Russia Wants to Ban Any Positive Discussion of LGBTQ People

Oct 26, 22
Russia Wants to Ban Any Positive Discussion of LGBTQ People

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Russia is set to ban any positive public discussion of same-sex relationships as it seeks to expand its draconian “LGBT propaganda” law. 

The move comes as the Kremlin promotes itself as a defender of “traditional values” running counter to the “decadent West” - a key justification for its invasion of Ukraine and its attempts to drag Kyiv back into its sphere of influence. 

LGBTQ rights activists still working in the country told VICE World News that they “would not be silenced” as they launched last-minute appeals to stall the bills. 

The promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” to under-18s has been banned in Russia since 2013, but amendments being considered by parliament would make this illegal for all ages. 

The LGBTQ community has long faced hardships in Russia: the southern republic of Chechnya is notorious for ‘purges’ involving the reported killing and torturing of gay men, and pride marches are banned across the country, though queer spaces and clubs do still exist in larger cities.

Television shows, films, books and internet resources that feature positive representations of LGBTQ people or “deny family values” would fall foul of the laws, and individuals could be fined up to 400,000 rubles ($6,500). 

Materials “capable of causing a desire to change gender” would also be banned for under 18s.

The lower house of Russian parliament held an initial consultation on the bills last week, after they were first proposed in the summer. Backers say they could pass into law as early as November, though a first reading that was due this week has been delayed. 

Konstantin Malofeyev, a banker and pro-Kremlin figure with ties to the global religious right, told the consultation that the laws were designed to strengthen Russia in its “battle” for Ukraine and against the West. 

“The war is not only on the battlefield,” he said. “It is also in the smartphones of our children, in cartoons and films… Our enemy holds the propaganda of sodomy as the core of its influence.”

Vladimir Putin himself has presented Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a way of the country “defending” itself from Western values. 

“[The West] has moved to a radical denial of moral norms, religion and family,” he claimed in a speech marking sham referendums in parts of Eastern Ukraine to join Russia. 

Dilya Gafurova, head of the organisation Sphere, which operates an LGBTQ rights network in Russia, said: “These laws will scare people even more, they will scare them back into the closet.”

The 26-year-old noted that the same bills targeting the discussion of gay relationships would also ban the “propaganda of paedophilia”. 

“[Politicians] are saying that homosexuality is close to paedophilia, it’s extreme. People will be afraid to speak up, they will be afraid of possible repercussions.” LGBTQ people, especially outside large cities, would feel increasingly isolated, she said. 

Her organisation has been running a campaign to encourage people to write to Russian lawmakers asking them not to pass the bills. One deputy wrote back, saying she would “do nothing to harm the rights of Russian citizens,” but has backed the bill anyway, according to Gafurova. 

“Deputies genuinely do not believe you can be LGBT if not through propaganda,” the head of Sphere added.

Rights activist Gafurova said that the regime was seeking an “internal enemy” to unite society and keep its own position secure. She suggested that Russians in general had become more tolerant of LGBTQ people after a spike in discrimination following the original propaganda laws in 2013, a trend that the Kremlin was now trying to reverse. 

Alla Chikinda – who runs an organisation for LGBTQ survivors of domestic violence in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city – said some activists were already discussing how they could self-censor posts on social media to avoid violating the proposed law. 

“They would use code words instead of writing, for example, lesbian, or same sex relationships… that is not something that I want to do or that I can imagine myself doing. It means going back more than 30 years to a time when LGBTQ people did not officially exist.”

Chikinda previously worked for an LGBTQ resource centre in the city, which was recently designated a “foreign agent” amid a wider Kremlin crackdown on such groups since the start of the war. 

While she remained hopeful there was still time for the bills to be derailed, she admitted: “I’m beyond the point of worrying. Now I’m just upset by it all.”

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