Pushing to restrict discussion of LGBTQ issues in Russia will leave the community ‘even more unprotected’

A push by Russian lawmakers to more tightly restrict public discussion of LGBTQ life and issues will further isolate a community that faces ongoing peril, advocates say.

A bill discussed in Russia’s State Duma last week seeks to build on previous legislation – enacted almost a decade ago and decried in the West – which banned « the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations » for minors.

Supporting lawmakers, engaged in the effort for months, want to extend the ban to Russians of all ages.

« We are proposing to extend the ban on LGBT propaganda regardless of age, not just for children as is the case today, » Alexander Khinshtein, a Russian lawmaker and supporter of the project, said this week. of law.

The decision to step up anti-LGBTQ measures comes at a time when Russia is engaged in a high-profile war with Ukraine – and experts and advocates see Moscow scrambling to make very clear who it sees as opponents .

Miron Rozanov, spokesman for the crisis group NC SOS, said the Russian government was trying to convince its people that « Ukraine, Western countries and LGBTIQ+ people are enemies ».

Maria Popova, associate professor of political science at McGill University in Montreal, said at the same time that Moscow was signaling the wide gap between itself and the values ​​of the West, while showing little respect for those caught in the middle. .

« The West has LGBT rights, so Russia must reject them, » Popova said in an email.

« No rights in Russia »

Dilya Gafurova, head of Russian LGBTQ rights organization Sphere, said the community « has no rights in Russia at the moment » and the legislation lawmakers are considering would make matters even worse.

“It will make them even less protected and even more invisible,” she told CBC News via email.

It would also limit the ability of groups like Sphere to support the community, Gafurova said.

A rainbow flag marking Pride Month flies in support of the LGBTQ community next to the American flag, at the US Embassy in Moscow in June. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Rozanov said the bill « legitimizes violence against LGBTQ people and effectively bans coverage of the work of human rights organizations that help them. »

His group helps members of this community who live in the North Caucasus region – people he says are particularly at risk from the proposed extension of the propaganda ban.

“It is extremely difficult to obtain justice for people who have experienced violence because of their identity or their orientation,” Rozanov said in an email.

« Law enforcement is not investigating allegations of torture, ‘honour killings’, detentions, ‘conversion’ practices. The new law will exacerbate the problem: now it’s the complainants themselves themselves who can be held responsible, and not the [perpetrators]. »

Continued oppression

Supporters, including Gafurova and Rozanov, see a long-running thread in Russian politics that portrays the LGBTQ community as Western-influenced and on the wrong side of Russian values ​​— as the Kremlin defines them for political purposes.

« Being LGBT+, ‘non-traditionality’ is something that has been continually weaponized by the Russian regime to justify defending itself against ‘Western influence’, as if being queer is something that can be influenced on someone. one or flown in from abroad, » Gafurova said.

rainbow flag flying at the british embassy in moscow in june 2022
A rainbow flag flies at the British Embassy in Moscow in June. Supporters see a long-running thread in Russian politics that portrays the LGBTQ community as Western-influenced and on the wrong side of Russian values ​​— as the Kremlin defines them for political purposes. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Rozanov said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government « has turned to homophobic rhetoric at every opportunity » since its initial ban on propaganda was introduced nearly a decade ago.

Gafurova points to remarks Putin made last month, where he referred to children and gender identity, as an indication of the state’s views.

“LGBT+ people are not considered as people [in Russia]said Gafurova, adding that some lawmakers « sincerely believe that we are the result of ‘propaganda’ or [that] we are a means to an end, a justification for certain political actions. »

Military not known « for acceptance »

In recent weeks, Putin has ordered the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of Russian troops to join the fighting in Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia in February. This decision prompted thousands of people to flee the country.

But some are obligated to serve — and that would surely include some members of the LGBTQ community.

Sphere’s Gafurova said « the Russian military isn’t exactly known for accepting queer people, » and she suspects many will have left the country for the same reasons as their compatriots.

« They just don’t want to serve and be part of this bloody, unjustifiable war, » she said.


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