Andrei Vaganov and Evgeny Erofeyev have been raising their two sons, now 12 and 14, for nearly a decade. The children were adopted by Vaganov shortly before he and Erofeyev were married in Denmark.
The couple didn’t face any problems until the youngest son, Yuri, was hospitalised due to a stomach ache and doctors realised he had no mother.
This precipitated a sexual abuse investigation that threatened their right to live freely as a family.
Here we live, we are an ordinary family
“We never asked our children to hide anything,” Vaganov told independent Russian news outlet Meduza. “This was our conscious position: why is it somehow stigmatising and so on. Here we live, we are an ordinary family.”
The morning after Yuri was discharged from hospital, Vaganov and Erofeyev were told to report to police for questioning.
What started as a “pre-investigation check” quickly became more serious, and Yuri was ordered to undergo a physical exam to rule out abuse.
“This, frankly, is a very traumatic event for a child,” Vaganov explained, particularly as Yuri had a troubled childhood before adoption. “They inspect Yuri, he swears, cries. 40 minutes, probably this all went on.”
By the time Vaganov and his son were allowed home, the story that a gay couple had ‘raped a child’ was already all over the internet.
Later their elder son Denis was also called in for an interview, and a family law attorney advised them to prepare to flee the country. The couple were told protective services would almost certainly try to place their children in foster care.
“Because in such situations, children are simply removed from the family before further proceedings, which can last for years, since the article is related to the sexual integrity of the child,” Vaganov said.
Shortly afterwards authorities suggested that Yuri be turned over to a state-owned rehabilitation centre while the case was investigated, despite forensic testing showing no signs of physical abuse.
Erofeyev and Vaganov decided the time to leave had come; not long after they did so, investigators demanded they turn themselves in for questioning.
No charges have been made against them yet, but Buzzfeed News reported that the case has only gotten more dire in the last month.
On July 15, a speech in Russian Parliament denounced gay adoptions as the potential end of mankind. The next day, the Investigative Committee opened a case against the agency that allowed Vaganov to adopt his children.
Growing anti-LGBT+ sentiment in Russia
The law bans the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” – a reference universally understood to mean a ban on information about LGBT+ lifestyles.
Human rights groups say that the law has exacerbated hostility towards LGBT+ people in Russia, and that in preventing LGBT+ people from accessing inclusive education and support services, it has had detrimental impact on children and young people.
The European Court of Human Rights has found Russia to have violated LGBT+ people’s rights three times in as many years.