'Gay' couple physically, verbally abused during social experiment in Moscow

Outward displays of affection between same-sex couples, like these two men holding hands during a gay rights demonstration in Paris on December 16, 2012, are largely frowned upon in Russia.

Story highlights

  • Secretly-filmed "social experiment" shows people abusing male couple holding hands
  • Research suggests a sizable majority of Russians "don't think homosexuality should be accepted by society"

(CNN)The ugly nature of Russian anti-gay prejudice is on full display in a video uploaded by LGBT rights activists, who secretly filmed a "gay" couple walking through Moscow holding hands.

The actors, who are both straight, receive a barrage of insults as they stroll hand-in-hand through the streets, including through Moscow's iconic Red Square. Twice in the video they are physically assaulted.
    The video, published by the group ChebuRussiaTV, begins with the two men comparing the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide with the treatment that LGBT couples receive in Russia.
    Filmed using a secret camera hidden in a backpack, the video is reminiscent of the New York "catcalling" video that Shoshana Roberts uploaded via Hollaback, an anti-street harassment activist group, last October.
    "We thought it was strange, that on one side of the planet, two boys going down the street is absolutely normal, and (thought it would be) interesting, how would people in Russia react to this," Nikita Rozhdestv, founder of ChebuRussia and the person who shot the video, told CNN.

    Unsurprising behavior

    As the two men walk through the city, passersby hurl homophobic slurs at them, and at one point a man says, in Russian, "hey, look at the two gays walking by." One of the actors comments, "I'm not really surprised he said that, after all the reactions we're getting," according to subtitles provided on the video.
    The video seems to confirm 2013 findings from the Pew Research Center, which found that three-quarters of Russians "don't think homosexuality should be accepted by society."
    In a recent report on Russia, titled License to Harm, Human Rights Watch found that Russian authorities have not only "failed in their obligation to prevent and prosecute homophobic violence," but have also "effectively legalized discrimination against LGBT people and cast them as second class citizens."

    Outright aggression

    Another comments that there are "too many gays" in Russia, while another laments, "What's going on with Russia?"
    The verbal insults are interspersed with aggressive, physical assault. One man in a white t-shirt and black shorts deliberately bumps into the couple, before aggressively asking, "what's your f****** problem?" and taunting them as they walk away, visibly shaken.
    The demonstration ends with perhaps the most aggressive altercation of the three-minute video, when a man barges into the couple, separating them and intimidating one of the two clearly distressed men.
    One final piece of commentary is posted on the screen as the video closes, against a backdrop of people celebrating the Supreme Court decision: "On one side of the planet this is absolutely normal. In Russia -- it's not."
    Rozhdestv says that although the experience was sobering, the group is glad that the project is helping to start a dialog.
    "We are glad that people at least started talking about this -- before our video, everyone was quiet on this topic."