The Case of Gennady Trifonov

Gennady Trifonov, the Soviet Union’s only openly homosexual poet, is in trouble with the KGB again. By now, he has been harassed by that organization for almost two decades. When he was doing his military service at the age of twenty, the KGB learned that he was a homosexual. Their ceaseless efforts to force Trifonov to report on other homosexual soldiers drove him to attempt suicide. After that he was left alone for a few years.

In the early 1970s, Trifonov wrote a number of remarkable poems and essays on gay topics. Though these writings were all personal in nature and did not touch on any political or social themes, they again attracted to Trifonov the attention of state security agents. Trifonov never made any attempt to publish his work in the Soviet Union. He circulated it among his close friends and showed his poems to visiting foreigners. In the spring of 1976, he was seized by three plainclothes security policemen on a Leningrad street, and brutally beaten and kicked in the face. This was their way of compelling him to cease his literary activities.

In August 1976, Gennady Trifonov was arrested and kept incommunicado at the notorious Kresty Prison until November, when he was sentenced to four years of hard labor under Article 121 of the Soviet criminal code, the article that prohibits homosexuality. The main evidence used to obtain his conviction was apparently the texts of his poems and letters. In 1977, through the efforts of Trifonov’s friends in the USSR and abroad, his case was reported in a number of publications in England, Canada, and the US. To forestall the possibility of protest by humanitarian organizations in other countries, an article in the mass-circulated Soviet illustrated magazine Ogonyok (Number 27, July 1977) pointed out that Trifonov was convicted not only for violating Article 121, but also for a series of petty crimes, such as serving liquor to a minor, theft, and hooliganism—charges that were added after Trifonov was already serving his labor camp sentence.

In 1980 Trifonov was released upon the expiration of his four-year sentence. He had offers of fellowships and teaching positions from universities in the United States and Western Europe, but his requests for an exit visa were repeatedly denied. He lived at his mother’s apartment in Leningrad and supported himself by working as a furniture mover and stevedore. Trifonov is short and slight, but manual labor is usually the only kind of work available to convicted homosexuals in the Soviet Union. A number of Soviet gay men have gone abroad in recent years by arranging a fictitious marriage with a foreign woman to be followed by a divorce by mutual consent later. But Trifonov was warned by the Soviet security agents not to try this stratagem because he would be denounced to the consulate of the country in question.

During the years that followed his release from camp, Trifonov continued the activities for which he was tried in 1976: writing poetry, associating with…

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