The Russian parliament has enacted a new anti-LGBTQ+ bill. This is an expansion of an existing regulation that was designed to protect youngsters against ‘homosexual promotion’. LGBTQ propaganda is now strictly prohibited under the new law.
According to Russian law, if you proclaim on the internet or in the press that homosexuality is natural, or if you demonstrate for broader LGBTQ rights, you are distributing propaganda and face a punishment of up to 6,500 euros.
Companies that expose their clients to ‘pro-LHBTQ information’ face fines of up to 80,000 euros for disseminating propaganda. TikTok, for example, was fined 47,000 euros because the network features films in which homosexuality is accepted.
Queer topics taboo
“Defining propaganda is a difficult task,”. “Disclosing your sexual orientation or wearing a symbol might sometimes be interpreted as propaganda. In practice, this implies that the entire issue has been rendered off-limits, not only to children, but to the entire Russian population.” Russia has traditionally been a hostile environment for the LGBTI population, according to Vitali Lomakin in an interview. He lives in Saint Petersburg and works as a project manager for a group that has long advocated for LGBT rights in Russia. “This law is largely intended to limit freedom of expression. LGBTI individuals in Russia must continuously monitor their words in order to avoid saying anything on social media or in public that the authorities can interpret as propaganda.”
Since 2013, there has been a statute that “protects youngsters from LGBTI promotion,” but very few people have been jailed in recent years. “It’s not like you get penalized right immediately if you say anything improper, but you always know it’s possible,” Vitali explains.
Vitali anticipates that the new law will result in fines soon. “I believe that LGBTI people in the public eye, such as bloggers, will face fines. The government can use them as a model to show other LGBTI individuals what can happen if they speak up.”
In addition to the possible fines, the new law also has practical consequences for the LGBTQ community. If people want to get together for an event or party, they can’t share information about the meeting. “Everything goes on as usual, but underground. We have to stay out of sight of the authorities as much as possible,” says Vitali.
Foreigners who, according to the authorities, spread LGBTI propaganda can be deported. “And if you get a fine, you know that the money will flow directly into Putin’s war chest. That’s another reason to keep quiet.”
When the Russian parliament passed the new law this week, no one voted against it. The chairman of the State Duma wrote on social media: “With this law, we can protect the future of our children and our country from the darkness spread by the United States and Europe.” According to experts, the fact that the stricter law is now being introduced has to do with the war in Ukraine.
“You see that the anti-LGBT discussion in Russian politics flares up especially when things are not going well with domestic politics,” says Hartog. “The subject serves as a lightning rod and unifying factor, something that traditional Russian society can rally behind. That is probably also the case today. The great success in Ukraine is not forthcoming, and many Russians are uncomfortable with the idea that Russia is now at war against a brother nation.” Vitali also sees a connection between this law and the war. “Because the war in Ukraine is going badly, the government is looking for enemies within Russia. And the LGBTI community is seen as pro-Western, so we are a target.”
Despite the stricter legislation, Vitali keeps a glimmer of hope. “When it comes to LGBTQ rights, we in Russia are decades behind countries like the Netherlands. But I am convinced that we will also get more rights in Russia. I don’t know when, but we hope that the political system will each other, and that we get more rights.”