Demonstrators lay roses on a rainbow flag as they protest outside the Russian Embassy on June 2, 2017 in London over a crackdown on gay men in Chechnya. Credit - Justin Tallis—AFP via Getty Images
On Thursday, Russian lawmakers unanimously approved a bill that bans all forms of what authorities deem as LGBTQ “propaganda” across media, cinema, books, and advertisements. The bill also prohibits Russians from promoting or “praising” homosexual relationships or publicly suggesting that they are “normal.”
Human rights groups warn that if the bill is signed by President Vladimir Putin and comes into force—which they say it is all but guaranteed to—it will mark another instance of persecution faced by the LGBTQ community in Russia amid a major backslide in recent years.
Below, the latest on what Russia’s parliament voted on and what comes next.
What does the “gay propaganda” bill say?
The new “gay propaganda” bill expands on existing legislation that was adopted by the Kremlin in 2013 to promote “traditional” family values in Russia. The 2013 law prohibited depictions of homosexuality, same-sex unions, and “non-traditional sexual relations” to be shown to minors. The new bill would extend those restrictions to all ages.
The bill also bans what authorities describe as the “propaganda of pedophilia and sex change.” While the concept of propaganda is loosely defined under the bill, it strictly prohibits the use of any medium to spread any related information.
“Essentially, it’s a total ban of being LGBT+ in Russia,” said Dilya Gafurova, the head of Sphere Foundation, a Russian LGBT+ organization based in St. Petersburg.
When is the new law expected to go into effect?
On Thursday, the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, approved the bill in its third and final reading. Now, the bill will need to get approval at the Federation Council, or the upper house of parliament. From there, it will go to Putin, whose signature will give it legal force.
Gafurova, the Russian LGBT advocate, expects Putin to sign it into legislation as early as December this year or January 2023, describing the process so far as “rushed.” “In Russia, this usually means that the legislature’s as good as adopted at this stage,” she says, because of the law’s passage in the Duma on Thursday.
What consequences will the Russian LGBTQ community face?
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Duma, said on social media that “any propaganda of non-traditional relationships will have consequences.”
While the bill does not make violations a criminal offense, they will be punishable by fines ranging from 100,000 to 2 million rubles ($1,660-$33,000). Non-residents who commit certain violations can also face expulsion from Russia after 15 days of detention.
Gafurova says that although the previous law was rarely used against individuals—and mostly enforced against websites or individual protestors from speaking up—now, it will allow authorities to go on 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 in an arbitrary fashion.”
Some lawmakers have also shown support for an independent bill that would make any so-called “gay propaganda” a criminal offense, according to the Associated Press.
Where do LGBTQ rights stand in Russia?
Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but homophobia and discrimination is still rife. The country today ranks 46 out of 49 for LGBTQ inclusion in European countries by the watchdog, ILGA-Europe.
In 2020, Russia explicitly outlawed same-sex marriages in the country’s constitution by adopting amendments stipulating that the institution of marriage is “a union between a man and a woman.”
Putin, who aligns closely with the Orthodox Church, has publicly rejected same-sex relationships. In speeches given at the Kremlin, he has also railed against same-sex marriages and parenthood by these couples. “Do we really want here, in our country, in Russia, instead of ‘mum’ and ‘dad,’ to have ‘parent number one,’ ‘parent number two,’ or ‘parent number three’?” he said in September. “Have they gone completely insane?”
LGBTQ advocates in Russia have reported many cases of hate and violence against the community. Pride events previously held in St. Petersburg and Moscow have been marked by state violence and arrests, while an increase in the number of attacks on LGBTQ people throughout Russia—both by individuals and by organized homophobic groups—increased after the 2013 law, according to a 2014 report published by Human Rights Watch.
Public sentiment also reflects low tolerance for LGBTQ recognition: in a global poll conducted by Ipsos in April and May of 2021, 52% of respondents in Russia were against same-sex marriage.
The Sphere Foundation’s Gafurova says she’s encountered widespread support for the newly-passed bill. “It’s very depressing for us, but it falls in line with traditional ideas of family values in Russia,” she says.
How are human rights advocates responding to this law?
In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia’s “gay propaganda law” was discriminatory, promoted homophobia, and violated the European Convention on Human Rights and that it “served no legitimate public interest.” The court rejected suggestions that public debate on LGBTQ issues could influence children to become homosexual or that it threatened public morals.
Meanwhile, the Sphere Foundation says they will continue to appeal to Russian citizens and MPs to prevent the law from coming into effect through national and global petitions—so far, close to 120,000 people have signed the petitions online, including over 83,000 Russians. They group will also continue to provide support to the LGBTQ community virtually.
“We wanted to at least try to give people hope,” says Gafurova.