The Russian federal law “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values” was signed into law on the 30th of June 2013 by President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin after a unanimous vote (436 -0) in favour (bar one abstention) from the State Duma (The lower house of the Russian parliament).
“I have sincere contempt for the Duma’s deputies. All, including the so-called opposition. You have now brought fascism to my country,” – Yelena Kostyachenko, Russian journalist
The Russian government claims that the ban on propaganda to stop homosexuality as being something normal is to preserve “traditional family values” among their population.
The anti-propaganda laws charge fines of up to 5,000 Rubles (roughly US$156) for promoting anything with homosexual content directed at minors – “directed at forming a nontraditional sexual set-up). It also applies to anyone who states that homosexual and heterosexual relationships should be equal, or even that the individuals deserve to be treated equally, as well as to anyone who distributes anything that speaks positively about homosexuality. The fines can go up to 100,000 Rubles (£1,975) for anyone who disseminates “propaganda” online or through the official media. Foreigners who enter Russia do not face long term jail time; but it is still up to 15 days and includes deportation, and they may also be fined the 100,000 Rubles. Organisations can be fined 1 million Rubles and have all activity ceased for up to 90 days.
The bill was criticised of being poorly defined- and I genuinely cannot find anything stating how the bill defines propaganda in any official capacity- but despite this obvious and enormous flaw, Putin had promised to sign it in advance of it passing through the Duma.
“We are talking about protecting children from the respective information” – Vladimir V. Putin
Putin denied that the bill was anti-homosexual, and instead claimed that it was about “protecting children”. The Russian government claims that legalising gay marriage in other countries is a matter effecting those countries’ national security- effectively stating that gay spouses all suddenly become terrorists.
Putin also put into law a bill saying that anyone who offends religious observers can be jailed and fined. This would, of course, include homosexuals when extremist members of certain religious groups are concerned- an obvious example being the Westboro Baptist Church, who picket the funeral of anyone they believe to be homosexual and can reach the grave of, and celebrate their deaths. The bill essentially would mean that in a country with a high propensity for extremist attitudes about whether gay people even deserve to live, LGBT people could essentially be fined for being alive if this bill were to be passed there instead.
This bill was intended to punish actions “demonstrating disrespect to society and done with the goal of offending the believers’ religious feelings”. You can be given up to 3 years in jail for insulting a religious believer in Russia; although being able to insult someone unlimitedly is obviously not a good thing, to be arrested for insulting someone once of a specific group is a very blatant breaking of the human rights declaration that Russia signed when joining the UN.
“The government is using these instincts – homophobia, xenophobia – to justify its policies against an independent civil society. They are making enemies out of us – not just LGBT society, but any group in society that doesn’t agree with their current politics.” – Igor Kochetkov, Russian LGBT Rights Activist
This isn’t just a reflection of a strange government order, but of a strange society. 45% of Russian people genuinely believe that homosexuality is caused by being seduced into it by propaganda and 47% believe that they do not deserve equal rights to straight people. Although they should have a right to their own culture and their own views on social issues, it should not be at the expense of understanding the science of the issue (which is that people are not drawn in by propaganda, but by their own genetics and by experiences during their formative years). It also makes no sense that the law is supposedly about “protecting children” but it is illegal to publish material speaking out for homosexual rights to adults, displaying blatant hypocrisy and an inability to form a decent justification, or a high level of condescension (essentially stating that all Russians are forever children).
The bill has given the Russian Orthodox Church unprecedented power, and this seems almost to be Putin’s tactic to maintain his power within Russia- to lean on the church as heavily as possible and make attacks on the church illegal so that attacks on him can be made illegal.
“People have become more closed, more depressed, less out than they were. The law makes our activity more difficult, because we never know when the red button will be pressed… If I were to walk along the corridors of my school holding hands with my husband, that would be considered a promotion of non-traditional family values. I won’t be fired because I’m out and gay and promoting non-traditional family values at school. Then there would be a court case. All the authorities like to say at international high-level meetings that there is no discrimination in Russia. So it would be on disciplinary stuff: if I forget my lesson plan or I’m five minutes late to class.” – Konstantin Yablotsky, an organiser of the Open Games
Yablotsky has talked about how the coverage of the Olympic Sochi games and the Open Games together actually worsened LGBT rights in Russia. There was a lot of initial international coverage about the act, with many calls to not attend the games. In interviews, Yablotsky would make it clear that the Open Games were not about protest, or following any political ideology, but about promoting a healthy lifestyle and peaceful dialogue with authorities. However, this somehow got misinterpreted as being a protest, and was reported as such internationally. With the international community looking at the games as being a protest against the government full of LGBT propaganda, it was hardly a surprise that the Russian authorities cracked down so hard on them. Many venues for the Open Games (a sports event like the Olympics but intended for LGBT athletes) cancelled reservations at the last minute, and the police ordered many others to be evacuated because of a fictitious terrorist threat. Generally, outside movements are a good help for social movements, as long as they carefully think through the repercussions of what they are doing. Outsiders need to be careful that they do not portray the situation as LGBT individuals deliberately opposing the state in anyway which is not directly for their own safety and the country’s wellbeing, and merely take the actual concerns of the individuals into account.
There is now a clearer idea of how the law is being enforced. Activists at Askhangelsk and Kazan have been arrested for holding signs at rallies, a newspaper in Khabarovsk was fined for publishing an interview with a teacher who was fired for being gay, a manufacturer of a children’s game that portrayed gay couples was fined, and children’s author Lyudmila Ulitskaya is being investigated because her book series promote homosexuality.
It has also facilitated homophobia; a St Petersburg gay march were showered in sickening gas, and many firms refuse to host LGBT events or groups due to fears of legal action against them. The liberal political opposition feel unable (justifiedly) to associate themselves with giving the LGBT community more rights, even to just basic freedom of speech, and journalists can’t cover the results of the ban. Several teachers have been fired for being openly gay, even if they don’t mention this to their students. Just using the word “gay” is often seen as propaganda. Drag artists have been attacked, even when they are straight and cis-gendered, with significant numbers of audience members ending up hospitalised. Radical Orthodox group, God’s Will, seeks to out professionals who are gay, and force companies to fire them (which is indisputably stupid as if they have to seek them out they are clearly not distributing propaganda about it, and are not posing any threats at all, even if saying you’re homosexual is seen as a threat, to traditional family values).
Groups like Occupy Paedophilia equate homosexuality to pedophilia.
“We [LGBT people] are treated as subhuman, with no civil or human rights. We are social non-entities, and we are even considered diseased and dangerous to society,” – Yulianna Prosvirnina, a drag king, who had her performance interrupted and 4 of her audience members hospitalised.
A Russian priest denounced the football world cup team’s cleats as being a “homosexual abomination”. The Jewish Autonomous Oblast, in Russia’s far east, felt the need to ask the Kremlin to confirm that their flag, featuring a rainbow, is not homosexual propaganda.
LGBT awareness events can be shut down if police find there to be anyone under the age of eighteen attending, and local authorities refuse permits for most types of gatherings. LGBT rights are further hindered in Russia, as many activists have emigrated to get away from the harsh law.
“We used to do a lot of film screenings as a form of education, but now we can’t show a film unless it gets a certificate from the state confirming that it can be publicly shown. A lot of smaller places that could show films will not allow it in their facilities anymore. Police will attend some our events to check passports.” – Andrei Obolensky, chairman of the Rainbow Association, and LGBT rights group.
Teenagers’ mental healths have been effected as even discussing the possibility that they might not be heterosexual has effectively been outlawed, and they can’t find any sorts of support groups if they decide that they’re not. Teenagers unsure of their sexual identity have become outcasts within their own society. This is especially evident after a series of hate-groups used social media to lure gay teenagers into meeting them and then physically assaulted them- photos of the attacks are then shared on social media, and often receive many ‘likes’ with little police intervention. The ban is being applied without any considerations for child protection, and that knowing the age of every user of each computer might be a little bit bad for safety reasons in a country known to be a source of child trafficking. Teenage suicide rates are 3x the global average in Russia.
There is a double stigma for gay people who have contracted HIV. There have been parents who have said they wished they had got an adoption after their children said they were HIV positive in the past, who have been able to receive counselling, but that would not be available now.
The ban is really just a symptom of a much bigger problem in Russia- that anyone who has opinions against the president is slowly having their freedom of speech become more and more restricted. The government has been cracking down on anything that Putin thinks may effect constitutional order, defence or security, and to stop anyone who may pose a threat to his presidency speaking out, despite it being a “democratic” country.