Brief Enquiries

Mr Mole, how do queer people fare in exile?

Even as a child I used to ask myself how people in different societies lived together and why things in other countries were so different from what I was used to in the UK. That brought me to social science. But it was my husband who triggered my current research topic: why do queer people – that is, lesbians, gays, bi-, trans- and intersexuals – leave their own counties?

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  • Text: Teresa Havlicek
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PROFESSOR DR RICHARD C. M. MOLE from University College London, United Kingdom, was a Humboldt Research Fellow in Berlin in 2011 /12 and 2016. A paper he wrote at the time received an award from the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies in 2020.

Die Illustration zeigt Professor Dr. Richard C. M. Mole
Richard C. M. Mole

My husband is Peruvian. When we first met in London, I asked him whether he had Peruvian friends in the city. No, he said, he didn’t want that – in case they were just as homophobic as people in Peru. In Berlin, I then studied the situation of queer Russian migrants. They are in a similar situation to my husband. But in Berlin, a queer Russian diaspora has developed in which they can maintain their national identity, traditions and festivals – without having to deny their own sexual identity. In their contact with other Russian migrants this would be harder.

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The story of a woman who had fled for fear of her family made a particular impression on me. She was extremely worried that she would not be able to prove the degree of threat she was under to the German authorities because she had not dared to come out in Russia. Many queer women experience this plight: they often suffer discrimination within their own families, hidden behind closed doors, unlike political activists who are persecuted publicly.

Since my time at Cambridge, I myself have lived openly as a gay. I have never experienced any problems. Being an academic in the UK is a pretty liberal existence. And as a Humboldtian, my sexual orientation was never an issue. During my research stay in Berlin, it was taken for granted that my husband and I would receive the same fellowship benefits as hetero couples.

Of course, not everywhere are queer academics in the same situation as I am. That is why many look for jobs in more liberal countries. But what we should not forget in our academic conversations is that the hurdles to voluntary migration can be very high. It requires very good qualifications as well as a certain amount of capital, which not everyone has by any means. These things are often overlooked. It is not their stories I hear, for instance, when I am investigating the situation in exile. Therefore, it is important to conduct research in their own countries, as well.

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