New law in Russia is Putin’s latest attack on LGBTQ rights: NPR

NPR’s Ailsa Chang talks with Oxford University professor Dan Healey about new laws in Russia that make it illegal to spread LGBTQ “propaganda.”


It’s been nearly a decade since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first attack on LGBTQ rights in the country, and that crackdown is intensifying. Just this week, he signed a law making it illegal to spread so-called propaganda about non-traditional sex. It’s an expansion of a similar ban Russia instituted in 2013. To understand some of the roots of Russia’s anti-LGBTQ laws, Dan Healey is with me now. He is a professor of Russian history at Oxford University. Welcome.

DAN HEALEY: Thank you very much.

CHANG: I want to start with the 2013 law that I just mentioned. He prohibited, I quote, “the propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia among minors.” Can you talk about how this new law that we mentioned expands on the 2013 law?

HEALEY: It covers the same range of things, propaganda for non-traditional sexual relationships, but between adults and minors. And it also broadens the kinds of places that this propaganda is imagined to be taking place, like television and advertising, streaming services, the internet, and sets out a whole host of different penalties for these different places.

CHANG: What kind of penalties might people face if they are found to have violated this law?

HEALEY: Well, it’s around $800 for an individual, into the tens of thousands for an organization.

CHANG: Any potential prison time?

HEALEY: Prison time is here. However, it is mostly reserved for foreigners who might be sent out of the country.

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CHANG: Oh, interesting. You know, this month, Russia also expanded its crackdown on free speech and anti-government activism by so-called foreign agents. Last month, Putin also issued a decree to protect, quote unquote, “traditional Russian values.” All this is happening against the background of Russia’s war in Ukraine. What connections do you see between the invasion of Ukraine and these more repressive measures coming into force in Russia?

HEALEY: Well, I think, first of all, you can’t see the anti-LGBT campaign as something separate from the war and this growing authoritarianism in Russian society. And what’s really interesting about the president’s decree of November 9 on the protection of traditional values ​​is the way it takes initiatives from the Kremlin around traditional values ​​and lumps them together and turns them into a kind of security concern. So this war is now being fought both for traditional values ​​and against the alleged Nazis who rule Ukraine according to the Kremlin narrative.

CHANG: What is your perception of how people in Russia are responding to all these measures that we are talking about?

HEALEY: Well, most LGBT people are trying to leave the country. And I think something else is going to start happening a lot more and what the activists are talking about. It’s really about people going underground, people ceasing to be visible, ceasing to act in organizations, and also reverting to meeting and meeting methods that really resemble the Soviet period.

CHANG: It goes without saying that anti-LGBTQ laws and hateful rhetoric are not unique to Russia. Why do you think certain political movements, certain groups, both in Russia, even here in the US, are increasingly targeting queer communities now?

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HEALEY: My sense from this is that LGBT communities offer an opportunity to these political groups. They can pose as a particularly terrifying threat to your family in some way that is visceral and highly emotional, and that motivates a support base. And particularly where that base of support is close to religious views, there are plenty of crossovers that work for political opportunists who use official forms of homophobia to define their political stance.

CHANG: That’s Dan Healey, a professor of Russian history at Oxford University. Many thanks.

HEALEY: Thank you.

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