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LGBTQ+: The 'propaganda' Law in Russia

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

Jenny Donath investigates the repercussions of Russia’s new law which further curtails LGBTQ+ expression in a country clamping down on ‘Western values’

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Photo by Zoe

The Kremlin recently passed a new bill to ban all forms of ‘propaganda’ that expresses support of the LGBT+ community.

A history of LGBT legislation in Russia

Homophobic agendas have been around for quite some time in Russia. In 2013, the country passed a law that forbid any ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’ among minors. Shortly after, LGBTQ+ activists (who expressed their support to the community) began to be arrested. Since then, matters have deteriorated, with pride events being banned and journalists no longer allowed to publish anything that discusses different sexualities. Law enforcement in Russia records very few violent acts toward LGBTQ+ individuals, completely dismissing people’s right to safety.

The new bill is built upon the 2013 law and extends across all age groups, making it effectively impossible for people to support or identify with the community. Russia’s reasoning is the preservation of ‘traditional values’ and a promotion of conservatism. The bill was passed unanimously on its first reading and its view is backed by the Russian Orthodox Church. It includes any form of promotion of sexual orientations different from heterosexuality, be it in advertising, the entertainment sector, online or in a public setting.

The Guardian reports that individuals who decide to continue to support or display affiliations with the community could pay fines up to the value of £5400. Organisations associating themselves with the community can face up to 5m roubles (£68,000). Foreigners could even be arrested for 15 days or deported.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) concludes that Russia’s politics against rights of LGBTQ+ people and their activists are discriminatory. In Germany, the ECHR has even filed a lawsuit against violence in Chechnya towards LGBTQ+ people.

'From anti-LGBT+ legislation to Chechen atrocities, the Kremlin uses state-sponsored homophobia as a part of its strategy to maintain power and influence at the expense of its own citizens fundamental rights' - Elene Kurtanidze, Freedom House

Furthermore, ILGA Europe (an independent, international, non-governmental organisation that works to protect the equality, freedom, and safety of LGBTQ+ people) released their annual Rainbow Europe Map and Index in May 2022. The map showcases Europe’s countries’ adherence to those principles. Russia’s representation of basic LGBTQ+ rights lie only at 8%, suggesting strong discrimination and violations of human rights.

Human rights groups and activists pointed out that Russia’s new law makes it impossible and basically illegal to express support for or identification with the LGBTQ+ community. However, Alexander Khinshtein, one of the lawmakers of the bill, claimed that the new bill was not supposed to be censoring: ‘We are not banning references to LGBT as a phenomenon. We are banning propaganda and the wording is extremely important here.’

The LGBT Network counters that ‘what is happening is the total state abolition of LGBT+’. A representative of the network goes on to say, ‘They want to ban us not only from talking about ourselves or somehow demonstrating our feelings for our partners, but also to completely erase any mention of us in culture: books, films, media and the like.’

The geopolitical context

Lawmakers reportedly justified their decision by claiming it would protect against ‘un-Russian’ values. It comes as no surprise that the situation has intensified since Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, a country backed by West and its values - Western countries have become more liberal and accepting of LGBT+ people, continuing to pass new laws to further protect their rights.The Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) wrote an article featuring Igor Kochetkov, co-founder of LGBT Network, who believes that the mere purpose of the 2013 law was to create an ideology to ‘generate hatred [...]’. He said that activists are being prosecuted because they are perceived as ‘hidden enemies’. He also claims that the Kremlin tries to distract from the losses caused by the war in Ukraine.

The Western world is accused of attempting to ‘destroy Russia from within’ by ‘promoting homosexuality as an instrument of political influence’. Apparently, Russia uses this as justification for confronting Western countries. He also claims that the Kremlin tries to distract from the losses caused by the war in Ukraine.

Did you know? Under the new law, individuals can be fined the equivalent of £5,400 and organisations £68,500 for 'propagandising nontraditional sexual relations' - The Guardian

According to Freedom House, it is all part of Russia’s political strategy; the Kremlin tries to gain control by disinforming and manipulating, to repel the public from Western countries. Kochetkov said, ‘This is part of a broader attack on anything the government deems ‘Western’ and progressive’. Putin had recently called Western countries’ promotion of gay and transgender rights as ‘moving towards open satanism’.

Gleb Latnik, an LGBTQ+ activist and head of the RUSA LGBT DC immigrant organisation had recently fled Russia in fear of violence. In an interview with CEPA, Latnik’s opinion is that half of Russian LGBTQ+ people are naturally afraid of expressing their true sexuality; he believes that they are terrified of disagreeing with the government.

Concluding comments

While there appears to be some consensus in Russia in relation to the new legislation, many argue that the legal decision is discriminatory and restricts the human right to freedom of expression. Faced with ever-tightening laws around basic expressions of their identity, the country’s LGBTQ+ community are caught in a maelstrom of political fervour which may not die down for a very long time.

Researched by Alexandra Kenney / Edited by Mia Caisley / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington


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