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Duolingo under investigation by Russian media watchdog for ‘LGBT propaganda’ in app

Composite of Duolingo screenshot and the Duolingo green bird mascat
A complaint has been made in Russia that Duolingo violates the country's anti-LGBT law (Image: Duolingo)

Language learning app Duolingo has become the latest target of Russia‘s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, with the government’s media watchdog investigating the app over allegations that it is spreading “LGBT propaganda”.

Russian media and internet regulator Roskomnadzor confirmed in a statement to state-owned news agency TASS that it was “checking the application for the dissemination of information promoting LGBT people.”

The investigation was launched following a complaint from “concerned parents” to so-called human rights group Radetel. The complaint alleges that Duolingo “uses blatant LGBT propaganda in the process of teaching children foreign languages,” adding that “parents don’t know how to explain the proposed dialogue to elementary school students without damaging their psyche.”

The dialogue in question relates to sentences from the app in English which read: “Ben and Peter love each other. They are gay.” and “Clare met her wife Maria at a lesbian bar.”

Teaching over 40 languages to more than 60 million users across the world, the app regularly features queer storylines and has “three established queer characters” in Lin, Bea and Oscar, who were introduced in 2021. In a blog post on its website, it explains: “Duolingo believes deeply in diversity and representation. This made it a no-brainer to include all types of characters of different ages, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual orientations.”

Russia cracking down hard on LGBTQ+ rights

In recent years, Russia has cracked down hard on LGBTQ+ rights with a number of sweeping laws.

Having initially introduced a Section-28-style ban on “gay propaganda” in 2013, the country’s supreme court labelled the non-existent “international public LGBT movement” as an extremist organisation in November 2023.

New 2022 laws banned information on LGBTQ relationships for adults, effectively outlawing public support. And 2023 legislation banned gender affirmation procedures and changing gender in documents for transgender people. The country even reportedly censored Jennifer Coolidge’s iconic White Lotus line.

Last week, it was reported that the first Russians had been charged over the country’s “anti-LGBT” law. Five people have reportedly been arrested, including one for displaying Pride flags on their Instagram page and another for wearing rainbow-coloured earrings in public.

The investigation into Duolingo’s dissemination of “LGBT propaganda”  comes mere days after  reported that two Russian courts have passed the first convictions in connection to this “extremist” designation, including the sentencing of five days “administrative detention” to a woman who refused to remove frog-shaped earrings that displayed a rainbow, after she was approached and filmed by a man in a cafe.

Attitude has contacted DuoLingo for comment.

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