In many ways, LGBT rights has become the civil rights movement of our time, and it’s a movement that has made impressive strides in recent years, gaining important legal victories and public support in the US and elsewhere. But in Russia, a country which decriminalized homosexuality in 1993 and stopped treating homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1999, this trend does not hold true. A recent poll conducted by the Levada Center reveals that opposition to gay rights has increased in Russia over the last eight years. Eighty-five percent of Russians say they are opposed to gay marriage, twenty-seven percent of respondents “thought gay people needed psychological treatment,” and a shocking five percent suggested that “homosexuals should be ‘liquidated.’”
While it’s difficult to speculate about why opposition to gay rights is so high in Russia, some critics claim that it has to do with the strong influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has consistently spoken out against homosexuality, as well as homophobic policies pursued by the Putin administration to bolster his support among conservatives at the expense of already vulnerable minority groups. To date, the Russian government has never given legal sanction to a pride parade, and last year a Moscow court extended the city’s existing ban on pride demonstrations for another hundred years. In March of 2013, President Putin instructed the Supreme Court to “prepare amendments to the current adoption procedure to prohibit same-sex foreign couples from adopting Russian orphans.” And, the Russian parliament is currently considering a worrisome bill which would ban “homosexual propaganda” accessible to minors.
The bill, which received preliminary approval by the State Duma earlier this year with near-unanimous support, “would ban the promotion of gay events across Russia” as well as the dissemination of information supportive of homosexuality, imposing fines of up to sixteen thousand dollars for violations. Russia’s foreign minister says the bill is intended to protect “the rights of the majority from a group that wants to promote its own value system.” But, since the bill lacks a clear definition of what constitutes “homosexual propaganda,” many LGBT-rights activists and supporters fear that, if the bill is signed into law, not only would it severely infringe upon LGBT individuals’ right to freedom of expression and assembly, but it would effectively create an information blackout regarding LGBT issues. As David Diaz-Jogeix, deputy director at Amnesty International for Europe and Central Asia, says, “This law further stigmatizes and alienates LGBTI people, including children, and will deprive them of information that could be crucial to their health.” The bill has drawn heated criticism from the international community and represents another black mark on Russia’s already questionable record regarding human rights.
Despite the formidable obstacles they face, LGBT activists and supporters remain undaunted, recognizing that this is a critical moment in Russian history. Activists went ahead with this year’s pride demonstration in Moscow, in defiance of the city’s ban. The event resulted in the arrests of about thirty protestors, including “one of the nation’s leading activists for sexual equality.” In the city of Syktyvkar, activists held a “one-person picket,” a type of street action that does not require a permit, in lieu of a pride parade. In March, Russia’s first print magazine for lesbians hit the shelves with the goal of combatting the “information blackout” facing the LGBT community. And across the country, the Russian LGBT Network continues to work tirelessly to combat prejudice and achieve “equal rights regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity” (you can find out more at their Facebook page). Unfortunately, if the anti-propaganda bill is signed into law, members of the LGBT community will have an even tougher road ahead of them and may have an increasingly difficult time maintaining the sort of public presence necessary to achieve widespread social change and acceptance.
By Charlotte Lewis, Staff Contributor