Anti-gay law will push Russia’s LGBT community ‘into the shadows,’ activists warn

Anti-gay legislation being considered by Russia’s parliament could drive the country’s embattled LGBT+ community underground, activists and experts told The Moscow Times, as the Kremlin doubles down on what it calls “traditional values” amid the war on Ukraine.

Russian lawmakers last month endorsed a bill to expand an existing ban on LGBT “propaganda” on its first reading, and is currently considering amendments that would require five-year prison terms for repeat offenders.

“Society will become considerably more closed,” Alexei Sergeyev, head of the rights group Heterosexual and LGBT Alliance, said of the consequences if the bill becomes law.

“LGBT people will increasingly live in the shadows.”

Russia’s LGBT community already faces violence and marginalization as a result of the homophobiaoften fed by official rhetoric. But many fear that legislation now going through parliament will worsen the situation.

Activists said there could be consequences for LGBT organizations, LGBT places, as well as books, movies, plays and video games with LGBT content.

“This legislation will affect everyone, not just LGBT people,” said Noel Shaida, head of communications for the LGBT rights group Sphere Foundation, who was to close by authorities earlier this year.

“The scariest thing about these bills is that they cover everything: movies, TV series, media, advertising, publications.”

The legislation, which could be signed Signed into law by President Vladimir Putin earlier this month, it builds on a controversial 2013 law that bans “non-traditional sexual intercourse propaganda” to minors by banning such content aimed at all ages.

The bill also search to legally equate information about “non-traditional lifestyles” with pornography and codify new crimes, including “propaganda of pedophilia”, often mistaken for homosexuality by authorities, and encouraging minors to change their sex.

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alexander gray / pexels

alexander gray / pexels

Fines for violations would go up to 400,000 rubles ($6,500) for individuals and 5 million rubles ($81,000) for organizations.

Furthermore, the amendments proposed by two Communist Party deputies earlier this month would mean that some offences, including using the media to “propagate non-traditional sexual relations”, could be punishable by jail sentences of several years.

The most immediate impact if the bill becomes law will likely be felt by LGBT rights organizations and commercial venues, activists said.

“The law will hit all LGBT-related organizations very hard,” said Sergei, coordinator of the St. Petersburg LGBT group Pajama Friends, who also works at a gay club.

Since LGBT rights organizations would risk crippling fines, many fear they could revert to the practices of the Soviet period, when homosexuality was criminalized.

“It is going to affect LGBT organizations the most, as they are the most visible,” Sergeyev told The Moscow Times. “They could very well become completely secretive like in the Soviet Union, when [LGBT groups] they met in private apartments and used a kind of password system”.

LGBT commercial venues are likely unable to pay the large fines required by law, and activists predicted that many gay clubs and bars would close, or go underground in an attempt to avoid police attention.

there’s also expected be side effects for theaters, cinemas, online aggregators, video game producers and advertisers.

“It is canceling the culture,” activist Shaida told The Moscow Times.

Many also believe that fears of fines and prison sentences will mean that LGBT Russians and organizations associated with the LGBT+ community could start self-censoring and take more steps to hide their identity.

Oleg Kharsev / Kommersant

Oleg Kharsev / Kommersant

“The club where I work is already writing ‘neutral’ posts [on social media] so he doesn’t get in trouble,” said Sergei, the coordinator of Pajama Friends, who asked to withhold his last name.

Many might even ditch the LGBT label altogether to avoid attracting attention.

“It is a form of erasure. The more LGBT people erase their presence on their own…the more stereotypes about LGBT people will thrive,” Sergeyev said.

While official homophobia has had a long history in Putin’s Russia, the current legislative focus on LGBT expression appears to be part of a broader crackdown on social minorities as the Kremlin seeks scapegoats for its defeats in the Ukraine war. .

“LGBT today is an element of hybrid warfare and in this hybrid warfare we must protect our values, our society and our children,” lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein, one of the architects of the new bill, said at a parliamentary hearing last month, Reuters reported.

The new legislation is not the only official attempt to promote “traditional values” since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Earlier this month, Putin signed a document entitled “The Foundations of State Policy to Preserve and Strengthen Traditional Russian Moral and Spiritual Values”.

A Russian court too fined the social network TikTok last month for refusing to remove LGBT content and the media regulator Roskomnadzor warned editorials on the removal of all books containing “LGBT propaganda” in August.

“A new enemy is being created for the Russians in the form of LGBT people,” said Margarita Shanfranskaya, coordinator of the “People Not Propaganda” campaign that is opposing the proposed legislation as it makes its way through parliament.

“Because of this, abuses by officials will increase,” he told The Moscow Times.

“At the same time, the number of crimes against LGBT people will also increase.”