Exiled Russian Couple Marry, Want to Bring Hope to Fellow LGBTQ+ Citizens

Friday November 25, 2022

Jean-Michel Shcherbak and Mikhail Zygar
Jean-Michel Shcherbak and Mikhail Zygar  (Source:Instagram)

The Daily Mail reports that "Russian lawmakers unanimously approved a bill banning all forms of LGBTQ 'propaganda' in a final reading Thursday, as President Vladimir Putin seeks to promote his country as the antithesis of Western liberal values."

But an exiled and out Russian couple are showing their countrymen that there is hope. "Mikhail Zygar, a celebrated Russian author (whose books focus on Putin's elite and his use of propaganda), and his partner, Russian actor and model Jean-Michel Shcherbak, recently showed their home country an example of coming out with courage and honesty," writes the Daily Beast.

They celebrated a big and fun wedding—their own—in Lisbon, Portugal with dozen of friends, "mostly exiled Russian journalists, came from all over the world to celebrate the couple in a picturesque square in the Portuguese capital. For three years they had to hide their love in Russia, where the law allows the removal of children from gay parents. And now Zygar's 12-year-old daughter was with them at their happy party of friends and family."

But politics, both division over the War in Ukraine and Russia's increasingly hostile legislation against their LGBTQ+ population, divided the men from their parents. The Daily Beast writes that "Zygar's father wrote to him in the first days of the war against Ukraine, that both he and his circle disrespected Zygar's anti-war position—the two do not talk. And Shcherbak's mother agrees with the Kremlin's ideology. In the first days of the war she told him, 'You are no longer my son,' for his anti-war position."

"My mother hates gay men, she let me understand it clearly, when I was 15 years old," Shcherbak said.

The couple were married on October 25. At that time Zygar said he held his breadth and posted on social media: "We got married. Love, freedom, truth and happiness. Start liberalization from yourself."

At which time he turned his cellphone off, expecting a deluge of hate in response. Instead, he received overwhelmingly positive response. "The biggest surprise we had was the overwhelming supportive reaction from thousands of Russians, which basically shows that people in Russia are not homophobic, just brainwashed," he said.

"I would compare it to a jump with a parachute," Zygar told The Daily Beast. "The lightness of being, the happiness, the relief I experienced was overwhelming," Shcherbak added, with a big, happy smile on his face.

"The Kremlin is busy destroying the image of the enemy, since Putin's war is the war against what the authorities constantly characterize as the decaying West—and they make their point by drafting LGBTQ and HIV-positive people into their argument," out Russian journalist and personality Karèn Shainyan told The Daily Beast. "The guys' wedding and public reaction to it demonstrated the gap between the state propaganda and public views. Something is changing in Russia for sure. In spite of the pressure, LGBTQ literature is growing very popular, and sells really well."

While Zygar hopes their wedding is a step towards a "free and honest Russia," just days before the wedding, Zygar was designated a "foreign agent" by the Russian government. "The writer learned from his Russian publisher that the authorities had created a list of "banned authors"—writers with an anti-war position—and distributed it around Moscow's book stores. The blacklist included Dmitry Bykov, Boris Akunin, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, and Zygar himself. Stores were banned from putting Zygar's work on the shelves alongside bestselling books; the books were still on sale but with a note inside that said: 'Foreign agent,'" adds the Daily Beast.

But the couple's happy ending came at the cost of leaving their homeland, first in Berlin, where they resettled after the War in Ukraine began. Their most recent destination is New York City, where they honeymooned. "Here in New York on this trip I finally stopped missing the past," Shcherbak added.

The public reaction to their wedding surprised the couple. They received thousands of supportive comments and warm personal messages from Russians, who were sincerely happy for them. "Our wedding turned out to be a unique discovery for many people. Each one of them has a chance to be free, in spite of stereotyped thinking," Shcherbak said.