Russia: How The Soviet Union Tried to 'Cure' My Homosexuality

Pavel Lobkov is a Russian journalist and TV host. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the AIDS.Center Foundation. @pavellobkov

On June 28, the world will mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, when a police raid on a New York City gay club sparked riots and served as a catalyst for the modern gay rights movement. Though nothing like the Stonewall Riots ever occurred in the U.S.S.R., LGBTQ community members living on the other side of the Iron Curtain had their own forms of resistance. The following is the story of journalist and TV host Pavel Lobkov, who was “treated” for homosexuality during Soviet times.

This is the first time I’ve told this story publicly. It was 1985: Perestroika — a shift in communist ideology — had already happened, but glasnost — the major political reforms to complement the change — didn’t come until 1986 and 1987.

At that time, family counseling centers had just started to spring up in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). One wasn’t far from where my relatives used to live, on 25 Rubinstein street. Now it’s been turned into a bar. 

Don’t let the word “family” fool you — the center was actually the first legal organization dedicated to “sexology” or what you might call “sexual pathology.”I was 17 then. The predominant social opinion was that homosexuality was a disease that needed to be treated.

So I went to the counseling center. A doctor sat in the corner of a gigantic room that looked like it belonged in a manor house. I told him my problem and he said I should consult Boris Aronov, a doctor at psychoneurological center number three.  Clutching my referral slip, I set off for Park Pobedy metro station. I walked through courtyards filled with blooming lilacs: Everything looked provincial. There was a school with two wings, and past that the psychoneurological facility.

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