B.C. author’s short story stirs controversy in Russia

A short story turned children’s story has been passed around Russia for the past year, stirring up controversy. Although, at its core, it is a story about a Russian prince falling in love with his archery instructor, students have been arrested for reading it in public and the author has received death threats, because the love interest is another man. Robert Joseph Greene, the author, is a B.C. local and romance writer. He sat down and talked about how the story came to be and how Russia is looking as it moves into the Olympics.

“When I wrote that, I was in Florida,” said Greene. “I met these Russian kids that were on work exchange. I made a joke about pink being synonymous with gay, and it didn’t register with them.” In Russia, it’s not pink that’s synonymous with gay, it’s blue. Greene asked them what the story is behind it being blue. “He said ‘Well we don’t have stories,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m going to make a story!’” explained Greene. In 2012, The Blue Door was published in Greene’s collection of short stories, Gay Icons of The World II. 

Once Russia’s anti-gay–propaganda law was published, the same Russian kids on work exchange emailed Greene and asked if they could photocopy the story and post the flyers around town. “They asked permission, so I gave it to them,” said Greene, “but he didn’t tell me they were going to read it in front of the children’s library.” One of those protesters ended up getting arrested and fined. Greene was quite upset to hear his story had landed someone in jail, but he added, “My friend in Russia said, ‘It’s kind of a sense of honour for us.’”

Greene’s story was then picked up by a Ukrainian website for parents with young children, which received traffic from Russian parents as well. Greene said some of the questions from the site asked, “What if my son is gay? Do I get arrested?”

“The very families they are trying to protect are the families that are scared,” said Greene, “not ‘cause of LGBT people, but because the law is so ambiguous.”

The term for “gay” and the term for “pedophile” are very similar in Russian. Greene said, “If you’re running around chasing gay people and calling them pedophile, you are doing more harm than good, ‘cause the real pedophile is standing right there. So what you are doing is putting on blinders to the real issue.” This confusion of the two words created hate mail for Greene, and when he was asked to write an opinion article for The Moscow Times, he used some of that space to create and highlight the distinction. This added exposure at first just created even more hate mail.

“But then,” said Greene, “we were getting letters like, ‘Hey, I’m 13, and I’m in the Ural Mountains, and if my parents find out I’m gay, they’ll kill me.’” Greene looked to the Canadian government for help, but no such program exists to help teens in that situation. So they found a group called Children-404. “It’s a wonderful group,” said Greene. “When I get emails from kids, I pass them on to this group.” But the problems are not all solved, and the world stage of the Olympics is creeping closer to Russia.

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