World

Push to restrict talk of LGBTQ issues in Russia will leave community 'even more unprotected'

A push by Russian lawmakers to more firmly restrict the public discussion of LGBTQ lives and issues will further isolate a community that faces ongoing peril, advocates say.

Russian lawmakers seek to expand pre-existing 'propaganda' law to all ages

A law enforcement officer is shown at an LGBTQ community rally in St. Petersburg, Russia, as a pride flag flies nearby, in August 2019. A draft bill discussed in Russia's State Duma this past week wants to extend a ban on 'promotion of non-traditional sexual relations' from minors to all ages. (Anton Vaganov/Reuters)

A push by Russian lawmakers to more firmly restrict the public discussion of LGBTQ lives and issues will further isolate a community that faces ongoing peril, advocates say.

A draft bill discussed in Russia's State Duma this past week aims to build on prior legislation — enacted nearly a decade ago and decried in the West — that banned "promotion of non-traditional sexual relations" to minors.

Supporting lawmakers, engaged in this effort for months, want to extend that ban to Russians of all ages.

"We propose to extend the ban for LGBT propaganda regardless of age, not just for children as it is today," Alexander Khinshtein, a Russian lawmaker and proponent of the bill, said this week.

The move to tighten anti-LGBTQ measures is occurring at a time when Russia is engaged in a high-profile war with Ukraine — and both experts and advocates see Moscow working to spell out very clearly who it sees as opponents.

Miron Rozanov, a spokesperson for the NC SOS Crisis Group, said the Russian government is trying to convince its people that "Ukraine, Western countries and LGBTIQ+ people are enemies."

Maria Popova, an associate professor of political science at Montreal's McGill University, said at the same time, Moscow is signalling the wide gulf between itself and the values of the West, while showing little regard for the people caught in the middle.

"The West has LGBT rights, so Russia has to reject them," Popova said in an email.

'No rights in Russia'

Dilya Gafurova, head of the Russian LGBTQ rights organization Sphere, said the community "has no rights in Russia at the moment" and that the legislation being considered by lawmakers would make things even worse.

"This will make them even more unprotected and even more invisible," she told CBC News via email.

It would also limit the ability of groups like Sphere to support the community, Gafurova said.

A rainbow flag marking Pride Month flies in support of the LGBTQ community beside the American flag, at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in June. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Rozanov said the proposed legislation "legitimizes violence against LGBTQ people and effectively prohibits coverage of the work of human rights organizations that help them."

His group helps people in that community who live in the North Caucasus region — people who he says are especially endangered by the proposed extension of the propaganda ban.

"It is extremely difficult to achieve justice for people who have experienced violence because of their identity or orientation," Rozanov said in an email.

"Law enforcement agencies do not investigate allegations of torture, 'honour killings,' detentions, 'conversion' practices. The new law will exacerbate the problem: Now it is the complainants themselves who can be held liable, and not the [perpetrators]."

Ongoing oppression

Advocates, including Gafurova and Rozanov, see a long-running thread in Russian politics that casts the LGBTQ community as being Western-influenced and on the wrong side of Russian values — as the Kremlin defines them for political purposes.

"Being LGBT+, 'non traditionality' is something that was weaponized continuously by the Russian regime to justify defending itself from 'Western influence,' as if being queer is something that can be influenced onto someone or flown in from abroad," Gafurova said.

A rainbow flag flies at the British Embassy in Moscow in June. Advocates see a long-running thread in Russian politics that casts the LGBTQ community as being Western-influenced and on the wrong side of Russian values — as the Kremlin defines them for political purposes. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Rozanov said the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin "has turned to homophobic rhetoric at every opportunity" since introducing its initial ban on propaganda nearly a decade ago.

Gafurova points to remarks Putin made last month, where he referred to children and gender identity, as an indication of the state's views.

"LGBT+ people are not regarded as people [in Russia]," Gafurova said, adding that some lawmakers "sincerely believe us to be the result of 'propaganda' or [that] we're a means to an end, a justification for certain political actions."

Military not known 'for acceptance'

In recent weeks, Putin ordered a mobilization of hundreds of thousands of Russian men to join the fighting in Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia in February. That move has spurred thousands to flee the country.

But some are forced to serve — and that would surely include some members of the LGBTQ community.

Sphere's Gafurova said that "the Russian military isn't exactly known for acceptance toward queer people," and she suspects many will have left the country for the same reasons their fellow compatriots have.

"They simply don't want to serve and be a part of this unjustifiable and bloody war," she said.

With files from The Associated Press

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