Skip to content

From Russia with love

Chris Wilson (2L)

On June 30, 2013, Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors.” In Russia, traditional sexual relations are understood to be heterosexual. The federal law was based on laws already in place regionally and joins other legislation limiting the rights of the LGBTQ community in Russia, including a law prohibiting Russian children from being adopted by LGBTQ couples or being adopted internationally to any country that supports same-sex marriage, and a law banning pride parades in Moscow for 100 years.

While the recent legislative amendments are situated within laws that purport to protect children from information harmful to their health and development, the language has been so broadly drafted as to result in an almost total ban on public discussion of LGBTQ topics and issues. This includes speaking in defense of LGBTQ rights, holding a gay pride event, or suggesting that a same-sex relationship is equal to a heterosexual one. Breaking the law may lead to fines or imprisonment, which vary depending whether the offender is an individual, an official, part of a legal entity, or a foreign citizen. Of particular note is that a foreign citizen who uses media or telecommunications (such as the Internet) to spread “gay propaganda” can be given a fine and either deported or detained for up to 15 days. The Russian government has claimed that the law is not discriminatory; yet, human rights groups have decried the law for infringing freedom of expression and association.

While homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, anti-LGBTQ sentiments have been emboldened and are turning increasingly violent. State-run public opinion polling has indicated the majority of Russians agree with the new law. Both a distrust of law enforcement and the increasing violence has left Russia’s LGBTQ community vulnerable to attack. Since the new law came into effect, at least seven deaths have been reported as stemming from homophobic attacks. A recent study from the Health and Human Rights Journal at Harvard University found that violence against LGBTQs in Russia isn’t perceived as violence, but as a confirmation of male heterosexuality. Members of the Russian government have encouraged such behaviour by equating being LGBTQ with being a pedophile, which resulted in the emergence of vigilante groups who physically attack members of the LGBTQ community in order to “cure” them of their pedophilia.

Given this backdrop of anti-LGBTQ legislation and sentiment, all eyes are on Russia as it hosts the Winter Olympics in Sochi. In trying to keep the focus on athletic achievement, the International Olympic Committee has made it clear that it will enforce its own ban on protests and political displays during the Games (which may include the wearing of rainbow pins), and has elected not to build a safe space for LGBTQ athletes and visitors. As a consequence, many LGBTQ athletes and allies have been forced to choose between their love of sport and their equality rights, while President Vladimir Putin has been given an international platform to promote his interests.