This past Tuesday, June 11th, the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament unanimously passed a bill that bans the dissemination of information about “non-traditional sexuality” to minors. The proposed law, which is also expected to survive the upper chamber and President Putin’s pen, would make it illegal to disseminate information that promotes “non-traditional sexual relationships” or provides “a distorted notion of social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships.” Citizens found guilty would be subject to fines between 4,000 and 5,000 rubles (~$130), with higher penalties if they’re government officials or spread information via mass media, including the internet. Corporations or organizations would owe up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) and could be shut down for up to 90 days, and foreigners would be jailed and/or deported. The law could come into effect as soon as the end of this month.
As with its regional counterparts, the wording of the national law makes it scarily vague. “The loose language of the law suggests that even services such as counselling for gay teenagers, or safe-sex advice, could theoretically be deemed illegal,” reports The Independent. Conservative Russian groups are already starting to call for bans on clothing that “glamorizes” the homosexual lifestyle (they went after Elton John specifically). And regardless of what specific acts it ends up criminalizing, the idea behind the law is crippling. Even in countries with some protections in place, gay kids are subject to ridicule, bullying, psychological damage, self-doubt, and all kinds of other not-so-fun things. They need access to role models, support, and information, not a nationwide, governmentally-sanctioned denial of their existence.
As American expat and Autostraddle contributor Rachel R. has described, Russia has never been the most fun place to be gay. Although homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993 and depathologized in 1999, most laws since then have increased discrimination rather than fighting it. “Propaganda” laws like this one have already passed in nearly a dozen local legislatures—St. Petersburg’s version causes dozens of arrests per month. Thanks to a law passed last year, Moscow can’t have a gay pride parade until 2112. And polling has shown very low public support for gay rights—a recent survey found that only 17% of Russians think that homosexuality should be “accepted by society,” and Russia is one of the few countries where acceptance has slipped since 2007. Other polls indicate that 47% of Russians think gays don’t deserve equal rights, and 88% support the proposed law.
Vladimir Putin cites these numbers when explaining why he’s ready to sign this law. In an interview this April, the Russian president said that although he thinks it’s “necessary to defend the rights of sexual minorities,” public opinion is such that if those rights were actually defended, all hell would break loose. “I can hardly imagine same-sex marriage being allowed in Chechnya,” he told an Amsterdam newspaper. “It would have resulted in human casualties.”
Many think that this law — which is following a slew of similar restrictions, including a Pussy Riot-inspired law that can get you jailed for a year for “public actions… committed with the goal of offending religious feelings” — is part of a long effort by Putin to stall the “corruption” of Russian youth in order to make sure future generations continue voting for him and his political party (as we all know, the best way to prevent that kind of “corruption” is by keeping young people away from the sort of ideas and diversity that might encourage them to think for themselves). This is a familiar attempt, bolstered by familiar rhetoric: equating discrimination with nationalism (misrepresenting gay rights as a “Western idea”) and using flawed, pulpy logic purported to protect impressionable kids. When the Russian Orthodox Church called for a national version of the St. Petersburg law six months ago, its youth representative cited its “timeliness,” as Russia’s gay people were constantly “rallying outside children’s establishments,” and Putin also likes comparing homosexuality with pedophilia. “[These bills] represent a sorry attempt by the government to bolster its popularity by pandering to the most reactionary elements of Russian society,” said Amnesty International’s John Dalhuisen. Human Rights Watch’s Graeme Reid agreed, saying “Russia is trying very hard to make discrimination look respectable by calling it ‘tradition.””
Condemnation from inside is equally virulent. “This fits in perfectly with the course towards repressive politics that has been openly taken by our president and our parliament,” veteran Russian rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva told Agence France-Presse. “[This law is] a step toward the Middle Ages… In normal countries, no one persecutes representatives of sexual minorities… a modern person knows that these people are different from the rest just like a brunette is different from a blonde. All these repressive draconian laws are passed by the new [parliament] in order to use them selectively against those who are undesirable to the authorities.” Activists held a kissing rally denouncing the law outside the the parliamentary building on Tuesday, until they were attacked by hundreds of anti-gay protesters, who threw eggs and yelled homophobic slurs. About twenty of the anti-bill protesters were detained by police, and several others were beaten up by “masked men” on an adjacent street. Meanwhile, the bill’s authors sat inside arguing that their new bill “would shield the LGBT community from harassment.” This kind of forced blindness is tragic enough for one generation. There’s no need to mandate it for the next.