Activist community

Russia’s LGBT community braces for new wave of state-sanctioned discrimination

“Our ability to just go out on the streets will be at risk, as well as our safety,” said Anna Kosvintseva, a web designer in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan, when asked about pending legislation. scrutiny in Parliament that would virtually ban any mention of same-sex relationships or transgender issues. “After all, we can’t expect help from anywhere or anyone.”

Many activists and members of Russia’s LGBT community associate the draconian legislation with the country’s relentless war of aggression against neighboring Ukraine and the government’s efforts to rally broad support by insisting that “traditional values” of the country are under attack by “Satanists” at home and abroad.

“The war is not going well,” said Vsevolod Galkin, a photographer and filmmaker who previously worked for the LGBT magazine Kvir in Moscow. “So they’re trying to turn the public discourse into a kind of outrage, a kind of divisiveness. This isn’t the first time this has happened, we see it every seven years or so.

“The bill is complete nonsense which the government is throwing like a bone at conservative citizens to distract them from military mobilization and economic problems,” said Dina Nurm, a feminist activist from Kazan, capital of the region of Tatarstan. “It’s a new whistleblower tool.”

“The Morality of a Country at War”

President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sex to minors” in 2013. Additionally, many LGBT activists have been targeted in recent years under Russia’s “foreign agent” laws. Since the 2013 law was passed, Russia has seen a dramatic increase in homophobic vigilante violence.

The proposed new legislation, which received preliminary approval on October 27 by the State Duma – the lower house of the Russian legislature – is expected to be passed by parliament by the end of this month. This would radically extend the ban on same-sex and transgender “propaganda” to all audiences. It would prohibit the dissemination of information “which could arouse in minors the desire to change sex”. It would ban advertisements, films, books, artwork and other material that “propaganda non-traditional sexual relationships or desires”. Violation fines would be significantly increased to 400,000 rubles ($6,700).

“We have traditions, awareness and understanding of how we should think about children, families, country and how to preserve what was passed down to us from our parents,” Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said just ahead of the initial vote on the new law. He added that more restrictions could be introduced into the bill before its second reading.

Everything outside of “normal life,” Volodin added, “is sin, sodomy and darkness, and our country will fight against that.”

Anything but “normal life is sin, sodomy and darkness, and our country will fight against that”.

The representative of the Russian Orthodox Church at the session said: “The morality of a country at war is a matter of our future victory. We have our own development path and we don’t need Europe’s non-traditional relations.

November 9, Putin signed a document titled The Foundations of State Policy for Preserving and Strengthening Traditional Russian Spiritual and Moral Values. The text reads: “This is a strategic planning document in the field of national security of the Russian Federation.

“The Russian Federation regards its traditional values ​​as the foundation of Russian society, enabling it to defend and strengthen Russia’s sovereignty,” it read.

“I will continue to express myself”

Yelena, 35, lives with his wife – they married three years ago in Portugal – in the Siberian town of Novosibirsk and volunteers with an organization that helps LGBT people. Like many of those interviewed for this article, she asked that her identity be withheld for security reasons. She says the government intentionally promotes homophobia.

“Most Russians aren’t homophobic… but in recent years politically they’ve stirred up such hysteria around ‘other’ people that it’s getting really scary,” Yelena said. “At any time, a witch hunt can begin, and no one is going to defend you. So people are already living as quietly as possible.”

“The bill is…a new whistleblowing tool,” says Dina Nurm, a feminist activist from Kazan, capital of the Tatarstan region.

Mikhail is an activist from the Volga city of Samara who volunteers in several civic organizations helping LGBT people. He agrees that even in rural areas, many Russians tolerate homosexuals as neighbors and members of their community.

“But the new law aims to prevent gays and lesbians from living openly and to show that they pose no danger,” Mikhail said. “As a result, heterosexuals will interact less with gays or not know their orientation. Over time, even for those who might be open to tolerance, the LGBT community will turn into an enemy.

Alla Chikinda, an LGBT activist from the city of Yekaterinburg in the Urals region, offered a similar view.

“Those who have lived more or less openly will shut down, and those who haven’t come out yet won’t,” she said. “People who support the LGBT community and donate to organizations or participate in joint projects, or simply openly proclaim their support, will stop doing so. This is the main danger of the law.

“I have no idea how to continue”

Yulia Alyoshina, a woman from Siberia’s Altai region who was Russia’s first openly transgender politician, was excluded from the ballot in a 2021 city council election in the regional capital, Barnaul. The day after the Duma backed the new bill in the first of three required votes, it announced its withdrawal from politics.

“I have no idea how to continue to engage in public political activity as an openly transgender woman,” she said, adding that the LGBT community could expect “even more severe hostility” if the new “discriminatory” law is adopted.

Activist Aleksei Sergeyev at a rally against homophobia in St. Petersburg:

Activist Aleksei Sergeyev at a rally against homophobia in St. Petersburg: “There have been many TV talk shows and movies equating homosexuals with pedophiles.”

LGBT citizens say they are already seeing increased hostility on the internet and in real life. Aleksei Sergeyev, an LGBT activist from St. Petersburg, said after a local LGBT organization was prevented from holding meetings at a community center, it resorted to holding meetings in a public park.

Alexander of Krasnodar

Alexander of Krasnodar

“They were attacked by young nationalists and one of them was injured in the head,” Sergeyev said. “There have been many television talk shows and films equating homosexuals with pedophiles.”

Aleksandra, a 20-year-old lesbian from the southern city of Krasnodar, said the new law will “legalize homophobia”.

“Homosexuals have become enemies and criminals in their own country,” she said. “But I will continue to denounce homophobia. and I will not hide my orientation. I am who I am.”

Based on reports from Idel.Realities, Siberia.Realities and North.Realities of RFE/RL