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How The Death Of Activist Yelena Grigoryeva Is Affecting The Russian LGBTQ Community

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Russia, a prominent gay rights activist was found stabbed to death last weekend. Now Russian LGBTQ people are afraid that others could be in danger. Yelena Grigoryeva told friends before her death that she had received violent threats. I spoke with Moscow-based journalist Anna Nemtsova about the activist earlier today. And I asked her to tell me about Grigoryeva's work.

ANNA NEMTSOVA: Well, Yelena Grigoryeva was an activist. A few years ago, she came out and said that she was a gay woman and began to defend LGBT rights in St. Petersburg. And the community of LGBT in St. Petersburg is quite vibrant. They're victims. Almost all of them are victims of violence. They get attacked during their rallies. They receive horrible, nasty threats. And Yelena Grigoryeva, shortly before her death, received a photograph of a knife. So her friends say it cannot be just a coincidence...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

NEMTSOVA: ...That she receives a photograph of a knife and then she gets stabbed to death.

SHAPIRO: Now, a local news site reports that a suspect has been arrested. What is known about the crime and the man who's been arrested?

NEMTSOVA: It is a Kyrgyz national who, in fact did, meet with Grigoryeva on that day, but he denies he killed Yelena. He denies they have any argument. All of Yelena's friends I interviewed said that there must be - the reason for the murder was her activism.

SHAPIRO: She was an activist for so many things beyond LGBT rights from pro-democracy movements to Russia's annexation of Crimea. How confident are people that she was targeted specifically for being vocal about gay rights?

NEMTSOVA: She actually shared her concerns with her friends. Homophobes had been attacking her a lot.

SHAPIRO: Not just threatening her but physically attacking her.

NEMTSOVA: Physically attacking.

SHAPIRO: You've been talking to other activists. How afraid are they for their safety right now?

NEMTSOVA: One man was speaking with me. His voice was shaking, you know? He was really very, very scared and saying, I have two options. One is to leave the country, escape the country, or to stay and continue to protest and struggle for more rights for LGBT. And he chose the second option. At least for now, he's staying, he says. But what is important for all officials today to realize is that Grigoryeva did alarm (ph) her friends because she tried to attract attention to that issue that somebody is sending terrible, terrible threats - pictures of knives. And nobody was there to help her. Nobody came and said we are going to protect you. Also, she is a Russian citizen. So now there is no Grigoryeva. She's dead.

SHAPIRO: How do you think Yelena Grigoryeva will be remembered?

NEMTSOVA: She will be on that sad list of victims who were killed, gunned down by some cowards. So this is a horrible, horrific murder, which has shaken a lot of people. But what I see in Moscow, LGBT and celebrities and people serious about human rights are going to open big discussions and round tables so Grigoryeva is not going to be forgotten. People will continue talking about this terrible murder, and they say that's the time to speak.

SHAPIRO: That's Moscow-based journalist Anna Nemtsova speaking with us on Skype about the death of LGBTQ activist Yelena Grigoryeva.

Thank you for speaking with us today.

NEMTSOVA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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