Gay Dads Forced to Flee Russia Find Refuge in Seattle
After fleeing Moscow last spring, this family of four has started new lives for themselves in Seattle.
For almost ten years, Andrei Yaganov, 45, and his husband Evgeny Erofeev, 32, managed to live a fairly ordinary life in Moscow, Russia. The two men both held down respectable office jobs. And their two sons — Denis and Yuri, now 14 and 12 respectively — went to daycare and school without issue. Despite being headed by a same-sex couple in a country with notoriously aggressive laws and attitudes towards the LGBTQ community, the foursome went about their lives just like any other family.
Adoption by LGBTQ couples, like same-sex marriage, is illegal in Russia. But the couple managed to circumvent the ban by having Andrei adopt as a single parent. Andrei became only the third single man in Moscow, he was told during his placement process, to do so.
Though Andrei is the only parent with legal ties to their two children, the couple has made no attempt to hide their relationship. "The reason was simple," Andrei said. "We wanted [Denis] to be confident love is the essential element that forms and firms any family.""We used to live in 'better Russia,' which doesn't exist anymore" said Andrei. The family's neighborhood was fairly open and accepting, he said, and they never experienced any overt homophobia. "Nevertheless, we had friends and heard about friends of our friends who had suffered, and even had been killed, because of being gay," he said.
Though the family never experienced any problems, things quickly changed in May 2019. "Our youngest kid had his first fight with a boy who mentioned my husband and me as 'faggots,'" said Andrei. "I remember Yuri's confusion—the official Russian discourse has propagated gays as sinners and sexual perverts who crippled society and nations, and our son finally realized his fathers were gays treated as bad men." His son, Andrei said, had never thought about his dads as "gay" before this moment.
The following month, Yuri was taken to the hospital for appendicitis. While there, he mentioned to his doctor that he had two fathers. The doctor, in turn, reported the family to the police, and an investigation was initiated. Andrei, as the legal guardian, was charged with child abuse. "Authorities treat every gay in Russia as a sexual pervert and child abuser," he explained. Despite no evident of abuse of any sort, the investigation was taken up by the Chairman of the Investigative Committee of Russia (the equivalent of the FBI in the US) wanted a report on our case. "So, we had to flee Russia," Andrei explained. Otherwise, he was certain his children would have been taken away, and he and his husband detained, possibly indefinitely.
Leaving the country "was a huge trauma for our children," Andrei said. "They lost their friend and relatives, and it was very difficult for me and Evgeny to explain to them why we should leave our home."
But leave they did, landing first in New York. As their case for asylum was being processed, the family treated their stay as a family vacation — seeing the sights and visiting with friends. But soon, reality set in. They learned that a well-known Russian Senator, Vitaly Milonov, had called for a "worldwide manhunt" to locate the family. "So, we decided that we have no chance of returning home," Andrei said.
In August 2019, the family moved to Seattle, Washington — a city they chose for its proximity to nature, strong economy and stellar schools. Though they never anticipated living the life of expats, Andrei said the family is settling in. "At least our boys are doing well," he said. "They are learning English, adapting to a new school curriculum, making new friends."
Most importantly, however: they feel completely safe in school. "Our School District is LGBTQ+ friendly, and our boys have no stigma as sons of two gays," he said. Recently, the couple's eldest son, Denis, even asked Andrei to publicly kiss his husband, Evgeny, while the couple was dropping him off at school. "I was so surprised," Andrei said. When asked the reason for the request, his son simply explained, "All parents do the same."
Meanwhile, the dads' asylum case is continuing to unfold. "We have been waiting for our interview with a migration officer," Andrei said. "We have applied for our EAD," he continued, referring to the Employment Authorization Document, "and we are looking forward to our new jobs."
Once legally allowed to work, however, both men will have to start from scratch, Andrei said. "We have no professional network here, and we are in a lack of knowledge about the work culture and recruiting process here in the US," Andrei said, noting that, in Russia, he worked as a management consultant his husband as a manager of a big Russian bank. "It's going to be challenging."
While the family is saddened by the idea that they may never be able to return to their home country, they are also thankful for the opportunity to start their lives over, free from the risk of detention and imprisonment. "I consider the United States our new forever home," he said.