Russian LGBT Rights
By Guest Blogger Talia Philips
Edited by Bryce B. Summers, Ph.D.
Anyone familiar with Russia knows that the nation has a long and storied history of being overtly antagonistic and pretty much silent in its answers for the many atrocities to come out of the region over the centuries. From the time it was the Russian Empire, through its tenure as the Soviet Union and now as simply the Russian Federation, Russia has always carried out discriminatory practices against gays in their nation.
Russia’s Historic Ill Treatment of Gays
The colloquial saying accepted as fact is that people don’t change. However, it has equally been considered true that nations actually do change. While people don’t, as in individuals, attitudes of a collective do, and we end up progressing over time. Unfortunately, Russia seems immune to this trend. Back in the days of the Russian Empire, under the aptly named Ivan the Terrible, Russia used to form angry mobs and militias on the street whose purpose it was to chase, beat, and lynch gays and cross-dressers. And Russia’s cruelty didn’t only extend to commoners. When Tsar False Dmitry I was overthrown, not only did they break and mutilate his body, but they tied a rope around his genitals and dragged him through the streets alongside another man who was reported to be his lover.
Under Lenin in the Soviet Union, LGBT rights were actually advanced in principle by decriminalizing homosexuality and actually endorsing the idea of “free love” between consenting adults. It sounded great, but Russia’s population never really got on board. Despite the government’s attempts to rid the nation of religion to ensure the state was all that could be worshiped, most Russians remained Christians and subsequently never embraced gays. The government had such little influence over public attitudes against gays, in fact, that Lenin and company never really said anything about it. They changed the laws in silence, but attitudes never changed.
In the early 1990s, now the Russian Federation, there were actual great changes in both law and attitudes regarding homosexuality. President Boris Yeltsin legalized consensual homosexual acts, but even though the law had been reformed, most of Russia’s gay prisoners were not released into the public. Reports started surfacing of gay inmates whose paperwork was suddenly “lost” or inmates who couldn’t physically be located. Or, worst of all, inmates who would be re-sentenced under bogus charges. Though, due to the law, at least there weren’t any new gays being locked up.
Russia’s Current Treatment of Gays
After the Yeltsin era began the Putin era, and Vladimir has been the picture of regression since 1999. Over the course of a decade, more and more anti-gay acts started to take place in Russia, which signaled that the nation’s populous was again regressing to intolerance. Moscow Pride events would be disrupted, and gay advocates would be beaten and arrested. The change in public attitudes was icing on the cake for Putin, who in 2013 finally got his way and pushed through the Russian LGBT Propaganda Law. In essence, this is a law that prohibits any LGBT material being presented in a positive light. In other words, if you make a commercial, a song, a TV program, etc, in Russia that shows gays as equals or seeks to preach tolerance, you will be arrested as a propagandist.
The reasoning for this law, according to Russian officials, is to protect children from “information advocating for a denial of traditional family values.” In other words, Russia believes the only possible family model is a one-man, one-woman straight household, where the man is the head bread winner and the woman raises the children. Anything other than this model is punished in Russia, and sometimes very severely.
Although Russia doesn’t have Iran’s record of actually executing gay men, the country will still lock people up for any public displays. So, if you’re a gay men who lives in secret in Russia, and doesn’t hold your partner’s hand or kiss him while out on the town, you’re probably safe. But if you want to live as an equal in Russia, and actually show any affection, then you will be imprisoned as a propagandist – which is a lot worse than it sounds, and that’s really saying something.
When you go to Russian prison as a propagandist, you are instantly considered a child abuser. Even worse, Russia has a centuries-long record of supposedly losing paperwork on prisoners, so a month-long sentence could turn into a life sentence, as Russia will simply pretend as if they cannot locate a prisoner inside of its prisons.
Russia’s Swift Action on Its LGBT Propaganda Law
Many people believed that Russia was simply posturing with its propaganda law, but the nation quickly proved that it was deadly serious about inflicting upon gays the base cruelty one might expect in 15 BC rather than 2015 AD. During the Olympics in Sochi, much was made about the hypocrisy of Russia hosting the world games while also being bigoted in its laws. Without hesitation, Russian authorities arrested an Olympic LGBT protester for the horrific crime of—wait for it—waving a Rainbow flag. Pavel Lebedev, who himself is Russian, was protesting in an area that Russia had given the green-light to host protests. Though after waving a Rainbow flag, the police instantly took Pavel in, detained him, and it was days before he was cleared and released.
In northern Russia last year, the law’s effects were felt by tourists who stopped in to advocate for gay rights. Four Dutch tourists were taken straight to jail for violating Russia’s propaganda laws last July, though thankfully they were only deported from the nation and not imprisoned like so many of Russia’s citizens of have been.
It’s important to understand that it’s not only Russia’s laws themselves that affect citizens, but also the homophobia that springs from the top levels of government discriminating against the LGBT community. We saw this phenomenon firsthand during the Jim Crow era in the United States. When government didn’t support oppression and segregation, like in the north, blacks were much closer to equals and faced far fewer bouts of discrimination and violence. Though once government sanctions it, bigots start crawling out of the woodwork. Such has been the case in Russia; since the nation has okayed bigotry, bigotry is thus running rampant, even resulting in three Russian men who beat to death and stripped naked a gay victim last year in Volgograd.
The ramifications of Russia’s laws will be felt for generations, and people being beaten to death and taken to prison is only the start. It’s on the outside world to join in solidarity to help our brothers and sisters who are being maligned for their humanity in Russia today. Someone must act, and right soon.
QUEER SENSE is authored by Bryce B. Summers, Ph.D. who is a psychologist and author. Please help change attitudes to acceptance whether it is domestic, or abroad, by contributing to a crowd funding campaign. Help make this book happen!
Queer Sense is a theory that fosters awareness on how culture shapes attitude development through social models, emotional connections to social models, aka attachment, and use of language with one’s models.