Visitors to Russia’s first museum of LGBT culture, which opened in St. Petersburg on November 27, are greeted by a portrait of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Tchaikovsky – the 19th century composer of the Nutcracker, among other works – is arguably one of the most famous gay Russians.
Pyotr Voskresensky – a more contemporary gay Russian – got the idea to open the museum after a visit to Tchaikovsky’s house in Klin. “The estate and the house interiors were completely scrubbed,” Voskresensky told Radio Free Europe. “There was no hint of the composer’s personal life.”
“The context of the opening of this museum is important,” continues Voskresensky, “because our country is in a period of its transformation into a total dictatorship, and it is being built on a new ideology in which history plays a key role.”
While the Russian government tries to pretend that “this imaginary past contains only ‘traditional values,’” says Voskresensky, the reality is that “there have been gays in Russia” for centuries.
The museum contains about three dozen items, including sculpture, jewelry, and books. Among them are four cameos of Antinous, believed to have been the lover of Emperor Hadrian. Two of these cameos were made in the Soviet Union in the 1950s.
However, Voskresensky’s museum might be closed as soon as it is opened. On November 24, Russia passed heightened legislation against LGBT “propaganda.” It is expected to become law on December 1.
Even if it Voskresensky’s museum is forced into exile, LGBT history will continue to stand, albeit less brazenly, in St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum.
“Let them try to remove and ban it all,” says Voskresensky. “They can’t do it.”