Gay, Halifax-trained violinist seeks to ‘finally have a home’ in North America
A Dalhousie-trained violinist who came out as gay in a widely circulated YouTube video says he hopes to stay in North America for fear of persecution if he returns to his Russian homeland.
But Artem Kolesov says first getting Canada’s permission to cross the border for a classical concert is a struggle in itself.
Kolesov and the rest of the YAS string quartet were set to perform Beethoven’s “Serioso” at a concert hall in Halifax Sunday, but the show was cancelled because of his immigration issues.
Kolesov, 23, is currently studying in Chicago, having previously pursued a music degree at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, but the musical prodigy says he doesn’t feel fully welcome in any of the three countries in which he has lived.
Kolesov says he has known he is gay since he was five years old, but between his parents’ strict conservative beliefs at home in St. Petersburg and homophobic sentiment in Russia – sanctioned by a so-called anti-gay “propaganda” law – he says coming out meant risking family banishment or even violence.
“I truly believed that gay people were these horrible monsters that caused so many issues in the world, and you should really get rid of them,” says Kolesov. “I couldn’t think that I was one of them.”
Kolesov says he fuelled his energy into the violin, the vibration of the strings a means of both non-verbal expression and a source of escape.
“There was no one to talk to, so I guess I could only express what I was feeling through the violin,” says Kolesov. “Sometimes, I would go on these practice sprees and just kind of lock myself in a room.”
At 16, the budding violinist moved to Halifax with a full scholarship from Dalhousie and tenuous grasp of English. Kolesov says with years of grinding practice, he grew into himself as both as a musician and an individual.
Kolesov says Canada became a “second home” that allowed him space to grapple with his sexuality. Eventually, he gave himself a deadline: He would come out before his next birthday.
Looking directly into the camera, Kolesov told YouTube about growing up in Russia as the son of two Pentecostal pastors, being told as a child that gayness was a sin punishable by death and asking God to kill him before his mother discovered his sexual orientation.
Kolesov speaks in his native Russian as English subtitles play at the bottom of the screen.
“I know that since a lot of Russian kids are scared, I wanted to kind of be speaking in their language so they could relate to me better,” says Kolesov. “I thought I was alone, and I don’t want anyone else to feel that way.”
The video was filmed as part of the “Child-404” campaign for Russian teens struggling with issues of sexual orientation and identity.
Kolesov says his mother begged him to spare her the humiliation of having her son’s sexuality broadcast for the world to see, and he worries if he returns to Russia, he’ll be forced into conversion therapy.
“As much as I wish that I had that kind of acceptance from my family, I also know that there are children whose family who aren’t going to accept them right away, and maybe will never accept them,” says Kolesov.
Kolesov’s studies will soon wrap up, and he says he plans to seek citizenship in the U.S., where his boyfriend is, or Canada.
But he says the paths to immigration in both countries are riddled with bureaucratic tape; Sunday’s concert was the second time a Halifax appearance had been cancelled because of his immigration issues.
Kolesov says his visa application has been mixed up in the bureaucracy, with forms sent to the wrong office and slow processing times.
“(Citizenship) would mean that I finally have a home in North America,” says Kolesov. “As you can see, I can’t just apply for a visa and get it whenever I want. There’s always some kind of restraint.”
© 2017 The Canadian Press