Anna Kolomytseva, 37, and Larisa Ivanova, 43, were married in a Harris County Courthouse on June 17, 2022. The ceremony was a simple one, as they were not in any position to afford a more formal wedding after fleeing to Houston from Russia only one month before. They only had three guests—their young daughter, Eva, and Anna’s brother Sergei and his husband, Tony.
And for now, that is all they need as they settle into their new home, finally able to live openly as a married couple.
“We met in person on January 12, 2013—our first date since meeting on social media. Our first date was at a coffee shop in Moscow, after which we went to see the recently released movie Anna Karenina with Keira Knightley, followed by dinner at an Italian restaurant. Before meeting each other for the first time, we spent two weeks talking on the phone. It felt very special,” Anna says.
In Russia, LGBTQ couples are consitutionally prohibited from being married or even publicly acknowledged. President Vladamir Putin’s regime is notorious for targeting LGBTQ Russians and persecuting them with violence and even imprisonment. Putin’s treatment of
LGBTQ citizens are clear human-rights violations that have been called out by many countries, including the US.
Larisa, Anna, and their daughter had to be granted humanitarian parole in the United States before they were able to apply for asylum. Since arriving in Houston, they have moved in with Sergei and Tony in Montrose while they get settled. After being together for nine years and having a child together, marriage was at the top of their to-do list after arriving in America.
“It felt incredible to hear the judge declare us spouses. We know that this will become the foundation for our new life in the United States. The feelings of being equal, validated, and protected were very special—something we’ve never felt in Russia,” Larisa says.
The irony of the couple’s enthusiasm for the freedoms they are now experiencing in America is likely not lost on Texans who live in a state where Republican leadership regularly creates laws that target and marginalize LGBTQ people. No form of discrimination or oppression is acceptable, whether it be blatant and violent, as in Russia, or more undermining and demeaning, as in Texas and many other states.
Anna was born in the town of Weimar, East Germany, where her father served with the Soviet military. She grew up in Borisov, Belarus, before going off to a Russian college in Kazan. Larisa was born and grew up in the town of Borovichi, halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. She attended college in Moscow. The women lived with their daughter in St. Petersburg before moving to Houston. They are now living in Montrose and still exploring Houston and all it has to offer.
Although they come from Russia, they point to some aspects of their lives that are very stereotypically American—or maybe just stereotypically lesbian, the couple jokes.
“After our first date, we both became certain that we wanted to continue dating. We’ve recently learned of a half-joking, half-serious perception in the LGBTQ community in the US that lesbians tend to jump into relationships head-first, and I guess we are stereotypical lesbians in that regard,” Larisa laughs.
There were two moments in their relationship that they agree were the most romantic. The marriage proposal was one, but for Larisa there is a second. “The most romantic thing that Anna has ever done for me was when she showed me her positive pregnancy test,” she says.
“When we decided to have a child, we realized that we’ll be going from a couple that dates to a couple building a family,” Anna adds. “This was two years into our relationship. At that time, we didn’t equate marriage with building a family. We didn’t even consider marriage as an option for us, since same-sex marriage was not (and still isn’t) legal in Russia.”
Larisa proposed to Anna on their sixth anniversary in January of 2019. “We had just come back from visiting friends with our daughter, Eva, sound asleep during the car ride. Larisa took out a ring and whispered—so as not to wake Eva up—‘Will you be my wife?’ It was a surprise for me, not because I doubted the depth of our love, but because marriage didn’t seem like a viable option for us.”
What changed their minds about the possibility of marriage was the marriage of Anna’s brother Sergei to his husband, Tony, in May of 2018. The couple attended the wedding in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and were very touched to see Sergei and Tony being celebrated by their friends and family. It was then and there that they decided that marriage could also be a real possibility for them. Despite the political climate in the US, the freedoms offered in America, even when under constant attack, can still inspire people in other places who are longing for their own freedom.
Now that they are Houstonians, the couple has much to accomplish.
“Of course, now we are focused on learning the language, building careers, buying a home and, hopefully, having a second baby,” Larisa says. “These are big challenges, since we’ve only been in the US for a couple of months. But all of it will be easier to accomplish knowing that we have rights as a married couple.”
This article appears in the August 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.