Nikolai Gorbachov

Research study

Construction of Youth’s LGBTQ-Sexuality in Russia. A Case Study of «Children 404» Project

/ Nikolai Gorbachov, European Humanities University; 2015

The research analyzes the discoursive influence of the «Children 404» project on the Youth’s LGBTQ identities in Russia. The publications of the «Children 404» project in the social network community at is the target/object of the research; discursive production of sexuality of LGBTQ Youth is the scope/subject of the analysis. The study answers the research question: how LGBTQ identities, sexual and gender identification of youth are constructed by the discourse of the «Children 404» project? The method of critical discourse analysis is applied.


The «Children 404» project was launched in March, 2013 as a group in the Russian social network The project was created in respond to the campaign on prohibition of «propaganda of homosexualism», which discriminates LGBTQ Youth. The publication of the autobiographic stories of LGBTQ Youth from Russia is the core activity of the project.

The research explores the approaches to the identity as a research category, the technique of narrative and discursive identity production and the interconnection between the concepts of individual and group/collective identity. The analysis of the socio-political context of LGBTQ Youth identity production in Russia is provided as a study of interconnections between the «Children 404» project, the laws on prohibition of «propaganda of homosexualism» and the «traditional values» discourses.

The analysis suggests that the LGBTQ Youths’ identities are constructed within the «Children 404» project by the means of contestation of the discriminatory claims of the prohibition of «propaganda of homosexualism» campaign in Russia. The discourse of the «Children 404» project articulates both essentialist and constructivist approaches to sexuality. However, the contradictions of these approaches are not reflected or discussed. The project promotes the idea that sexuality is not a matter of choice.

There are four stages of sexual identification of adolescents constructed/recognized within the «Children 404» discourse: a) non-reflected sexuality of early childhood, b) problematization of sexuality by adolescents, c) reflection/acknowledgement of non-heterosexuality, identity production/development, d) coming out as a (public) performance/representation of sexuality.

The heteronormative pressure is constructed as an impulse for sexual identification of youth: it is not reflected in the early childhood, but becomes perceived/recognized by teenagers and appears as a basis to problematize their own sexuality. Sexual identification is described as a process of discovery of the «true self».

LGBTQ-sexuality is constructed as otherness/difference. Usually the idea of dissimilarity is produced through the references to the early childhood. It is used to legitimize the non-normative (non-heterosexual, non-cisgender) identity: whatever there was in the childhood is considered «normal» per se. The primacy of heterosexuality is constructed as an obstacle for the production of LGBTQ-identities. The process of sexual identification is described as the acceptance of otherness/difference and personal «abnormality», non-(hetero)normativity. Many publications describe how the difficulties of sexual identification of youth result in psychological problems, depression and suicide attempts.

The engagement/familiarity with the discourse on LGBTQ appears as a possible alternative impulse to problematize sexuality and at the same time as a necessary step for the production of LGBTQ-identity. The discourse of the «Children 404» project normalizes non-heterosexuality. It claims LGBTQ sexualities «normal», but opposites them to heterosexuality; the discourse constructs LGBTQ-sexuality as otherness/difference. It leads to the discursive (re)production of heterosexuality as «basic», primary sexuality and marginalization of LGBTQ.

The identity of sexually identifying youth is described as fluid and changeable. Bisexuality is constructed as a transitive identity, which precedes the identification as lesbian or gay. Simultaneously homosexuality is constructed as gender non-conformity. Thus there are reasons to assume that homosexuality is also considered to be a transitive step for the transgender identity. However, it does not mean that bisexual, gay and lesbian identities are not considered to be stable at all. Constructing them as transitive is rather one of the conceptualizing approaches within the discourse.

The sexual identification finishes with the development/obtainment of stable identity, which is usually reflected as congruence between sexuality and the symbolic/linguistic designation of it. This in turn leads to the need to exercise, represent and perform it: primarily through coming-out to friends, parents and public. The discourse constructs it as absolutely necessary, but difficult and problematic. Many publications explore the negative attitude toward LGBTQ in Russia, describing moral, physical and sexual violence toward non-heterosexual people. The homophobic environment is constructed as a barrier to perform the identity. The consequences of coming out are considered to be unpredictable, but more likely negative. The reflection about it results in an idea that the involuntary dissimulation, lies and homosexual closet are necessary and inevitable for LGBTQ minors.

The «Children 404» project leads to inclusion of LGBTQ Youth issues into the public, political and media discourses in Russia. However, it reproduces the ideas that force LGBTQ Youth’s sexualities into silence in everyday life and lead to exclusion of LGBTQ Youth from the daily social practices. Considering the social and political context in nowadays Russia, the «Children 404» project is supportive for self-identification of LGBTQ Youth in Russia. The stigmatizing patterns for LGBTQ Youth identification that it reproduces are the result of the interconnections and influence of stigmatizing discourses.


The research was conducted in 2015 as a graduate project for the Master of Sociology degree at the European Humanities University (Vilnius, Lithuania) under the supervision of Alexander Pershai. The thesis was written in Russian. It was presented at several academic conferences, but never published in English. You are welcome to inquire for the full version of the thesis manuscript in Russian.

Publications in Russian:

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