Op-Ed by Emily Thompson
Members of the LGBTQ+ community in Russia are in danger. Russian security forces raided gay clubs and bars across Moscow Friday night, less than 48 hours after the country’s top court banned what it called the “global LGBTQ+ movement” as an extremist organization.
The recent decision by Russia’s Supreme Court categorizes an ambiguously defined “international public LGBT movement” as “extremist.” This terminology by the Russian Ministry of Justice broadly encompasses any effort to advocate for human rights or any public connection to the LGBT+ community, rather than targeting a specific, well-defined organization or campaign. Being labeled “extremist” invites significant legal ramifications for individuals engaged in LGBT+-related activities or those perceived to be associated with the community. Under this classification, “participants” in such activities risk imprisonment of up to five years, while “organizers” and financial supporters could face up to 10 years in prison.
Additionally, this “extremist” designation includes a prohibition on the symbols associated with the organization. Public display of these symbols might result in an administrative arrest for up to 15 days. A subsequent violation is considered a criminal act, punishable by up to four years in prison.
Individuals under investigation or prosecution for involvement in these perceived “extremist” activities often face severe personal consequences. This includes the freezing their bank accounts, restrictions on employment, and the curtailment of various other rights.
This legislation doesn’t come from thin air. There has been a significant and worrying crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights over the past decade under President Vladimir Putin’s emphasis on “traditional family values.” This crackdown culminated in the recent ruling, which has caused concern among activists due to its broad and vague definition, which potentially allows for the targeting of any individual or group deemed part of the LGBTQ+ movement, even if they aren’t officially recognized entities.
Before this ruling, leading Russian human rights groups had filed a document with the supreme court, criticizing the Justice Ministry’s lawsuit as discriminatory and unconstitutional. However, attempts by LGBTQ+ activists to join the case were rejected by the court. The Kremlin had previously introduced restrictive legislation, like the 2013 “gay propaganda” law, which banned public endorsement of “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors. Additional measures include a 2020 constitutional reform to outlaw same-sex marriage and a 2022 law banning “propaganda” of “nontraditional sexual relations” among adults.
Recent legislation prohibits gender transitioning procedures and gender-affirming care for transgender people, barring medical interventions for sex changes and alterations in gender on official documents.
Despite these worrying developments, Russian authorities deny any discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Deputy Justice Minister Andrei Loginov, in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, claimed that LGBTQ+ rights in Russia are legally protected and that restricting public demonstrations of nontraditional sexual relationships is not considered censorship.
But Loginov’s statement has raised eyebrows and the specifics of the supreme court case remain classified, creating uncertainty about the future restrictions on LGBTQ+ activists and symbols in Russia. This legal and social environment has led to concerns that many LGBTQ+ individuals might consider leaving Russia to avoid being targeted.
According to Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, “This shameful and absurd decision represents a new front in the Russian authorities’ campaign against the LGBTI community. The ruling risks resulting in a blanket ban on LGBTI organizations with far reaching violations of the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, as well as the right to be free from discrimination. It will affect countless people, and its repercussions are poised to be nothing short of catastrophic.”
“There is little if any doubt that it will lead to the persecution of LGBTI activists, undoing decades of their brave and dedicated work, while threatening to inspire and legitimize whole new levels of violence against LGBTI persons across Russia,” she added. “We call on the Russian authorities to immediately review this ruling. The international community must stand in solidarity with the Russian LGBTI community, demanding an end to these oppressive actions and safeguarding the principles of equality, freedom, and justice for all.”
Russia’s LGBTQ+ community has been under attack for several years now and it seems unlikely its members are safe from persecution.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Since 2021, after lawmakers included a ban on same-sex marriage in Russia’s constitution, authorities have designated 17 LGBT organizations as “foreign agents,” a term that in Russian has connotations of spying and engaging in sabotage. This designation subjects the groups to a range of stifling and stigmatizing requirements.”
Furthermore, according to HRW, “Earlier in 2023, Russia’s parliament adopted legislation that violates a wide range of transgender people’s rights. It bans health care needed by trans people, changing gender markers in official documents, and dissolving marriages of trans people. It also prevents trans people from adopting or taking guardianship over children.”
Russia’s provocations and needless harassment of the LGBTQ+ community is highly concerning and if it is not reversed soon, we will witness either mass persecution in Russia or mass exodus from Russia.
UN member nations and human rights groups must come together as one to act against Russia’s violations of human rights. Putin and his cohorts must not be permitted to stomp on the rights and dignities of Russia’s citizens.
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