On January 25th, Russia’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of drafting a law that would ban “gay propaganda.” In fact, of the 389 members of the State Duma (Russia’s lower parliament chamber), 388 supported the law.
The proposed ban would have far-reaching consequences that range from removing queer characters from movies and television shows to making gay pride parades, and any other demonstrations supporting or celebrating gay rights, illegal. The law would also make it illegal to provide any “propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism” to minors. This means that something as innocent as a public kiss between two members of the same sex could lead to heavy fines.
Although homosexuality, which was punishable by up to five years of jail time in the Soviet Union, has been decriminalized in Russia since 1993, much of the Russian population remains deeply homophobic.
Polls done by the Levada-Center, a Russian non-governmental polling and sociological research organization, show that nearly two thirds of Russians find homosexuality to be “morally unacceptable and worth condemning.’ These same polls show that half of Russia’s population are against gay pride demonstrations and same-sex marriage, and a third believe that homosexuality is “a sickness or a psychological trauma.”
In fact, an employee of a government-run talk show recently said publicly, on-air, that the hearts of dead homosexuals should be burned or buried.
It’s easy to see, then, given the deep homophobic undercurrent running through Russian society, just why and how a law against “gay propaganda” could come to pass. Critics of the law, including human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva believe that this bill is being introduced now as a way to shore up support for Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose popularity has waned in the wake of many months of protests.
“It [parliament] is relying on the ignorance of people who think homosexuality is some sort of distortion,” says Alexeyeva.
Critics also believe that this law is an attempt by Putin to appeal to the Russian Orthodox Church, one of the most influential institutions in Russia, as a way of maintaining his grip on the presidency.
Russia’s LGBTQ community has reacted in a variety of ways. Protestors staged a “kiss-in” as members of parliament debated the bill. Police say that about 20 protesters were arrested and detained after this demonstration. As protestors were hauled away by police, members of the Russian Orthodox Church who had come out in support of the bill threw eggs and screamed homophobic slurs at them.
Another protest on January 20th saw gay activists assaulted by a crowd of 200 counter-protestors who threw snowballs, bottles filled with unknown liquid, and cans of paint at the activists. Andrey Nasonov, one of the organizers of the protest, was thrown to the ground and kicked until he was unconscious. He was later hospitalized with a severe concussion.
Police and other law officials at the scene did nothing to stop the beatings inflicted on the LGBTQ activists.
Activists have also reported receiving death threats while trying to organize protests and other activities through social media. One such threat read, “blasphemous scum, we’ll come to kill you on Sunday!”
The Russian parliament has postponed further consideration of the gay propaganda bill until May. At that time, if, after three more readings, it is signed by Putin, it will become law.
The coming months are certain to bring an increase in LGBTQ protests, and further violence against Russia’s queer population.
“This draft law is one of the most blatant of the attacks on civil rights for Russian citizens in recent months,” reads an official statement by All Out, an international gay rights group.
“The crackdown has extended across all forms of civil liberties, including freedom of speech and expression.”