The worst places in the world to be gay: Putin’s Russia.

In 2010, Russia passed a series of laws which would limit the access children had to harmful or adult material, such as pornography, graphic violence, self-harm imagery and substance abuse. Three years later, Russian MP Yelena Mizulina wrote an amendment to the law that added the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations” to the list of harmful material. Similar regional laws had been enacted across Russia, but this amendment effectively criminalized the promotion and acceptance of LGBT culture across the entire country. While the bill is notoriously ambiguous in its language, it is targeted at all sexual orientations that are not heterosexuality.

Under the bill, it is now an offense to provide help and information about homosexuality, an offense to express the view that homosexuals are equal to everybody else, and an offense to “encourage” children to become homosexual. Now, Russians who accept their children as gay are breaking the law. People who create or attend support groups for victims of anti-LGBT violence are breaking the law. Gay people, by their very existence, are close to breaking the law.

Citizens caught violating the law can be fined up to 5,000 RUB, public figures can be fined up to 50,000 RUB, and businesses can be fined up to 1 million RUB and forced to close their premises for up to 90 days. Worst of all, foreigners in Russia who are caught violating the law can be detained in prison for up to 15 days before being deported and fined up to 100,000 RUB. The law passed unanimously through the Duma, and was signed into law by Vladimir Putin in 2013.

While it’s true that there have only been a handful of prosecutions since the bill took effect, the cultural impact upon Russia’s conscience has been startling. Anti-LGBT violence has soared since the bill passed, fuelled by virulently anti-gay comments by Russian politicians. It’s a cyclical process of hate – when Russian politicians renounce gay rights, anti-LGBT violence rates go up, and when those rates go up, Russian politicians renounce gay rights even further.

(Russian paratroopers detain LGBT right activist Kirill Kalugin)

Some of the atrocities to occur since the law passed include the gassing of a gay nightclub, the rise of vigilante groups who hunt down gay people for sport, a gay man being raped with beer bottles, another being set on fire, conservatives handing out hangman’s rope at gay events, and the rise of anti-gay fascists and neo-Nazis in the police force. Along side this of course is the usual outrage and violence towards pride parades, with many cities refusing to provide security at the marches. St. Petersburg authorities have suggested that the city’s pride parade ought to be held on a landfill site. Pavel Lebedev, the partner of the Kirill Kalugin (pictured above), claims to have been attacked six times within the last year for being openly gay. The Russian people used to feel uncomfortable about gay rights. Now they violently oppose them. The rise in anti-LGBT violence is either due to this bill, or it’s a hell of a coincidence.

People were immediately prosecuted once the bill passed, leading to a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics by many groups. Putin, trying to allay fears about institutionalized homophobia, told the press that homophobia doesn’t exist in Russia and that he himself has gay friends, but expressed a desire to “cleanse” Russia of gay people. You read that correctly. Putin wants to cleanse Russia of gay people. Unfortunately he did not stop there – he also drew a link between homosexuality and paedophilia in one of the most startlingly honest displays of “I’m not homophobic but…” that has ever passed a politician’s lips. Despite many public figures and Western politicians refusing to attend the Olympics, the boycott was largely ignored by the mainstream media, and the event went ahead as planned with no changes to the anti-gay law.

This bill is one of the worst human rights violations that Russia has seen since the era of mass surveillance and infringement upon free speech under Joseph Stalin. Putin is no stranger to human rights abuses, having routinely imprisoned activists (such as those from Pussy Riot and Greenpeace) that he deems undesirable. This bill gives Putin a mandate to carry out those sorts of abuses on yet another group of people, and since 90% of Russians surveyed about the law said they supported it, it shows no signs of being repealed by the will of the people.

Sadly, the media continues to be complacent about this issue. Marc Bennetts, writing for the Guardian, has criticized the “hysterical” responses to the anti-gay propaganda law. Bennetts argues that the law is nothing like a human rights abuse and spends the entire article telling us that we’re no better than the law itself. Let us not forget that Yelena Mizulina, the architect of the law, actively supports seizing children from their gay parents (even if they are the biological parents), and considers the phrase “gays are people too” to be extremist propaganda. She also once requested that the leader of an LGBT rights group be put into slave labour. The origin of the bill may not be a reflection of the bill itself, but it is a good indication of its intentions. I do not know if Marc Bennetts is gay, but I highly suspect he isn’t.

(Gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev is assaulted during a protest)

I don’t want to dwell on this point too long, I just want to warn people in the media and at home that this sort of “calm down dear, you’re overreacting” in the face of a law that criminalizes homosexual acceptance is nothing short of standing in silence while lawmakers and politicians strip others of their freedoms. Since when has calming down in the face of restricted human rights ever made anything better? In the words of Desmond Tutu, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”.

So that pretty much explains Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law and the societal consequences. Sadly Russia is not even the most extreme example of an oppressive environment for LGBT people, and this will be the first in a series of blogposts that detail the anti-LGBT oppression across the globe.

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