Russia has a long history of persecuting its own LGBTQIA+ communities, and today, the story is no different. Under President Vladimir Putin, the country only seems to be taking steps backwards, as it ramps up limits and control over the freedom of its citizens, an issue that has been exacerbated by its invasion of Ukraine.
On Monday 5 December 2022, the dictator wannabe signed a piece of legislation that cracks down even more on the freedom of its LGBTQIA+ communities—people who are already unable to live openly and freely within the ultra-conservative country. The new legislation in question widely bans expression of their identity in public spaces.
The new legislation follows on from a similar bill passed in 2013. Titled “On the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors,” the bill has since been used to control the country’s populace and the things its people—especially younger generations—are exposed to.
Essentially, it blocks and prohibits anything that the Kremlin deems contradictory to “traditional family values.” These values, however, are deliberately left ambiguous—in turn, giving the government more freedom in what it punishes. This law lumps in the teaching or promotion of homosexuality with drugs and paedophilia: common right-wing rhetoric used to fear-monger and oppress.
Putin is on record saying that the legislation “does not discriminate against gay people,” something that has been repeatedly proven wrong, as seen by numerous arrests of LGBTQIA+ activists in the country since, and most notably the string of tortures and murders in the Chechen Republic (part of the Russian Federation) in 2017.
You are not safe in the Russian Federation as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and the new legislation further pushes citizens down the rabbit hole of hate and oppression.
The new bill, which was passed in the State Duma—Russia’s Parliament—with a vote of 397 to 0, has made it illegal to spread “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual relations” in the media, advertising, movies, or most notably, on social media. The latter is a direct attack on the freedom of young people in the country and is likely to make any sharing of resources, help, or information on LGBTQIA+ related topics a dangerous and illegal act.
The media in question also includes those that “cause children to want to change their sex.” Trans rights are further behind the rest of the LGBTQIA+ community in Russia and I fear for anyone seeking to understand themselves better—being unable and unwelcome in their own country.
Advertising is completely barred from showing “non-traditional” couples, for example, anyone from a queer background. Film and television are expected to follow the same rules, essentially curbing what can and can’t be expressed in the country’s media. It’s starting to smell a little Soviet Union-y over there.
Consequently, the new laws are increasing the fines you could face for spreading LGBTQIA+ “propaganda.” One risks being fined up to 400,000 rubles (roughly £5,690) as an individual and up to 5,000,000 rubles (about £68,000) as an organisation.
The language used in the bill is also inflammatory and inciteful of a danger that isn’t exactly real. We all care about the safety of children and people alike, but it’s evident that Russia is framing these laws in a way that makes them look like a moral and righteous battle against Western influence.
A Peppa Pig episode was brought up during discussion in the State Duma, which was titled Families and showcased a lesbian couple. An example of malicious Western influence, apparently—a children’s show which seeks to educate and represent.
Unfortunately, it seems like this sort of rhetoric is here to stay in Russia, at least as long as Putin is in power and keeps vehemently opposing the progress of the Western world. These new laws and bills actively endanger the country’s LGBTQIA+ communities and will force them further underground, while also amplifying homophobic attitudes.
As a society, we should be coming together to love and respect each other, and it’s sad to see a global and political giant such as Russia struggle so hard with people’s personal freedoms.
Yulia Tsvetkova, a 27-year-old feminist and queer rights activist from Komsomolsk-on-Amur in East Russia, has been charged with violating the Russian “gay propaganda” law and distribution of “pornography” for sharing drawings of same-sex families and vaginas on social media.
Last month, the prosecutor’s office in charge of her case approved the indictment against Tsvetkova; if convicted, she could face up to six years in prison. Tsvetkova’s persecution by the Russian authorities reflects a broader campaign by the government to crackdown on members of the queer community and muzzle anyone advocating for their freedom and rights.
All Out, an international NGO fighting for LGBTQ rights, has teamed up with the Moscow Community Center and launched a petition calling for the elimination of the charges against Tsvetkova and for the abolition of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law.
The authorities’ persecution of Tsvetkova began in 2019, when she was preparing to stage a play titled ‘Blue and Pink’ which dealt with gender stereotypes and criticised the country’s culture of militarism. Following mounting pressure from the authorities, Tsvetkova cancelled the play.
“I don’t know which was worse for the authorities, the play about gender, which they don’t understand and are afraid of, or the other play, which was pretty political, very sharp. I guess it’s the combination of both that got me here,” Tsvetkova told CNN.
Following the play incident, Tsvetkova and her mother were summoned to the police station either on a weekly or bi-weekly recurrence as the authorities scoured for any shred of evidence that could help them press criminal charges against her. Finally, the police came across a blog titled ‘The Vagina Monologues’ that Tsvetkova had founded and managed, in which she featured drawings of female body parts created by herself and others.
Through her work, Tsvetkova sought to shatter stereotypes surrounding the vagina and promote body positivity. The text in one of her drawings, for instance, read “Women who are alive have body fat and this is fine!”
It was for posting these drawings that the authorities charged Tsvetkova with promoting pornography. Then, in January 2020, she was charged with violating the notorious “gay propaganda law” after she posted a drawing featuring same-sex families along with the caption “A family is where there is love. Support LGBT+ families!”
After being placed under house arrest, Tsvetkova was released in March 2020, but has since been prohibited from leaving the country or changing her address.
Tsvetkova’s arrest has drawn sharp criticism from human and LGBTQ rights activists and organisations around the world. Last year, Amnesty International, along with several other NGOs, had recognised Tsvetkova as a political prisoner and called for the charges against her to be dropped.
“Russian authorities have tried everything to intimidate Yulia: They searched her home, put her under house arrest for over three months, ordered her not to leave the country, fined her twice for violating the Russian ‘gay propaganda’ law, and brought trumped-up charges against her for ‘distributing pornography’,” said Matt Beard, Executive Director of All Out. “Now her trial can happen any time and she could go to jail for up to six years. And all of this just for sharing on social media innocent drawings of same-sex families and motives promoting inclusivity. Nobody should be prosecuted simply for expressing their wish for equality,” he added.
The controversy has also spread throughout Russia, where, despite the public’s deep-rooted conservatism, individuals and groups have nonetheless taken to social media and the streets to protest Tsvetkova’s arrest. On social media, women have been posting pictures of their bodies (often emphasising hair, curves and skin blemishes) along with the phrase “my body is not pornography” in solidarity with Tsvetkova.
Protests against Tsvetkova’s arrest have been taking place throughout Russia, and have even reached her hometown in the far Eastern region of the country. Numerous artists and media figures have also come out in support of her, something Tsvetkova claims has made her feel less alone in her struggle.
“Anonymity is the scariest thing,” she told DW, “and I know that because I was alone at the beginning. It meant that if I was at the police station, I knew that they could do whatever they want and no one would ever find out.”
“[Tsvetkova] is not the first person to be targeted under the ‘gay propaganda’ law. But with your help, she might be the last,” reads All Out’s petition, which has so far garnered over 165,000 signatures. Her trial could begin any day now.