Out in the World: Russia's top tennis star comes out as lesbian

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Friday July 22, 2022
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Olympian Russian tennis star Daria Kasatkina, left, with her girlfriend, figure skater Natalia Zabiiako, posted on Instagram after she came out during an exclusive interview with Russian vlogger Vitya Kravchenko that aired on YouTube July 18. Photo: Courtesy Instagram<br>
Olympian Russian tennis star Daria Kasatkina, left, with her girlfriend, figure skater Natalia Zabiiako, posted on Instagram after she came out during an exclusive interview with Russian vlogger Vitya Kravchenko that aired on YouTube July 18. Photo: Courtesy Instagram

Top Russian tennis star Daria Kasatkina came out as a lesbian in a July 18 interview with a Russian vlogger.

Hours before Kasatkina's interview with vlogger Vitya Kravchenko aired on YouTube, six deputies in the lower house of the federal Assembly, or Duma, officially proposed to extend the country's 2013 so-called gay gag law to adults. Currently, the bill only "protects" minors.

The deputies floated the idea of the proposed bill last week. If passed, the bill would ban all public discussion of LGBTQ relationships, issues, and events promoting homosexuality at any age, reported Reuters. Violators will be fined.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993 with the fall of communism. Russia declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1999. However, being LGBTQ remains highly taboo and dangerous in the country.

Kasatkina, 25, who currently ranks 12th among the world's top tennis players, first came out as bisexual in 2021 during a different interview where she was guarded about her personal life, reported Newsweek. At the time, she expressed that publicly coming out could come with harsh backlash in Russia, reported the Guardian.

In Monday's interview, filmed in Barcelona, Spain, where she was at the time, Kasatkina told Kravchenko she was inspired to come out after Russian footballer Nadya Karpova, the country's first woman sports star, did so last month.

"Living in the closet is impossible. It is too hard, it is pointless," Kasatkina said. "Living in peace with yourself is the only thing that matters, and fuck everyone else."

Kasatkina encouraged other Russian celebrities to come out.

"It is important to talk about these things," Kasatkina said in the interview, stating it will help young people. "I believe it is important that influential people from sports, or any other sphere really, talk about it. It helps."

Karpova supported Kasatkina's decision. "It is so important for younger people to have role models who are like them. For them to see that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them," the Guardian quoted her as saying.

After the YouTube interview aired, Kasatkina's girlfriend, Russian-Estonian Olympic silver medalist Natalia Zabiiako, 27, posted the same picture of the couple, and they tagged each other on their individual Instagram profiles. Zabiiako currently competes in figure skating for Canada.

Several hours later, Kasatkina retweeted another photo of the couple posted by Zabiiako on Twitter with the defiant statement, "Mama I'm a criminal."

Kasatkina simply commented on the photo, "My cutie pie."

On May 6, Zabiiako posted a hint on Instagram about the couple's relationship with a silly picture wishing Kasatkina a happy birthday.

Last year, Kasatkina spoke about the state of LGBTQ rights in Russia and pledged support for LGBTQ people in her home country, reported Out Sports.

Kasatkina cried in the YouTube interview, stating that she knew her coming out could mean that she may not be able to return to Russia. It wasn't clear where she is living right now, as she is on tour.

Critical of Russia

Kasatkina criticized Russia's anti-LGBTQ stance and the country's war in Ukraine. In the YouTube interview, she called for the war in Ukraine to end, describing the conflict as a "complete nightmare."

She did not comment on lesbian American WNBA and Olympian Brittney Griner's detention in Russia and her trial for allegedly traveling with cannabis oil. Griner pleaded guilty earlier this month, likely in hopes of the U.S. government being able to secure her return through a possible prisoner exchange.

"So many subjects are taboo in Russia," Kasatkina said in the interview. "This notion of someone wanting to be gay or becoming [gay] is ridiculous. I think there is nothing easier in this world than being straight.

"Seriously, if there is a choice, no one would choose being gay. Why make your life harder, especially in Russia? What's the point?" she asked.

Karpova told the Guardian, "The timing is so symbolic as well, with all the fucked-up things happening in Russia."

The Anti-Homosexuality Propaganda Act, signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013 ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, bans any form of mentioning LGBTQ people to youth under the age of 18.

Russia's crackdown on the LGBTQ community has only intensified since the bill became law. Putin has implemented more anti-LGBTQ laws, such as banning same-sex marriage, in recent years. Feminist artist Yulia Tsvetkova was jailed for her vulva art in 2019 and queer activists have been jailed. Activist Yelena Grigoryeva was killed after receiving online death threats.

Under Putin's rule, Russian authorities have shut down Pride events and last year took down the website of the country's only LGBTQ festival. Authorities attempted to close the foundation that supports some Russian LGBTQ organizations, mainly the Russian LGBTQ Network, which since 2017 has been instrumental in creating an underground rainbow railroad for LGBTQ Chechens. Putin supported Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has authorized mass detentions of queer Chechens and returned LGBTQ people fleeing Chechnya to the Northern Caucasus. Russia's anti-LGBTQ attitude continues to be on full display at global events, such as the Tokyo Olympics, where commentators called the estimated 186 out athletes competing in the games "perverts" and "abominations," reported Out Sports.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association-Europe ranks Russia as one of the worst LGBTQ countries in Europe at 46 out of 49, just above Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan.

Few victories

LGBTQ wins against Russia have been few and far between.

In 2020, a Saint Petersburg lesbian couple won their case against Russia at the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women for failure to bring them justice against their attackers. The year before, a transgender Russian woman won her wrongful termination case against her former employer for firing her after she transitioned on the job.

Igor Kochetkov, director of the Russian LGBT Network, counts Kasatkina's coming out as a win, telling the Guardian it is "monumental."

"This is the first time in our history that an undisputed sports star of Kasatkina's stature has come out," he told the paper, noting that it could cause problems for Putin and anti-LGBTQ authorities.

He pointed to studies showing Russian views of LGBTQ people as "normal" growing from 23% to 32% over the last eight years, and to 68% among Russians under 18. Kochetkov did not name a specific survey or research group.

He believes the attitude shift among Russians toward LGBTQ people could make the Kremlin think twice about using the LGBTQ community as a political pawn.

"That's why Kasatkina's coming out has the actual power to prevent new homophobic campaigns," Kochetkov said.

However, a 2020 survey published by the Levada Center, an independent polling and sociological research organization, contradicted Kochetkov. The survey found nearly 1 in 5 Russians want to "eliminate" gay and lesbian people from society, reported NBC News.


Karpova, the footballer, responded on social media and praised Kasatkina. "I'm so PROUD! @kasatkina you go giiiiirl!!!" Karpova wrote in response to her post on social media.

American tennis player Amanda Anisimova posted emoji of praise and a heart in Kasatkina's comments on her Instagram post, along with other sports stars around the globe.

Kasatkina joins legendary lesbian tennis stars Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova and the growing list of out professional athletes.

The French Open semifinalist is currently on the Women Tennis Association's tour. Out Sports reported it is the first time Kasatkina has been in the top 15 since early 2019.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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