Staunton, Oct. 6 – Ninety years ago, in September 1933, Genrikh Yagoda, the deputy head of the OGPU as the Soviet secret police was then called, convinced Stalin that the Soviet Union was threatened by “a conspiracy of homosexuals” and called for a government campaign to expel them from official positions and place them under arrest.
Stalin, who hitherto had shown no especial hostility to gays, even maintaining friendships with some and appointing others to senior posts in the more open 1920s, was convinced by this argument and agreed to criminalizing gay life and arresting homosexuals and sending them to the GULAG (versia.ru/pochemu-stalin-nachal-repressii-protiv-geev).
And while Versiya journalist Nikolay Kvasov says there are still debates about Stalin’s attitude toward homosexuality, most historians believe that he acted against them not out of animus to their behavior but out of the belief that such closeted communities could be the basis of conspiracies and might be exploited by Western governments.
Prior to 1933, Russia both tsarist and Soviet had been strikingly tolerant of homosexuals. In tsarist times, even some members of the imperial family were known to be gays, and in 1922, Soviet propagandists took pride in the fact that the criminal code of the RSFSR did not contain any laws punishing homosexual acts.
In 1926, Kvasov reports, the head of the World League for Sexual Reform even visited Moscow and declared that the USSR was “a model country” as far as sexual tolerance was concerned. And Stalin appointed several people widely suspected of being homosexuals, including Nikolay Yezhov of the NKVD and foreign minister Georgy Chicherin.
After Yagoda’s appeal and the adoption of the anti-homosexual legislation which followed, the Soviet secret police arrested “hundreds” of homosexuals, including so many from leading artistic centers that the GULAG often had more and better artists residing in it than did the theaters from which they came.
Stalin apparently believed the German embassy was in touch with homosexual groups; but this link may be simply part of something characteristic of Stalin’s rule: he frequently liked to accuse people he wanted out of the way for one reason with being foreign spies. That appears to be the case with homosexuals, Kvasov says.