The anti-gay legislation enacted in Russia on July 29 has galvanized international condemnation. And, in its wake, violations of human rights have been booted out of Russia’s closet for all to see.
New amendments to federal law mandate imprisonment and hefty fines for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” that aims to form “misperceptions of the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations.” Foreigners spreading these “misperceptions” also face deportation.
In language dear to the right wing everywhere, the law prohibits using any media to promote “denial of traditional family values” to anyone under age 18. “This is about protecting children,” said President Vladimir Putin.
The next Winter Olympics are scheduled for February 2014 in the Russian town of Sochi. This has raised serious concerns about the safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender athletes and visitors to Russia, where cases of brutal violence against sexual minorities are steadily rising.
Worries intensified on Aug. 19 when Putin banned “gatherings, meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets” not associated with the Olympic and Paralympic Games from Jan. 7 to March 21 — before and beyond the games themselves. Putin took a page from the U.S. playbook and cited “anti-terrorism protection” as the reason for crushing civil liberties.
Forward into the past. After decades of Stalinism and then capitalist restoration in Russia, the state of civil and human rights has steadily decayed from the extensive democratic reforms established by the socialist revolution of 1917.
In the 1918 Family Code, the “crime” of homosexuality did not exist. The code created civil marriage (to reduce the power of the church), women’s equality under the law, simple divorce upon request, and legal abortion — free on demand.
However, under Stalin’s ideological idiocy of “the revolutionary nuclear family,” these reforms were eliminated in 1933, and homosexuality again became a crime. This was finally reversed 60 years later, in 1993. However, given the lack of specific legal protections for LGBT people and the hostility of government and the religious right, discrimination continued to flourish.
Nikolai Alexeyev founded the LGBT Human Rights Project in 2005. Every year now, activists in many cities attempt a Pride parade. In 2009, St. Petersburg organizers held a “rainbow flash mob” of several hundred demonstrators; similar events occurred in at least 30 other cities.
Gangs of thugs who support Putin regularly attack Pride gatherings while police watch. This summer, St. Petersburg police arrested at least 60 Pride marchers on July 29 for violating the new “propaganda” law.
Today, Russia is one of 10 regions of the former Soviet Union that either restricts LGBT rights or makes same-sex relations illegal.
Putin: re-enter the strongman. The anti-LGBT law and “terrorism” decree herald Putin’s deepening cuddle with the Russian Orthodox Church and religious conservatives. The threat of fascism is all too present in increasing repression against not only LGBT people but also socialists, other critics of the regime, journalists, and feminists.
Patriarch Kirill I, head of the church, says that “feminism is dangerous” and could lead to the destruction of the family and of Russia itself, since women are the “guardians of the family fire.”
To highlight church support for Putin’s authoritarianism, the feminist band Pussy Riot staged a “punk prayer” in a Moscow cathedral in March 2012. After singing “Virgin Mary, Expel Vladimir Putin,” three members of the band were arrested and charged with hooliganism and religious hatred. The women’s political views attracted international support during their lengthy trial. After they were given three-year sentences in August 2013, Russia made it illegal to offend religious believers or commit offensive acts in places of worship. The new laws capped the trial’s absurdity and vindicated the women’s criticisms.
Putin’s re-election in 2012 was widely regarded as fraudulent and vehemently protested. Since then, the government has intensified its crackdown on speech and the press. It has created vague crimes (“insulting a state official in public”), leveled fines, blocked Web sites, and — shades of the U.S. — monitored all Internet traffic and phone calls of perceived political opponents. It has imprisoned radicals and independent unionists.
As in the U.S., media diversity has also diminished. Among media not owned by the government outright, private companies loyal to the Kremlin own the majority of outlets, and most “independent” outlets depend on government subsidies. Journalists and even bloggers are at risk for whistle-blowing or exposing corruption: since 2003, 18 have been murdered.
Another similarity with the U.S. is the plight of migrant workers. An estimated 5-10 million immigrants who are ethnic minorities have no legal rights and are deported at will — often without being paid. They also experience physical attacks and vicious harassment.
Needed: an anti-fascist united front. Protest of Russia’s anti-LGBT laws extends from the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights, which calls on the Council of Europe to suspend Russian membership for violating human rights, to NGOs and the grass roots.
Many U.S. gay bars are boycotting Russian vodka. Human Rights Watch, many celebrities, and even the Miss Universe pageant have blasted the laws.
On Sept. 3, people in 34 cities around the world took part in a “Global Speak Out for Russia” demanding that world leaders raise the issue at the September G20 meeting in St. Petersburg (a city with vibrant LGBT rights groups, some of whom turned out to promote their cause during the G20 summit).
All Out, a U.S.-based group, delivered a petition with over 300,000 signatures to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) asking it to condemn the Russian laws and insure safety at the games. Debates are flourishing as to whether to boycott the games or use them to try to focus even greater world attention on the sorry state of human rights in Russia.
But the targeting of LGBT people in Russia cannot be separated from the growing fascist movement there. Needed more than anything is a united front of leftists, unionists, ethnic and national minorities, immigrants, queers and feminists to fight for free speech and human rights and turn back the reactionary tide.
Send feedback to Tamara Turner, co-author with Sam Deaderick of Gay Resistance: The Hidden History, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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