Ekaterina Khomenko, a 29-year-old queer tango teacher, was found in her car early on September 7 with a four-inch gash across her throat. The engine was still running when a street cleaner chanced on her vehicle. Police, who initially entertained the theory that Khomenko may have killed herself, are now treating her death as a murder. Early reports in local newspapers made no mention of Khomenko’s ties to the LGBT community.
Khomenko’s father, Valery, was one of the first to publicize the killing. Commenting on the last photograph Ekaterina posted to her Vkontakte account (see above), he announced that detectives phoned him at 9am on September 7 to inform him that his daughter’s body had been discovered. According to his comment online, police were most interested to learn if Katya had any history with drugs, money problems, or suicidal tendencies.
Two days later, a Vkontakte user named Timur Isaev launched a flame war in the comments below this photograph, saying that gay people “always die earlier than healthy people [sic].” Isaev would leave 48 more comments in the next 48 hours, repeating his homophobic message for Khomenko’s mourning friends.
Lesbiru.com, an online portal for Russian-speaking lesbians, points out that Isaev is a member of the anti-gay Vkontakte community “Gay Hunters,” where he shares homophobic materials with the group’s 122 other subscribers. Isaev is also active on Twitter, where he posts more anti-gay content and praises Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea.
According to the guerilla news website Contraband, St. Petersburg’s LGBT community is certain Khomenko’s career as a gay tango instructor played a role in her murder. Khomenko’s friend and colleague, Angelina Tishina, has launched a closed group on Vkontakte to collect money for Valery Khomenko, presumably to help pay the costs of Katya's funeral, which took place yesterday outside Moscow.
Russia's LGBT community faces many legal and social challenges. Though homosexuality was officially removed from the Russian list of mental illnesses in 1999, human rights activists have watched in dismay as local, regional, and federal lawmakers have passed several bans on so-called “gay propaganda” in recent years. Before Moscow's military intervention in Eastern Ukraine, the crackdown on gay rights in Russia was perhaps the Kremlin's biggest publicity problem internationally.