Russia’s LGBT community braces for more persecution as Duma prepares tougher propaganda law

Anna Kosvinitseva is a web designer in the city of Astrakhan in southern Russia who has been working mostly from home for a few years. She says she has had many unpleasant encounters because of her sexual orientation and now ventures out in public as rarely as possible.

Like many members of Russia’s LGBT community, Kosvinitseva is concerned about a new initiative underway in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, which would make the 2013 law against spreading information about fashion so-called non-traditional life among minors much more severe.

“Most likely a mass migration of sexual minorities out of the country will start,” she said when asked what would happen if the tougher law were passed. “In fact, our safety and our chances of leaving the country could be in danger. After all, we cannot expect help from anyone. We are simply forbidden to love and be loved.”

Russia’s controversial so-called gay propaganda law has been in effect for nearly a decade. New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote in 2018 that the law increased social hostility sexual minorities have long experienced in Russia, calling the law a classic example of political homophobia.

“The law interferes with [the] ability to offer honest, scientifically accurate and open advisory services,” HRW wrote.

Now the Duma is dealing with amendments to the 2013 law that would ban “non-traditional sex propaganda” entirely. It would authorize the blocking of Internet resources dealing with LGBT topics and ban films that the government interprets as containing such propaganda. According to the proposal, information about “non-traditional lifestyles” or “rejection of family values” would be legally equated with pornography, promotion of violence or incitement to racial, ethnic or religious enmity. .

“We propose to fully extend the ban on such propaganda to audiences of all ages – offline, media, internet, social media, as well as in cinemas,” said Aleksandr Khinshtein, chairman of the Duma committee. on information policy, wrote on Telegram, adding that his committee had also proposed tougher penalties for violations of the law.

Khinshtein also urged the public to send him suggestions for further “legislative steps in this direction” and said he considered the issue “particularly important not only as the chairman of a major Duma committee, but also as a father of two sons.

Although the amendments are still at committee level, analysts told RFE/RL that it is likely that some form of change will be passed when the Duma meets again in the fall.

“Such a step, until very recently, seemed unimaginable,” said Aleksei Kuroptev, legal consultant for the Moscow Community Center. “But now everything is possible. If you want my personal opinion, they are looking for ideological support for their confrontation with the West. When people ask why we have such bad relations with the West, they can answer: ‘We We are people with different values.'”

Vsevolod Galkin, a photographer and former art director of Kvir magazine, argued that authorities are trying to use what he calls a culture war targeting gay people to distract from Ukraine’s problematic war.

“There were no clear successes in the war, so they are trying to shift the public debate towards something outrageous, explosive,” he told Current Time, a Russian-language network. managed by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. “It’s not the first time this has happened. It happens about every seven years.”

Feminist and LGBT activist Alla Chikinda agreed.

“It’s done so that people think less about what’s happening in Ukraine and Russia right now because of the events in Ukraine,” she said. “It’s a very clever distraction maneuver.”

It is a tactic, however, fraught with dangerous consequences for Russia’s beleaguered LGBT community and its allies, Chikinda added. LGBT people who come out publicly will likely become quieter, and those who haven’t come out likely won’t.

Sergei Alekseyenko, an activist from the Russian LGBT network in Murmansk, said that in 2021 his organization’s hotline received 28,000 calls. The network also received more than 5,200 calls for help via social media, 330 requests for legal assistance and 1,200 requests for psychological counselling. Applications for legal aid, he said, covered a myriad of issues from discrimination in the workplace to law enforcement’s refusal to investigate homophobic crimes.

The Russian LGBT Network, along with many other LGBT aid groups, has been placed on the Russian government’s list of foreign agent organizations.

“About a quarter of our militants ‘moved’,” Alekseyenko said, meaning they had left Russia. “We are talking about dozens of people. Many of them are from the North Caucasus and left for Armenia or Georgia, Eastern Europe or even Central Asia.”

He said that in predominantly Muslim and socially conservative Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, “it’s safer now than in Russia.”

Mirona Rozanova, who works with North Caucasus-based LGBT aid group CK SOS, says the new law will not only make it impossible to provide assistance to members of the LGBT community, but will actually place them outside the framework. of the law.

“They’re creating a legal arena where LGBT people can’t talk about homophobia issues,” Rozanova said. “In Chechnya, homosexuals are murdered, illegally detained, extorted. All of this happens on a quasi-official level with the involvement of security forces. We also see a lot of homophobic violence in other Caucasian republics, including the “conversion” tactics in which they try to cure homosexuality by casting out spirits and so on.”

“Not a single case has been investigated by authorities,” she said.

“This bill supports and legitimizes homophobic speech,” Kuroptev added. “It is aimed at both gay people and those who have deeply internalized homophobia. The number of cases of discrimination and violence against LGBT people will increase.”

“This law is just a big nightmare,” said lawyer Yulia Fedotova, who consults for an LGBT center in Nizhny Novgorod. “It’s just an ongoing litany of discrimination and vague standards. There’s no way to tell what you might be held responsible for.”

Robert Coalson, editor of RFE/RL, contributed to this report.

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