50.50: Explainer

Explainer: What does new ‘gay propaganda’ law mean for LGBTIQ+ Russians?

Russia has passed a controversial law banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality. Here’s what you need to know

Lucy Martirosyan
24 November 2022, 12.01am

Protesters in the Czech Republic denouncing anti-LGBT legislation in Russia | Cum Okolo / Alamy Stock Photo

Russia’s so-called ‘gay propaganda’ law has banned the promotion of “non-traditional sexual values” to under-18s since 2013.

Now, the Russian parliament has passed an expanded version of the law that outlaws all mentions of LGBTIQ-related topics in the media – including in film, television, advertising, online and in public.

Here’s what you need to know.

The history of Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law

On 29 June 2013, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a new law called “On the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors”. This contained a series of amendments to various existing laws in Russia.

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The new law banned the promotion to children of “drugs, paedophilia and homosexuality” – or anything else the Kremlin deems contradictory to “traditional family values”, although the law does not define what those values are.

There are some similarities with the UK’s homophobic Section 28 legislation, which prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities and was in force from 1988 to 2003.

While Putin claims that the propaganda law “does not discriminate against gay people”, both the European Court of Human Rights and the UN’s Human Rights Committee have said that it reinforces stigma, encourages homophobia and harms children in the process.

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What’s new?

The expanded law will make providing information about homosexuality – and even childless families – legally on a par with pornography or promoting suicide, violence and criminal or extremist behaviour. This ban now applies to LGBTIQ-related information provided to all ages, not just minors, as it formerly did.

The new law is a “reaction to a change in approaches to the modern understanding of family, gender, the basics of childbearing, aimed at maintaining the current law and order in the Russian Federation,” Duma deputies wrote in the bill’s explanatory note.

The proposals came after Russia dropped out of the Council of Europe, the continent’s human rights watchdog, on 15 March, less than a month after its invasion of Ukraine.

What is the punishment for breaking the law?

Under the new expanded law, fines will increase to 400,000 rubles (about £5,690) for individuals and up to five million rubles (about £68,000) for organisations. This has more than doubled since 2013.

In the past decade, Russian activists, film directors, journalists and health workers have been penalised for violating the law.

What have been the effects on LGBTIQ organisations?

The ‘gay propaganda’ law already posed online obstacles for Russian LGBTIQ rights organisations, requiring their websites to carry an 18+ label. But now under the new law, these sites may shut down entirely.

For a decade, LGBTIQ rights groups and other non-governmental organisations receiving funds from abroad have also been legally required to self-identify as “foreign agents”.

This echoes the National Security bill proposed by conservative MP Priti Patel, which would make it an offence for journalists or publications receiving funding from a foreign state to report on ‘restricted’ official information.

Russia’s Ministry of Justice added the Russian LGBT Network a prominent gay and transgender rights umbrella group, to the “foreign agent” registry in November last year.

Since then, an increasing number of LGBTIQ rights groups have been targeted – and even forcibly closed. This April, the Charitable Foundation Sphere, which provides financial support to LGBTIQ initiatives across Russia, was liquidated.

Did the ‘gay propaganda’ law increase violence against LGBTIQ people?

Following the introduction of the first version of the ‘gay propaganda’ law almost a decade ago, the most flagrant violations of LGBTIQ rights have been documented in the North Caucasus, especially in Chechnya, where security forces have illegally detained, kidnapped, arrested, tortured and killed gay and transgender people.

In 2021, 78% of respondents to a nationwide survey by the Russian LGBT Network reported that they had faced violence or discrimination in connection to their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Nearly a third of the incidents of violence were committed by organised homophobic and transphobic vigilante groups.

The survey also found that law enforcement and judicial systems refuse to investigate such crimes, despite the fact that homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993.

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