Masha Bast, Chairwoman for the Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights, has come out as transgender in protest of Russia's anti-gay legislation and recent crackdown on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. In the past, Bast has overseen some of the most high-profile, politically-charged legal battles in the country. She also identifies as bisexual.
In a press release dated last week, Bast announced that she would no longer be living her life as Yevgeny Arkhipov, but as Masha Bast. The activist also extended an invitation to readers to follow her journey via Facebook, as she undergoes hormone treatment and surgeries in order to make her physicality correspond with her gender identity.
In a recent question and answer interview with The Moscow Times, Bast adressed questions surrounding her advocacy, gender identiity, and attempted to clarifiy what it means to be transgender within the hostile anti-LGBT Russian climate.
When asked about her decision to come out publicly now, she responded:
There were three reasons for my decision. First, it would have been very difficult for me personally not to come out. Second, having represented people in the Manezh Square, Primorsky partisans, and Bolotnaya cases, when those finished up I finally had the opportunity to come out. Third, my coming out was a protest against what is going on in Russia today. I couldn't just sit there and do nothing.
She went on to explain her gender identity in further detail, noting in part:
There are people who actively choose their gender, and there are people who don't think about it, or they try and avoid questioning it because of their religious beliefs or other reasons. Those who choose to decide their own gender because their internal gender doesn't match their external appearance are called transgender, especially when they take visible steps to make their external gender match their internal gender. I don't think of myself as transgender though — I just think of myself as a woman. I do, however, consider myself part of the LGBT community because we are all in the minority.
Calling the gay propaganda law "completely wrong," she went on to note, "I remember being 10 and wanting to be a girl and putting on girl's clothes. I didn't understand what was happening to me ... I went to dances dressed as a girl back when I looked more feminine."
Russia's anti-gay "propaganda" law has enabled and galvanized a culture of fear and violence for LGBT citizens, resulting in public acts of violence and radical anti-gay discourse from the mouths of Russian officials.
Most recently, Russian politicians are attempting to push a bill that would take children away from their LGBT parents, resulting in a prominent activist threatening to out closeted Russian politicians that vote for the bill to pass. Well-known Russian news anchor Anton Krasovsky was also fired in mid-August after coming out while on the air.