Given that US-Russian relations are already quite complex, especially in the wake of the Syria crisis and Putin’s grant of asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, it’s hard to say how much weight President Barack Obama (despite his good track record on gay rights) will throw behind this cause. Meanwhile, LGBT Russians and their straight allies live in a state of confusion and fear.

“[T]he law further legitimizes homophobia in the eyes of the Russians, with potentially violent results,” the Human Rights First report reads. “The government has been reluctant to acknowledge that gays can be targeted and killed because of their sexual orientation, and courts have been unwilling to recognize the bias motivation in such incidents.”

So how, in this atmosphere, has 26-year-old Lyudmila Romodina found the courage to become a prominent LGBT activist — so much so that she now runs a family support group akin to PFLAG in Arkhangelsk? “Maybe I’m just strong and have no fear,” she said through the translator. “I never hold back and I’m not afraid of my identity.”

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