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Meet The Badass Mom Who's Taking On Russia's Gay Propaganda Law

Elena Musolina grew up thinking homosexuality was an affliction of alcoholics and drug addicts. Now she marches alongside her son at LGBT rights protests and goes head-to-head with Russia's most vocal anti-LGBT politician.

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This is Elena Musolina and her son, Dmitry, who came out to her nearly six years ago. They live in St. Petersburg, Russia and are activists with the LGBT group Coming Out.

Courtesy of Dmitry Musolin / Via Coming Out

The sign reads: "Homophobia is illegal!"

And here's Musolina taking on St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, one of the architects of Russia's "gay propaganda" law, at a public hearing on the local version of the ban in September 2012.

Courtesy of Dmitry Musolin

Milonov was the driving force behind St. Petersburg's 2012 propaganda law, which set the stage for the nationwide ban. He's since led a gas attack on an LGBT festival and called anti-LGBT hate crimes "fake."

When Musolina joined Coming Out's support group for parents of LGBT kids in 2011, she didn't expect it would become political. But that changed when the "gay propaganda" ban made her feel like her son was a second-class citizen.

Courtesy of Coming Out

Musolina stands, far left, with some of the moms in the group. Since Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the federal propaganda ban in 2013, the country has grown increasingly dangerous for LGBT people. According to an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted in December 2014, 63 percent of Russians believe LGBT people should not be accepted in society.

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When BuzzFeed News asked Musolina if she was afraid of being accused of violating the law on propaganda, she laughed. “They could say that,” she said. “But I know I am not violating it. I know that I am right.”

Coming Out / Via Facebook: rklgbt

Musolina attends an LGBT rights protest holding a sign that reads: "A parent's love does not depend on the children's orientation!!!"

Musolina, a petite 68-year-old, comes to LGBT rights demonstrations in St. Petersburg with other mothers in Coming Out's parents club, which she now helps lead.

Coming Out / Via Facebook: rklgbt

Here, Marina Melnik, one of the other activist moms, holds a sign that reads: "I love my gay son! Now he should become an outcast?"

“When they say we are losing family values it’s stupid, we are saving family values," Musolina told BuzzFeed News.

Olga Maltseva / AFP / Getty Images

She marches despite the throngs of young men chanting anti-gay slurs and hurling tomatoes, eggs and paint in the activists' faces, because she knows her son will be there.

"When they see a woman of my age is going out and supporting [LGBT rights], maybe other people will think they can talk about it,” she said. “I'm ready to talk about it."

The parents club welcomes young adults looking for advice on how to come out to their families. New visitors are often scared at their first meeting, but many return to report they've come out and some bring their own moms.

Coming Out / Via Facebook: rklgbt

“For younger people, when there is so much homophobia in society, receiving support in their families is extremely important,” Coming Out's Polina Andrianova told BuzzFeed News. “We provide this unique opportunity for kids to learn about how better to talk to their parents, how to come out in such a way that it's less traumatic for everybody and the wounds that come up can heal.”

The group is now under threat after Coming Out was branded a "foreign agent" under a 2012 law that requires NGOs receiving foreign funding and engaging in what the government broadly deems “political activity” to register as such.

Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP / Getty Images

Here, graffiti on the facade in front of the offices of Memorial, one of Russia's oldest human rights groups, reads "Foreign Agent." The term, which carries Soviet-era connotations of espionage, makes it impossible to build trust with the public around LGBT issues, Andrianova said. Coming Out fought the designation in court but was eventually forced to change its legal status and now functions as an unregistered citizens initiative group.

Musolina and her husband have welcomed Dmitry's partner into their lives. Despite Russia's laws, she wants people — and politicians — to know her family is a part of her country.

Coming Out / Via facebook.com

Dmitry Musolin holds a sign reading, "I am a person, not propaganda."

"When my boys come over — my son and his boyfriend — when they come over, I understand that this is a family,” his mother told BuzzFeed News.

Susie Armitage is the Global Managing Editor and is based in New York.

Contact Susie Armitage at susie.armitage@buzzfeed.com.

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