On June 30, a torrent of hatred was unleashed onto LGBTQ+ Russians. Vladimir Putin signed a new bill into law that criminalizes the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors. This bill, voted 436 in favour, zero against, leaves the definition of ‘propaganda’ vague, police officers stretch this to include any information accepting non-hetero sexualities, or even holding hands with a same-sex partner.
This comes 20 years post-decriminalization, but two-thirds of Russians still believe that homosexuality is an unacceptable aberration. Worse than just the fines levied against those promoting ‘relations not conductive to procreation,’ as they are euphemistically described, is the escalation of anti-gay violence.
Prior to the vote, a kiss in was held in protest. Neo-Nazis hurled eggs at the couples while singing orthodox songs and chanting, “Moscow is not Sodom.” The situation became violent and LGBTQ+ protesters were savagely beaten, and the police, there to monitor the situation, arrested the protestors rather than the attackers.
The police and government blame the LGBTQ+ protesters for the violence, and insist that this law is to protect them. Officials say that ‘gays incite hatred upon themselves’ and need to be protected from their own extremism. These laws extend even to gay and ‘pro-gay’ foreigners, and domestic ‘suspect gays,’ who dare support those suffering in these horrific conditions.
This anti-gay rhetoric is defended by Putin, who claims that “no infringement on sexual minority’s rights” exists. He also says that these measures are necessary to protect youth, Russia’s birth rate and the orthodoxy. More importantly, Putin is doing his best to align himself with conservatives and the Orthodox Church by scapegoating Russia’s gay population.
The rate of approval of homosexuality among Russians is nearly equal to those in America three decades ago, but acceptance of homosexuality has actually declined since 2007, contrary to other nations where gay people are beginning to enjoy the equal rights they deserve. Russians are without gay public figures: there are no out politicians or celebrities and Russia’s Cultural Minister is even attempting to rewrite history and straighten out Tchaikovsky.
If you’re looking to support Russians under attack, make sure that your actions are not a waste of energy. The proposed Vodka boycott is slacktivism at its prime. Keep enjoying your Smirnoff and Stoli—both are no longer produced or owned in Russia. Besides, these boycotts are interpreted as attacks, justifying the Russia xenophobia.
If you’d really like to make a change, do something in support of the LGTBQ+ folk here in Canada, where you can effect change much more efficiently. You can also sign online petitions that pressure the government into condemning the 76 countries that go farther than Russia into outright criminalization. Donating to Russian LGTBQ+ organizations is the most tangible way of supporting their cause, and allows them to pay any fines levied against them.
Above all, the issue of homophobia needs to be tied into problems that are considered more pressing to the Russian majority. Due to the widespread public support for these laws, Putin is able to use them to bolster his role as Papa Putin, protector of Russia’s traditional values. However, if we are able to link this discrimination to issues that are already loathed by majority, like the ubiquitous corruption, we might be able to change attitudes surrounding not only this law, but human rights as a whole.