In an address to Russia’s Duma last month, Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy summed up his government’s rationale for a recent onslaught of discriminatory legislation and government action targeting the LGBTQ+ community in the country.
The occasion was the introduction of a bill to outlaw gender-affirming care and surgery and gender ID changes in the country.
“This is another step in protecting national interests,” Tolstoy told the Duma on June 14.
Referring to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine starting in February last year, Tolstoy said, “We are implementing this because Russia has changed since the beginning of the special military operation. And those guys who today defend our country with weapons in their hands, they must return to another country, not to the one that was before.”
For Vladimir Putin and his rubber-stamp parliament, the war in Ukraine is an effort not only to remake Russia geographically but an opportunity to transform the country into a Greater Russia free of the “moral decay” and “pure Satanism” they say has infected the country since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
“We are preserving Russia for posterity, with its cultural and family values, traditional foundations, and putting up a barrier to the penetration of Western anti-family ideology,” Tolstoy said during the bill’s first reading in June.
The new law is the latest in a slew of government actions aimed at erasing LGBTQ+ identity in Russia.
In December, Putin signed legislation banning “LGBT propaganda,” which includes any public reference to “non-traditional lifestyles,” along with a crackdown on the conflated sins of “pedophilia and gender reassignment.”
Bookshops have been forced to remove LGBTQ+ content from shelves, while gaming and streaming platforms have pulled down content, including same-sex pornography. Google was fined in May for refusing to remove LGBTQ+ videos from YouTube in Russia.
The same law has been used to target consensual sex among LGBTQ+ people in the country. In May, a 40-year-old German teacher was convicted of violating the law for inviting a 25-year-old man to his hotel room for sex. In March, a same-sex couple was prosecuted for going public with their relationship on TikTok.
Earlier legislation, including a law passed in 2013 that placed a limit on LGBTQ+-affirmative content disseminated to minors, has been used to shut down Pride marches, detain activists, and lay the foundation of the culture of fear overwhelming the LGBTQ+ community in Russia today.
The latest legislation would ban gender-affirming care for trans people of any age in the country and overturn the ability of trans individuals to change gender on official documents.
Richard Volkov, a 26-year-old trans musician from Moscow, told Reuters trans men he knows in Russia are scrambling to change IDs and start hormone treatment.
“This is the worst thing my country could do,” he said from Sagarejo in Georgia, where he fled after the war began. “It seems that if I simply tell myself that I exist, I am already violating the law.”
36-year-old Elle Solomina, another trans political refugee in Georgia, calls the pending legislation a purely “fascist law.”
“I have not found any explanation for it,” she said in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, “except that in a totalitarian system, the population must live in fear.”
Russia has granted gender ID changes since 1997, four years after it decriminalized homosexuality in the wake of the Soviet Union’s breakup.
But the tide has turned since those liberalizing policies accompanied Russia’s brief opening to the West.
Now Vladimir Putin is invoking the bad old days of the Soviet Union in a call to form a new institute to study LGBTQ+ behavior at the state-run Serbsky Psychiatric Center, notorious in mid-20th century Soviet Russia for its mental and physical torture of dissidents.