"There's more aggression and it's becoming more dangerous on the streets," Andrei tells me. "Many gay people have changed how they dress, they've removed earrings, changed their hairstyles, to avoid having problems. Even back in the USSR, where homosexuality was a criminal offence, gays were treated better than they are now in Russia. Ordinary people see us as criminals. They hate us."
There is evidence of that attitude in a series of shocking videos posted online by a Russian vigilante group. In one, a man is being forced to drink urine to "cure him" of being a homosexual. Then a metal bucket is placed over the man's head and hit with what looks like a baseball bat and a police truncheon. Attacks like this, filmed and posted online, are being carried out across Russia by an ultra-nationalist group. It claims its objective is to name, shame and punish suspected paedophiles. But from the tone of the videos the encounters come across as homophobic attacks. In another online clip, a woman armed with a gun and dressed in camouflage jokes that she's "out on safari" hunting for paedophiles and gays. She starts shooting towards an imaginary "rainbow target." The woman's name is Yekaterina. We track her down in St Petersburg, where she heads the local branch of the vigilante group "Occupy Paedophilia."
"Our priority is uncovering cases of paedophilia," Yekaterina explains to me. "But we're also against the promotion of homosexuality. And if along the way we encounter people of non-traditional sexual orientation, we can kill two birds with one stone."
In Russia gay-rights activists believe such aggression is a direct result of the controversial new law signed by President Vladimir Putin. The legislation bans the spread of information about "untraditional sexual relations" to anyone under 18. It portrays homosexuality as a danger to children and the family. "The law itself is not a danger in terms of its application. But it's a great danger in terms of what kind of opinions it shapes," believes Anastasiya Smirnova of the human rights group Russian LGBT Network. "It entitles people to mob rule, to organised violence against those they perceive to be dangerous to society, to families and to children. People take over the role of the authorities to react against what they think is a violation."
The Guardian reports that various, independent anti-gay vigilante groups are coalescing into a national movement. Most of the people being kidnapped and assaulted—and outed—are teenagers.
Says one of the authors of Russia's anti-gay laws:
"Why should we respect all your traditions and you not respect ours?" asks St Petersburg MP Vitaly Milonov, one of the architects of the legislation. "Aggressive pushiness to accept your values is unfair. We don't tell the Queen of England not to sign a law on same-sex marriages in your country. We have no right to do that, because we respect your independence. Why do you not accept ours?"
This is the exact same argument made by the apartheid-era government of South Africa: How we treat "our" blacks is our own business, we don't tell you how to treat your minorities, we respect your independence and you should respect ours, these are our traditions. The world rejected those arguments and fought back against the South African government with boycotts, protests, sanctions, and divestment campaigns. And it worked.