Russia’s LGBTQ+ crackdown will escalate in the fall when new regulations take effect that will further exclude the community. The State Duma, Russia’s lower legislative house, announced on July 11 that it will change existing laws and ban same-sex public displays of affection and any public demonstrations of support for LGBTQ+ rights.
The current “gay propaganda law” passed in 2013 prohibited any mention of LGBTQ+ topics when minors are present, whether in movie scenes or ordinary conversations. “It [the existing law] only applied to children. Of course, this does not go far enough,” the head of the State Duma’s information committee, Alexander Khinshtein, said on his Telegram social media channel.
Russia’s Ministry of Digital Development, Communications, and Mass Media, and Roskomnadzor, the agency responsible for monitoring, controlling and censoring Russian mass media are already working on reforming the law. “We propose to generally extend the ban on such propaganda regardless of the age of the audience (offline, in the media, on the internet, social networks and online cinemas),” wrote Jinshtein, who has linked this law with another amendment that will impose harsher punishments on “the promotion of pedophilia.”
“It will not only prohibit the dissemination of gay propaganda to children, but will also prohibit the dissemination of any information demonstrating non-traditional sexual relations… and perversions,” said Jinshtein, who is surveying the public for more recommendations on how to persecute the LGBTQ+ community. “I consider this task extremely important,” said Jinshtein, “not only as chairman of this State Duma committee, but also as a father of two children.”
The Sphere Foundation, a network of LGBTQ+ groups in Russia, recently published an analysis of the proposed law indicating that violations could entail fines of up to $8,500 for individuals and $171,000 for legal entities, which could also face suspension.
The new law was drafted by various government agencies after State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin kicked off the debate with a recent, offhand comment posted to Telegram on a new Russian national holiday – the Day of Family, Love and Fidelity.
“With [Russia’s] exit from the Council of Europe, demands to legalize same-sex marriages have become a thing of the past. Attempts to impose foreign values on our society have failed,” Volodin posted to his personal social media account on the occasion of the new holiday instituted by Putin, who divorced in 2013.
The anti-LGBTQ+ legal changes are strongly supported by the Russian Orthodox Church. “Now is the time – when our youth are bombarded by Western influences – to introduce a law that will strictly ban and sanction those who propagate perversions among minors, but also among adults,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, the Church’s Chairman of the Patriarchal Commission on Family, Protection of Motherhood and Childhood, in an interview with Russia’s TASS news agency.
Russians have remained largely silent about the anti-LGBTQ+ measures that have been added over the years. The Kremlin’s 2020 constitutional reform defined marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.” President Vladimir Putin warned in December 2021 that his country needed an “antidote” to “non-traditional” Western ideas. “We cannot ignore this – we have to find an effective antidote. If someone thinks there is no difference between a woman and a man – well, for God’s sake, use some common sense,” said Putin at his annual press conference, where he emphasized that “a woman is a woman, a man is a man, and a mother is a mother.”
In an interview with EL PAÍS, Yulia Alióshina, Russia’s first transgender politician and the regional president of Citizens’ Initiative in the Russian Federation’s Altai Republic (southern Siberia), denounced the repression of minorities in her country. “The LGBTQ+ community in Russia lives in darkness. The government keeps them locked in the closet and won’t let them out. So we must speak out about this,” said Alióshina.
In January 2022, a former captain in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB, the acronym in Russian), added her voice to demands for fair treatment of the LGBTQI community. Katerina Meyers (Alexandr Chumakov, before she began her transition in 2020) told the independent news website Znak that she was forced to resign after 12 years with the FSB when her colleagues found out about her sexuality. “I want to fight against this discriminatory system. There are many people like me in the special services. There are also gays and lesbians. Does that make them bad employees?” asked Meyers.
Meyers’ cause may not find any support in Russia after the Kremlin shut down the Sphere Foundation in April 2022. Human Rights Watch issued a statement denouncing, “this act of political, homophobic censorship that blatantly violates Russia’s human rights obligations.” Like Amnesty International and a dozen other non-governmental organizations, Human Rights Watch has been forced to close down in Russia.