On Thursday, Russian lawmakers unanimously approved a bill that bans all forms of what authorities consider LGBTQ “propaganda” in media, film, books and advertisements. The bill also prohibits Russians from promoting or “praising” same-sex relationships or publicly suggesting they are “normal.”
Human rights groups warn that if the bill is signed by President Vladimir Putin and comes into force – which they say is almost guaranteed – it will mark another example of the persecution facing the LGBTQ community in Russia amid a major setback in recent years. .
Below is the latest news on what the Russian parliament voted on and what comes next.
What does the “gay propaganda” bill say?
The new “gay propaganda” bill builds on existing legislation that was passed by the Kremlin in 2013 to promote “traditional” family values in Russia. The 2013 law prohibits showing minors depictions of homosexuality, same-sex unions and “non-traditional sexual relationships”. The new bill would extend these restrictions to all ages.
The bill also prohibits what authorities describe as “paedophilia and sex reassignment propaganda.” Although the concept of propaganda is loosely defined in the bill, it strictly prohibits the use of any media to disseminate any related information.
“Essentially, it’s a total ban on being LGBT+ in Russia,” said Dilya Gafurova, head of the Sphere Foundation, a Russian LGBT+ organization based in St. Petersburg.
When should the new law come into effect?
On Thursday, the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, approved the bill at its third and final reading. Now the bill will have to be approved by the Federation Council, or the upper house of parliament. From there it will go to Putin, whose signature will give it the force of law.
Gafurova, the Russian LGBT lawyer, expects Putin to enshrine it in legislation as soon as December this year or January 2023, describing the process so far as “rushed”. “In Russia, that usually means the legislature is basically passed at this point,” she says, due to the law passing in the Duma on Thursday.
Read more: Russian activists have just won a major battle for LGBTQ rights. But the war is far from over
What consequences will the Russian LGBTQ community face?
Vyacheslav Volodin, the Duma speaker, said on social media that “any propaganda of non-traditional relations will have consequences.”
Although the bill does not make violations a criminal offence, they will be subject to fines ranging from 100,000 to 2 million rubles ($1,660 to $33,000). Non-residents who commit certain violations can also be expelled from Russia after 15 days of detention.
Gafurova says that although the previous law was rarely used against individuals – and mostly applied against websites or individual protesters for speaking out – now it will allow authorities to engage in a “witch hunt “. It will also have other far-reaching implications, she adds: “It has complicated our lives because the wording is so vague that it can be used arbitrarily.”
Some lawmakers have also shown support for a standalone bill that would make all so-called “gay propaganda” a criminal offence, according to the Associated Press.
Where are LGBTQ rights in Russia?
Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but homophobia and discrimination are still rampant. The country now ranks 46 out of 49 for LGBTQ inclusion in European countries by watchdog ILGA-Europe.
In 2020, Russia explicitly banned same-sex marriages in the country’s constitution by passing amendments stating that the institution of marriage is “a union between a man and a woman”.
Putin, who aligns himself closely with the Orthodox Church, has publicly rejected same-sex relationships. In speeches in the Kremlin, he also spoke out against same-sex marriages and the parenthood of such couples. “Do we really want here, in our country, in Russia, instead of ‘mom’ and ‘dad’, to have ‘parent number one’, ‘parent number two’ or ‘parent number three’? he said in September. “Have they gone completely mad? »
LGBTQ advocates in Russia have reported numerous instances of hatred and violence against the community. Previous Pride events in St. Petersburg and Moscow have been marred by state violence and arrests, while an increase in attacks on LGBTQ people across Russia – both by individuals and by organized homophobic groups – increased after the 2013 law, according to a 2014 report by Human Rights Watch.
Public opinion also reflects a low tolerance for LGBTQ recognition: in a global poll conducted by Ipsos in April and May 2021, 52% of respondents in Russia were against same-sex marriage.
Gafurova of the Sphere Foundation says she has found broad support for the recently passed bill. “It’s very depressing for us, but it fits with traditional ideas of family values in Russia,” she says.
Read more: Russian anti-gay laws: how a Dutch activist found himself in the crosshairs
How are human rights defenders reacting to this law?
In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia’s “gay propaganda law” was discriminatory, encouraged homophobia and violated the European Convention on Human Rights and that it “did not serve any legitimate public interest”. The court rejected suggestions that public discussion of LGBTQ issues could inspire children to become gay or that it threatens public morals.
Meanwhile, the Sphere Foundation said it would continue to call on Russian citizens and lawmakers to prevent the law from coming into force through national and global petitions. So far, nearly 120,000 people have signed the online petitions, including more than 83,000 Russians. Their group will also continue to provide virtual support to the LGBTQ community.
“We wanted to at least try to give people hope,” says Gafurova.
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