One Year On: What’s Life Like Under Russia’s Anti-Gay Propaganda Law
Russia’s national anti-gay propaganda law has just marked its first year on the books, and a new report reveals it’s been quite a year for anti-LGBT persecution.
Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, which bans ”propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors,” was enacted on June 29, 2013. Since that time Russia has also moved to enact a law heavily restricting foreign NGOs, and another law that precludes same-sex couples from other countries adopting Russian children. The Human Rights Campaign, in a new report put together to document the wide-reaching impact of those laws, finds that formal prosecutions under the law are actually relatively few, but that doesn’t mean to say the law isn’t having a chilling effect.
“Only a few people were fined throughout the year and this might not seem to be much of a problem,” Tanya Loshinka, program director and senior researcher at Human Rights Watch Russia, is quoted as saying. “But the fines are not what this law is about. This law is not only contrary to Russia’s international obligations but has also contributed to anti-gay violence and to creating a hostile environment for LGBT people in the country. It has contributed to stigmatizing LGBT individuals as unnatural, perverse and as acceptable targets.”
The report notes that while actual number of fines issued may be low, people are being investigated under the law for offenses that are innocuous and in some cases blatantly ridiculous. Here are just a few of the milder ones (we’ll get to the uptick in violence in a minute):
- a middle school girl in the Bryansk region of Russia was investigated for daring to identify as a lesbian
- a Russian elementary school was accused of gay propaganda for allowing children to send Valentine’s Day cards to other students of the same gender
- A toy store was investigated for stocking a game that prosecutors alleged promotes homosexual behavior, while several “Sims” titles have been assigned an 18 rating so that they cannot be bought by children because the game allows players to marry someone of the same sex
The report also says a number of teachers have been fired or threatened with a termination of their contracts if they have appeared to advocate for tolerance of LGBTs in any way. Artists and writers have also faced having their freedoms severely curtailed, perhaps most ridiculously in the case of one touring children’s puppet show. Says the report: ‘A children’s puppet show was banned from Russia’s biggest book festival over accusations that it ‘promotes homosexuality.’ ‘The Soul of a Pillow’ was banned because it tells the story of a friendship between a male-named pillow and a boy in kindergarten.”
The report also finds evidence that a number of media outlets have been threatened with closure as a result of the way in which the propaganda law has been imposed. One outlet has been fined for printing the words “homosexuality is normal,” regardless of the context of the article which was an opinion piece, while LGBT advocacy site Gay.ru, has faced multiple complaints and is under constant threat of being closed down.
The same is true for a number of LGBT nightclubs which fall outside of the remit of the propaganda law and yet are the subject of constant complaints. Those clubs that can weather these administrative roadblocks are also under threat of violent action from extremists who appear to have been emboldened by the law.
A few examples of this violence include, but are by no means limited to:
- a birthday party at a Moscow bar was violently attacked because the partygoers “looked gay”
- in March a group of thugs attacked a St. Patrick’s Day flashmob in Irkutsk. The reason? The men were wearing kilts and so the mob supposed them to be gay
- a man who dared to protest the law with a rainbow banner displaying the message “this is propagating tolerance” was assaulted by a group of former paratroopers
- men and trans women in particular have been the subject of vigilante campaigns where they have been violently attacked, made to drink urine and, in some cases, raped
In addition to the above, the report finds a number of cases where police have refused to prosecute violent attacks against LGBTs, and if they do prosecute, they will not recognize these as attacks against a minority group but instead refer to them simply as “hooliganism.”
The report also finds that anti-LGBT rhetoric among politicians, the state media and administrative services has all increased since the law came into force. It’s believed that this may have prevented LGBT people from speaking out about the discrimination they are facing.
The report closes with a warning that the HRC believes the situation in Russia could get worse:
As if the events of the past 12 months aren’t bad enough, the situation could still get worse. More than three quarters of Russians feel that homosexuality is unacceptable and support may be growing for even more anti-LGBT legislation. Activists have long feared that a bill to terminate parental rights of LGBT parents may be re-introduced now that the media attention of the Olympics has moved on. Other proposals from the legislature and the powerful Orthodox church include the creation of a national morality police and the recriminalization of same-sex relations.
Examples of how it might get worse are also given, in particular that the HIV database law which could be open to abuse. There are also proposed laws that could allow Russian officials to remove children from homes of suspected homosexuals, and there is a strong desire to push for a constitutional amendment ensuring that no court could ever allow for marriage equality.
Needless to say, there’s nothing to celebrate about the propaganda law’s first anniversary.
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