual orientation, see Kargaltsev, Alexander, Asylum (New York, 2012).

60. Andrew Gorman-Murray, “Intimate Mobilities,” 446.

61. Boris, interview, Berlin, April 3, 2012.

62. Ivan, interview, Berlin, April 25, 2012.

63. Zoya, interview, Berlin, April 25, 2012.

64. Andrew Gorman-Murray, “Intimate Mobilities,” 450.

65. Polina, interview, Berlin, May 30, 2012.

66. Zoya, interview, Berlin, April 25, 2012.

67. Darya, interview, Berlin, April 18, 2012.

68. Olga, interview, Berlin, May 30, 2012.

69. Katya, interview, Berlin, April 25, 2012.

70. Darya, interview, Berlin, April 18, 2012.

71. Evgeniy, interview, Berlin, April 24, 2012.

72. Yuriy, interview, Berlin, July 31, 2012.

73. Olga, interview, Berlin, May 30, 2012.

74. Galina, interview, Berlin, April 16, 2012.

75. Masha, interview, Berlin, May 2, 2012.

76. Galina, interview, Berlin, April 16, 2012.

77. Olga, interview, Berlin, May 30, 2012.

78. Cohen, Global Diasporas, 7.

79. Kil, Wolfgang and Silver, Hilary, “From Kreuzberg to Marzahn: New Migrant Communities in Berlin,” German Politics and Society 24, no. 4 (Winter 2006), 103.

80. Bossina, Zlata, “Politisch wider Willen Russisch in Berlin: Queer + Art = Quarteera,” Osteuropa 10 (2013), 119.

81. Wolfgang Kil and Hilary Silver, “From Kreuzberg to Marzahn,” 103.

82. Ibid., 109.

83. See, for example, Goodenow, Carol and Espin, Olivia M., “Identity Choices in Immigrant Adolescent Females,” Adolescence 28, no. 109 (1993): 173–84.

84. Vladimir, interview, Berlin, April 11, 2012.

85. Galina, interview, Berlin, April 16, 2012.

86. Bossina, “Politisch wider Willen,” 119.

87. Mole, Richard C. M., Gerry, Christopher J., Parutis, Violetta and Burns, Fiona M., “Migration and Sexual Resocialisation: The Case of Central and East Europeans in London,” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures 31, no. 1 (2017): 201–22.

88. Katya, interview, Berlin, April 25, 2012.

89. Alyosha, interview, Berlin, March 23. 2012.

90. Vertovec, Steven, “Three Meanings of ‘Diaspora,’ Exemplified among South Asian Religions,” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 6, no. 3 (Winter 1997), 281.

91. Vladimir, interview, Berlin, April 11, 2012.

92. Boris, interview, Berlin, April 3, 2012.

93. Darya, interview, Berlin, April 18, 2012.

94. Polina, interview, Berlin, May 30, 2012.

95. Bossina, “Politisch wider Willen,” 118–19.

96. Rogers Brubaker, “The ‘Diaspora’ Diaspora,” 12; Gopinath, Gayatri, “Funny Boys and Girls: Notes on a Queer South Asian Planet,” in Leong, Russell, ed., Asian American Sexualities: Dimensions of the Gay and Lesbian Experience (New York, 1996), 123.

97. Fortier, “Queer Diaspora,” 183.

98. Leonid, interview, Berlin, May 2, 2012.

99. Olga, interview, Berlin, May 30, 2012.

100. Brubaker, “The ‘Diaspora’ Diaspora,” 12

101. Zoya, interview, Berlin, April 25, 2012.

102. Fortier, “Queer Diaspora,” 183.

103. Puar, Jasbir K., “Homonationalism as Assemblage: Viral Travels, Affective Sexualities,” Jindal Global Law Review 4, no. 2 (November 2013), 24.

This research was made possible thanks to an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers.

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