The Long Life of Russia’s Gay Propaganda Law

By Brendan Weinberg

The Russian federal law passed by the Russian State Duma in 2013 was officially called “For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values.” It is known better in the west as “The Russian Gay Propaganda Law.” The statute has served as a state-sanctioned avenue for violence against people in the LGBTQ community. The law, signed by President Vladimir Putin, was written specifically for the purpose of outlawing “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations and orientations”. After ten years of this law’s implementation, it is clear that its effects reach further than the law’s stated purpose, effectively signaling Putin and his regime’s distaste for queer people in general.

Gay rights activists hold a banner reading “Homophobia—the religion of bullies” during their action in protest of homophobia, on Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday, July 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Evgeny Feldman)

While the law’s exact wording does not necessarily outlaw homosexuality, criminalize people identifying as homosexual, or outlaw those practicing homosexuality, the statistics on violent hate crimes perpetrated toward gay people show that this law has had implications outside of regulating media and “propaganda” over the last decade.

According to Reuters journalist Daria Litvinova, violent hate crimes against queer people doubled during the five years after the law passed. This is not the first time that Russia has had laws targeting homosexuality, however, as Litvinova also mentions that homosexuality was a criminal offense until 1993 and was classified as a mental illness until 1999, both taking place before Putin even entered office. This more recent law, however, signals the Russian government’s condemnation of queerness, and the subsequent promotion of “traditional values,” which allows homophobic citizens of the nation to feel supported and reinforced in their hateful actions against gay people. Not only do these perpetrators feel safe and free of consequence upon performing these horrific actions of hatred, but they often even feel righteous and exalted, believing themselves to be heroes acting in accordance with their government and homeland.

This law has not just influenced the frequency and severity of violent hate crimes and murders targeted at LGBTQ individuals, it has also opened up other forms of discrimination against these groups, such as in healthcare, housing, and employment. The resulting pressures make living as a queer person in Russia exceedingly difficult and oftentimes impossible.

The law and the citizen actions following it have set an incredibly dangerous precedent in the nation. The precedent established means that Putin and the state Duma could decide to paint other minority groups and their ideals as threats to “traditional normalcy” through the legislative process. While Russian laws specifically outlaw hate crimes, violent crimes perpetrated against members of the LGBTQ community are treated as common assaults.

The treatment of LGBTQ people in Russia not only echoes that of fascist authoritarian states in the past, it also illustrates the Russian state’s disregard for minorities in general. This disregard is glaringly apparent in the war on Ukraine. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Russian forces have killed over 20,000 Ukrainian civilians. It is clear that Putin and his government have few qualms with disposing of people, even civilians, in the way of him achieving their goals.

The Gay Propaganda Law, along with other violations of human rights perpetrated by the Russian Federation, have much more wide-reaching implications than those within the nation’s borders. Putin has justified his war on Ukraine as one where Russia is defending “traditional values.” In November, the lower house of the Russian Duma passed a bill that expands on the 2013 law by banning “gay propaganda,” defined as anything that contains positive representations of LGBTQ people. The Patriarch of the Russian Church claimed in a March 2022 sermon that the war against Ukraine was justified in order to prevent mandatory gay pride parades that destroy morality.

Brendan Weinberg is a senior majoring in Political Science

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