What’s with the Russians?

Sacramento’s newest immigrant group obsesses on gays—and confuses everybody else

SN&R Photo Illustration By Don Button

Pat Lynch is a Sacramento resident who’s at work on a novel

“What’s wrong with these Russians?” my friend Joseph asked. “They come in wearing their hate-the-gays T-shirts, they’re under age, and when I won’t serve them, one of them leans into the bar and says, ‘I know what your car looks like.’” He adds, “They’re assholes.”

Joseph—a 6-foot-plus behemoth—runs a trendy Midtown restaurant. He’s an amiable guy, but it’s not a good idea to threaten him.

A week later, another friend, a social worker, repeated Joseph’s exact words: “What’s wrong with these Russians?” He tells me that he was shoved by sign-waving Ukrainian males who gathered at a school to scream at gay students.

But wait. There’s more.

A sweet, pretty Russian woman, Tanya, told me she’s tired because she had to get up at three in the morning to pray for God to punish gays by defeating pro-gay legislation. She’s on a prayer wheel that operates 24-seven, so that every minute of the day and night some Pentecostal Russian is beseeching the Almighty to turn his wrath upon homosexuals.

I called my friend Stevyn.

“Did you know Russian Baptists set their alarms to wake up in the middle of the night to pray against you?”

And Stevyn said what everyone says: “Honey, what’s wrong with these people?” He’s confused. “Didn’t they used to be Communists or atheists or something?”

I don’t have any answers. I don’t understand the difference now between the former Soviet tyrants and the Sacramento Russian evangelical congregations. Is there a difference? Or are they of a stripe?

It was time to talk to my expert. He works with the Slavic community, has lived in Russia and has a grasp on the history of this immigrant population.

“What’s wrong with these Russians?” I asked him. “Why are they persecuting the gays?”

“It’s a xenophobia created by their religious leaders to support beliefs that could otherwise be challenged by American lifestyle and tolerance,” he said.

He explained that the Sacramento evangelical Russian faith community is both insular and desperately conservative. “When they were in Russia, they suffered because of their Christian affiliation. Some lost jobs; were even imprisoned.” They came here, he said, seeking freedom from religious persecution.

“So they get here and they get their religious freedom and they turn around and beat up on gays? What the hell kind of Christian covenant is that?” I asked.

But never mind. I know what kind. And anyway, my expert won’t let me get on my soapbox.

He said, “Sacramento’s evangelical Russian church is a huge establishment. It totally dominates their children. The kids are so indoctrinated they can’t think straight. The practicing faithful don’t wear jewelry, drink, dance, smoke or swear. And the kids are taught to cleave to the hatred fostered by their elders.”

He was surprised to hear about the gay-bashing Russian punks who mouthed off at Joseph in his restaurant. “They’re breaking their church rules if they’re drinking.”

Aha. Drinking equals bad. Bashing equals good.

“Was there anti-gay prejudice back in the old U.S.S.R.?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah. Gays were called ‘go-la-boy.’ It means light blue. Since it was anti-Soviet not to produce children, gays were the dregs of society. Some of them got pretty stiff prison sentences.”

I wondered who was lower over there before the Berlin Wall went down: gays or Christians? My expert replied that Soviet society pretty much lumped them together, “equally as bad.”

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that the dregs would sympathize with one another. But not the Christian dregs.

But surely some Russians—even the evangelical kind—are gay.

“I’m sure they’re so deep in the closet they can’t see the crack under the door,” my expert said. “You know they have to feel like hell, all the time.”

So here’s my theory: the Russian church leaders needed to unite the flock, and a common enemy is cohesive gold. It keeps people together, gives them a mission, deters the youth from being seduced by secular culture and provides everyone with nice, thumping righteousness.

Russian church leaders could have picked the Russian criminal class as their common enemy. Or they could have picked war. Or ethnic discrimination. Even homelessness. But they chose gays. My expert suggested that the leadership perceive the gay “lifestyle” as a frontal assault on the patriarchal family—the basic financial unit of the church.

But I think it’s more than that. I think they’re thugs and they see gays as easy targets. I think the gay-bashers, both the preachers with their verbal bashing and the punks with their fists, are the KGB of the local evangelical community.

I called Stevyn again. “The Russians are praying! The Russians are praying!” I said. But I had a plan. Since one Russian Christian bestirs himself every twenty minutes to pray against the gays, gay folks need to fight back.

“Every time one of them wakes up to pray, two of you have to wake up and do it,” I said. “For every one Russian praying, there should be two gays boinking.”

“Brilliant. Just brilliant,” Stevyn replied. “Let me tell my boyfriend.”