April 19, 2021 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

West Hollywood helps LGBT asylum seekers from Putin’s Russia

Russian riot police detain gay rights activists during an unauthorized gay-rights rally in central Moscow in May.
Russian riot police detain gay rights activists during an unauthorized gay-rights rally in central Moscow in May.

BY ROBERT WILLIAMS  |  Vasily Shpundet was at a protest in the Russian city of Obninsk against the country’s controversial proposal that sought to ban so-called gay propaganda to minors in 2013 when a lawyer with the country’s Orthodox Church encouraged nationalists and hundreds of other people to attack him and the handful of other LGBT rights advocates who were protesting.

He said local police questioned him about the attack before another group of people who identified themselves as members of the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department kidnapped him and brought him to a basement. Shpundet said the men took his passport, backpack and cell phone, beat him and threatened to take him to a nearby forest before releasing him five hours later.

“They tried to make me say that I had tried to murder someone,” he told The Pride LA during an interview in Plummer Park, speaking through an interpreter. “At the same time they assaulted me and abused me and called me queer.”

Shpundet told The Pride they decided to leave Russia after their home was broken into and they were attacked. He said those affiliated with the protests were similarly targeted.

“I worked with those people,” he said. “After all those things happened, we decided to move to the U.S.”

Shpundet, 25, and his boyfriend arrived in Los Angeles this past July and, after a long journey, are seeking asylum in the United States.

Shpundet’s story is not unlike that of  hundreds of other LGBT people who have fled Russia for their lives.  Many left because the reality of Putin’s Russia is that the anti-proaganda laws are not unlike a societal purge – a pogrom – and the laws there ultimately threatens every aspect of LGBT life.  

Fearing extortion, loss of their biological and adopted children, their homes and their jobs, LGBT people in Russia and Eastern Europe are attempting to gain asylum throughout the free world.

West Hollywood is home to thousands of Russian immigrants (14% of all residents) and many LGBT Russians, like Shpundet, have moved here, hoping to find a peaceful life.  

The city’s Social Services Division has created a guide to serve as a comprehensive list of local, no cost resources for LGBTQ+ immigrants and asylum seekers.

West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister says, “Now, more than ever, we must demonstrate our commitment to social services and support for the LGBT community and, especially, those who are most vulnerable.”

Available on the City’s website,”The Guide for LGBT Immigrants and Asylum” is a “lifeline of support” for immigrants living without HIV treatment, food, or shelter.  

 The guide, available in Russian, is a referral listing of  critical services provided by the non-profit sector, among them The Los Angeles LGBT Center, Bet Tzedek, and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

LGBT immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe face especially difficult challenges due to language barriers, a lack of resources and supportive networks. Like all immigrants, they often face isolation, poverty and experience rates of HIV transmission that is higher than citizens.  Lacking medical care, they also face faster disease progression.

West Hollywood, in publishing the guide, hopes to steer some asylum seekers to non-profit organizations that can help with many of these issues. 

West Hollywood’s history as a safe-haven for the LGBT community, and its leadership in promoting gay rights locally and internationally, gives the city impetus to help guide asylum seekers.

Mayor Lauren Meister wants asylum seekers to know West Hollywood is a safe haven.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin implemented the country’s harsh anti-LGBT policies and the LGBT community instantly faced an increase in violence, harassment, and persecution, resulting in a 34% increase in applications for asylum.

As for Shpundet, he has nothing but gratitude for West Hollywood.  “Where would we be now without help?  We’d be hopeless. Or maybe we’d be dead.  We couldn’t get through this process without help.”

Related Posts

West Hollywood Celebrates National Poetry Month

April 9, 2021

April 9, 2021

The City of West Hollywood will celebrate National Poetry Month in April with a variety of events and exhibitions honoring...

Pride Poets’ Corner: Penetrate By Terry Wolverton

March 21, 2021

March 21, 2021

In honor of Women’s History Month The Pride Poets’ Corner, curated by West Hollywood Poet Laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace, wished to...

Ivy Bottini – WeHo Icon & LGBTQ Advocate Dies

March 14, 2021

March 14, 2021

Ivy Bottini an artist, mother and a legendary activist, devoting over 50 years to the feminist & LGBTQ  struggle for...

WeHo Lesbian Speakers Series

March 11, 2021

March 11, 2021

The City of West Hollywood’s Lesbian Speakers Series will celebrate Women’s History Month with a panel of dynamic lesbians and...

Free COVID-19 Testing Sites Including WeHo

March 6, 2021

March 6, 2021

The City of West Hollywood is getting the word out that Los Angeles County has announced that it is expanding...

Gaga Confirms She Will Pay Dog Walkers Medical Bills

March 4, 2021

March 4, 2021

Lady Gaga has confirmed that she will pay all of her dog walkers medical bills which amount to almost $100,000. ...

WeHo Helping Small Businesses With Tax Cuts

February 28, 2021

February 28, 2021

The City Council of the City of West Hollywood, at its regular meeting on Tuesday, February 16, 2021, approved an...

Lady Gaga’s Dog Walker Shot And Her Dogs Stolen

February 25, 2021

February 25, 2021

Ryan Fischer, Lady Gaga’s dog walker, was the victim of a brutal robbery in West Hollywood Wednesday night.  30 year...

WeHo Warns Of Pandemic Scams

February 21, 2021

February 21, 2021

The City of West Hollywood has announced its plan to co-host a “Senior Scam Stoppers” panel to educate the community...

WeHo’s Partial Ban On Tobacco Smoking In Apartments /Condos

February 18, 2021

February 18, 2021

The West Hollywood City Council, in a 4-1 vote,  approved a partial ban on smoking tobacco in apartment and condominium...

WeHo Off-Leash Dog Area

February 4, 2021

February 4, 2021

A unanimous vote by the West Hollywood City Council will allow your fur baby to enjoy the freedom of being...

WeHo Spreading The Word About COVID Vaccine

January 31, 2021

January 31, 2021

The City of West Hollywood is getting the word out that Los Angeles County residents who are 65 years old...

WeHo To Commemorate Roe V. Wade Anniversary

January 24, 2021

January 24, 2021

The City of West Hollywood and its Women’s Advisory Board will join with the National Council of Jewish Women, Los...

WeHo Will Commemorate MLK Jr. Day With Virtual Donation Drive

January 17, 2021

January 17, 2021

In January 2021, the City of West Hollywood will continue its tradition of joining hundreds of communities across the country...

WeHo Renaming The West Hollywood Library

January 14, 2021

January 14, 2021

The City Council of the City of West Hollywood approved an item to submit a request to rename the West...