In 2013, Russia adopted the “Gay Propaganda” law, which aims to instill “traditional values” in children by censoring accessible information about the LGBTQ+ community, gender identity and queer representation. This ban had an impact on the information available on television, in the press and on the Internet, and also prevented the holding of pride marches. In July, Russian lawmakers proposed to expand the propaganda law by the end of the year to include adults. Lawmakers said that under the extension, citizens found to be “promoting homosexuality” could be fined.
Alexander Khinshtein, the head of the State Duma government information committee, said on Telegram that this “significantly 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).
Extending this law to adults will put the LGBTQ+ community at even greater risk, activists say, due to increased discrimination and capacity for violence. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2017 that the “gay propaganda” law “does not serve the purpose of protecting morals…is likely to be counterproductive to achieving the goals of protecting the health and rights of others… [and] reinforces prejudices. However, that didn’t mean much to Russian policymakers. After leaving the Council of Europe’s human rights watchdog earlier this year following the war in Ukraine, Speaker of Parliament Vyacheslav Volodin said now was the time to focus on restricting the encouragement of “non-traditional values”.
These so-called “non-traditional values” seem to be something frowned upon by the Russian Orthodox Church, which remains against same-sex marriage and trans/queer gender identities (although Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993), advocates the rejection of “Western culture,” and continues to play a leading role in the cultural, social and political situation of Russia. President Vladimir Putin has recently aligned himself closely with the Church, expressing, with Volodin, that the expansion of the ban would continue to defend Russian values “ideals promoted by the West”.
Many activists have concluded that Putin was legalizing expanded penalties for queer visibility to solidify his ties to the Church. Al Jazeera speculates that Putin believes closer relations with the Orthodox Church could prevent further societal instability from erupting as Russia wages war on Ukraine.
Whether a ploy to maintain domestic stability or not, the strengthening of Russian social conservatism by expanding the criminalization of homosexuality puts Russia’s LGBTQ+ community at risk. Combined with a lack of legal protections, massive censorship of queer representation, and medical discrimination based on gender identity, it is not hyperbole to say that Russian LGBTQ+ people are under attack from their own government.