A draft of legislation introduced this week in the Russian Duma (Parliament) has human rights and LGBTQ activists alarmed as it would expand the country’s anti-gay propaganda law passed and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in 2013.
The bill would build on the 2013 legislation, which was aimed at prohibiting “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations” to Russian minors. One of the bill’s sponsor’s Alexander Khinshtein, an MP from the conservative political party, United Russia, told state media upon its introduction, “We propose to extend the ban for LGBT propaganda regardless of age, not just for children as it is today.”
The proposed expansion comes as the Russian president continues his war against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of four Eastern Ukrainian oblasts (states). In his speech two weeks ago justifying the annexation, Putin sharply criticized the LGBTQ community:
“Do we really want, here, in our country, in Russia, instead of ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, to have ‘parent No. 1’, ‘parent No. 2’, ‘No. 3’? Have they gone completely insane? Do we really want … it drilled into children in our schools … that there are supposedly genders besides women and men, and [children to be] offered the chance to undergo sex change operations? … We have a different future, our own future,” Putin said.
Dilya Gafurova, head of Sphere, a Russian LGBTQ rights organization, told the CBC that the LGBTQ community “has no rights in Russia at the moment” and that the legislation being considered by lawmakers would make things even worse.
“This will make them even more unprotected and even more invisible,” she told CBC Newsvia email.
Reflecting on the proposed legislation, Gafurova said, “Being LGBT+, ‘non traditionality’ is something that was weaponized continuously by the Russian regime to justify defending itself from ‘Western influence,’ as if being queer is something that can be influenced onto someone or flown in from abroad.”
“LGBT+ people are not regarded as people [in Russia],” Gafurova said, adding that some lawmakers “sincerely believe us to be the result of ‘propaganda’ or [that] we’re a means to an end, a justification for certain political actions.”
The Russian government has mobilized more men in Russia at Putin’s explicit direction for service in the Russian military in Ukraine. Russian losses on the battlefield have been heavy, especially in the past three weeks as Ukraine’s forces are retaking ground from the Russian military and are pushing the invaders back.
Those actions have caused hundreds of thousands of draft eligible Russian men to flee the country to avoid conscription.
Gafurova told the CBC that “the Russian military isn’t exactly known for acceptance toward queer people,” and she suspects many will have left the country for the same reasons their fellow compatriots have.
“They simply don’t want to serve and be a part of this unjustifiable and bloody war,” she added.
In a Sunday phone call, a source within the Russian government told the Washington Blade they suspect that the recent push by parliamentarians to attack the LGBTQ community is a naked political ploy to shore up public support of Putin by ordinary citizens on a social and cultural issue that would unite them to back his homophobic and transphobic rhetoric.
“It’s another cynical diversion by some in the Duma to distract the masses from the reality of Putin’s criminality,” they told the Blade.