On November 30, the Russian Supreme Court passed a law dealing a major blow to the LGBTQ+ community. Now, the non-existent "international LGBT social movement" is labeled as an extremist organization. Any involvement
in extremist activities or funding
such organizations can lead to 12 years in prison. Displaying
extremist symbols can result in a 15-day arrest, and for repeat
offenders, up to four years in prison.
In Russia, anti-extremism legislation has been abused
by the authorities for years and used to prosecute unwelcome individuals and organizations. For instance, the list of extremist organizations also includes Jehovah's Witnesses, the radical Ukrainian coalition Right Sector, Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, and around 90 other organizations.
Another group on the same list is the Male State, known for opposing LGBTQ+ rights and feminism. In 2021, the Russian grocery chain "Vkusvill" published
an advertisement featuring a same-sex family. Male State responded
with threats, eventually forcing the family to leave
The anti-extremist legislation specifies that only a genuinely existing, structured organization with an established leadership can be recognized as extremist, which the LGBTQ+ community is not. Lawyer Anastasia Burakova says
that the law even enables law-enforcement to recognize comments on social media from a decade ago as illegal.
"This situation creates absolute legal uncertainty, and consequently, a broad field for the investigator's imagination," said Burakova.
Burakova also said that simply providing psychological assistance to LGBTQ+ individuals might be considered involvement in extremist activities.
Determining what specifically constitutes symbols of the LGBTQ+ movement is also challenging. Lawyer Vladimir Voronin says
that this ambiguity allows authorities to have even broader interpretations of the law.
“Any display of a non-traditional sexual orientation, including symbolism, or the use of 'rainbow' colors in clothing, can be equated to extremist activity," said Voronin.
The human rights project "Pervy Otdel" (Department One) clarified
that the court's decision to designate the LGBT as an extremist organization will go into effect on January 10, 2024. However, the consequences of passing the law are already apparent.
On the night of December 2nd, the police raided
several Moscow clubs hosting LGBTQ+ events, claiming to search for drugs. Attendees said
that their documents were checked and their passports were photographed.
“I got (***) scared when the music stopped, and they announced that the police were raiding. I thought, that's it, I'll be sentenced to 12 years. They took a picture of my passport on the way out," said one of the LGBTQ+ party attendees.
A few days before officially labeling the LGBT movement as extremist, Vladimir Putin surprisingly said
that gay individuals are "also a part of society."
"But here's what I want to say. I'll say something unexpected. They too — these themes and these people — have the right to win [in art contests], to showcase, to tell their stories because they’re also a part of society. It's another way of life. It’s only bad if they’re the only ones winning all sorts of competitions, that's not good," said Putin.
Sources close to the Kremlin link
the shift in Putin’s rhetoric to the presidential campaign. Putin aims to unite people before the elections by changing the focus from major issues to sexual minorities. He also seeks to appeal to the electorate by portraying the laws as non-repressive.
In terms of symbolism, the rainbow has taken a hit. The animated series "My Little Pony" now has
an 18+ age rating on an online Russian streaming service. The platform’s customer service mentioned that this rating was imposed because of "new legislative restrictions." One of the main characters in the show has a rainbow-colored mane and tail.
Even before the LGBT movement was labeled as an extremist organization, Russian TV channel TNT Music removed the color
from a rainbow in a K-Pop group Seventeen's music video. While internet users associated this with the law against LGBTQ+ propaganda, the channel did not offer any official comment on the situation.
In the past, even politicians and the Russian Orthodox Church have made statements that could now lead to imprisonment.
As early as 2009, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), spoke out
against repression targeting the LGBTQ+ community. Despite considering same-sex love a sin, he opposed any form of persecution against sexual minorities.
"We accept any choice a person makes, including in the sphere of sexual orientation. It is a person's private matter. However, acknowledging this fact in no way changes our position regarding the phenomenon itself," said the patriarch.
He also mentioned that the LGBTQ+ community "should not be punished, so we have always been categorically opposed to any repression and discrimination against people of a different sexual orientation.”
Ten years ago, Speaker of the State Duma Sergey Naryshkin invited
members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to Moscow's gay clubs. The purpose was to let Western politicians witness the rights of sexual minorities in Russia.
"We have many accomplished people with non-traditional sexual orientations. They are successful in business, in the arts, in any creative field...They have the right to relax and to do so in comfort...in Moscow, in other cities of Russia. There are many so-called gay clubs," said Naryshkin. "I haven't been, but witnesses say it's very good there, comfortable, these people have a good time. If anyone wants confirmation of this, please, I invite you to Moscow," Naryshkin said.
Despite this, repressive laws have existed for many years, making life for the LGBTQ+ community in Russia very challenging. In 2013, the government banned
the act of promoting “gay propaganda” — that is, LGBTQ+ rights — among minors. In 2022, this ban was extended
to all age groups. It is still unclear what exactly is considered “promotion” of these ideas.
In late November, journalists from the Russian news outlet Meduza published letters they received from representatives of the LGBTQ+ community in Russia. One woman, Irina, said
that she is no longer surprised by the absurdity of the new laws.
"My girlfriend and I have been together for 20 years, and for the last 10, we can't even hold hands in public, let alone fix each other's hair or wipe a spot from each other's face without the fear of being punished," said Irina.