September 19, 2020 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

WeHo Cooling Center At Plummer Park

September 17, 2020

September 17, 2020

With temperatures expected to rise to more than 90 degrees over the next week, the City of West Hollywood will...

Rage Nightclub Permanently Closing

September 10, 2020

September 10, 2020

After 37 years Rage nightclub located at the northwest corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and San Vicente in West Hollywood...

Gay Felon Ed Buck Requests Release Ahead Of Criminal Trial

September 3, 2020

September 3, 2020

A federal grand jury added four felony charges to the Justice Department’s case against Ed Buck, the one-time political activist...

Liberation Coffee Shop Opens

August 20, 2020

August 20, 2020

Located at the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center’s flagship Anita May Rosenstein Campus, the 1,600-square-foot café and community space is operated...

WeHo Bar Flaming Saddles Closes Permanently

August 20, 2020

August 20, 2020

Flaming Saddles, the West Hollywood gay country western bar, has closed permanently.  Owners Jacqui Squatriglia and Chris Barnes, who also...

WeHo Reopens West Hollywood Park and Plummer Park

August 13, 2020

August 13, 2020

The City of West Hollywood is making every effort to respond to community needs during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health...

WeHo DJ Music Series Continues Through September

August 4, 2020

August 4, 2020

In the middle of a pandemic, people can’t help but feel disheartened, frustrated and melancholy. In an attempt to lift...

WeHo Closes West Hollywood Park and Plummer Park

July 29, 2020

July 29, 2020

The City of West Hollywood is making every effort to respond to community needs during the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health...

WeHo Makes Efforts to Help Its Businesses and Residents

July 15, 2020

July 15, 2020

With the Coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc across the world and many businesses unfortunately succumbing to the lack of business. The...

City of West Hollywood’s ‘One City One Pride’ LGBTQ Arts Festival

June 12, 2020

June 12, 2020

Features a ‘virtual platform’ for arts and cultural events: May 22 through June 30 By Staff Writer Each year, the...

Apply for New Affordable Senior Housing at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s McCadden Campus

February 28, 2020

February 28, 2020

The City of West Hollywood has announced that applications for new affordable senior housing will be accepted by the Los...

WeHo Opens Nominations For 2020 Rainbow Key Awards

February 18, 2020

February 18, 2020

Nominations will be Accepted Until Thursday, February 27 By Staff Writer The City of West Hollywood is gathering nominations for...

Honoring National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day at the ONE Archive

February 4, 2020

February 4, 2020

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is on Friday, February 7. In the LGBTQ+ community, HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects gay black men...

IN PHOTOS: WeHo Dodgeball at Sin City Classic LGBTQ+ Sports Festival

January 23, 2020

January 23, 2020

Hosted annually by The Greater Los Angeles Softball Association (GLASA), Sin City Classic brought together the United State’s finest athletes last weekend for three...

City of WeHo Accepting Clothing Donations for LGBTQ+ Youth as Part of MLK Day of Service

January 20, 2020

January 20, 2020

Today, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, the City of West Hollywood encourages citizens to volunteer...