The lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, adopted on October 27 in first reading a bill prohibiting the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations”. None of the 400 deputies opposed it.
Speaker of the Duma Vyacheslav Volodinof President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia (UR) party said: “We must do everything to protect our children and those who want to live a normal life. Everything else is sin, sodomy, darkness, and our country is fighting against that.
Linking the legislation to Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, he added: “We must protect our citizens and Russia from degradation and extinction, from the darkness spread by the United States and European states”.
Volodin has promised second-reading amendments to eliminate any remaining loopholes in the legislation.
If, as seems certain, the Federal Council (Senate) also backs the law and Putin ratifies it, the ban on promoting “non-traditional sexual relationships or preferences” will extend to all public media, including the Internet and printed publications.
The dissemination of information on “non-traditional lifestyles” and the “rejection of family values” will then be crimes, on the same legal grounds as the production of child pornography, the promotion of violence and the stirring up of racial tensions, ethnic and religious.
The bill generalizes 2013 legislation that makes it a crime to provide information to children about being LGBTIQ, and now includes a provision prohibiting information that could “cause minors to want to change their gender”.
It provides for fines of between 50,000 rubles (A$1,265) and 400,000 rubles (A$10,117) for individuals and five million rubles (A$126,000) for companies. Non-Russians who break the law risk deportation.
The bill passed despite warnings from publishers that many important books, including classics of Russian literature, could be banned for “promoting non-traditional relationships”.
Origins and justifications
The legislation merged two separate initiatives that were before the Duma into a single draft.
A text was supported by the “opposition” parties, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), the just “social-democratic” but socially conservative Russia and the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR ).
His godfather was Nina Ostanina (KPRF), Chairwoman of the Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children. The second project was presented by MP UR Alexander Khinsteinhead of the Duma Information Committee.
According to an October 18 post on the Feminist Anti-War Resistance (FAS) Telegram channel, both drafts affected Russian media and information laws, but it was Khinshtein who proposed extending the law of 2013 from minors to the general population and to pass amendments on “protecting” children from “harmful information” on gender reassignment.
After a cross-party working group did its work, the bill replaced “foreign concepts” like “gender” and “LGBT” with the “clear and familiar concepts” of “sex” and “sodomy” and treated pedophilia and “non-traditional relationships” as if they were the same thing.
FAS commented, “Obviously, the nostalgia for Article 121 of the Soviet Criminal Code (On Sodomy) is more acute than ever.”
With the move, lawmakers continued to reverse minor gains made for LGBTIQ rights in a country where homosexuality, decriminalized after the 1917 revolution, was recriminalized by Stalin in 1933 and remained a crime until 1993 and a “mental illness” until 1999.
It follows the adoption in 2020 of a new constitution which defines marriage only as the union of a man and a woman. When the European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia in 2021 to accept same-sex marriage, he was told to stop meddling in Russian internal affairs.
Defeat Peppa Pig!
Proponents of the law have made no secret of its connection to Russia’s war in Ukraine and its struggle for civilizational values with the “collective West”.
According to the deputy of the UP Pyotr Tolstoy“This is a battle we cannot lose, because the future of Russian civilization depends on it.”
For monarchist Konstantin Malofeevdeputy of the UR and owner of the television channel Tsargrad “it is here, in the denial of traditional family values, that the spearhead of this war is to be found”.
Russia’s failures on the Ukrainian front are thus linked to the decline of morality: defeating “sodomy” and the LGBTIQ agents of “the hybrid war of the West” will thus contribute to military victory.
“Communist” Ostanina echoed UP lawmakers: while minors were “protected” from LGBTIQ influence by the 2013 law “the adult population now also needs protection. We need to protect people from this advancing ideological weapon. The war is being waged on all fronts.”
In his Duma speech supporting the bill, Khinshtein said Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine were there to protect traditional Christian values and that the “special operation” was taking place “not only on the battlefield, but also in people’s minds and souls”.
On this front, the enemies to be chased from the field are caricatures like South Park and Peppa Pig. During his speech in the Duma, Khinshtein screened screenshots of these TV programs, saying they were part of a war “waging against our society”.
The damning proof was the episode of Peppa Pig in which Penny the polar bear appears with two mothers.
Khinshtein’s message echoes that of Putin, under whose rule anti-gay outbursts were a recurring, even pathological feature. For example, in a speech after the Russian Federation annexed four Ukrainian territories, the Russian president mocked “certain genders” and families with “one parent number one and one parent number two.”
The legislation also has the full support of the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to Patriarch Kirill, Russia’s war in Ukraine is a battle between those who support pro-Western gay pride events and those who reject them.
Win against the West?
Khinshtein, however, went to great lengths to clarify that the bill is not intended to ban the LGBTIQ community, but simply to ban the promotion of non-heterosexual behavior.
He told the media: “Our bill is not an act of censorship. We do not ban LGBT as a phenomenon. We are not prohibiting mentioning it, we are only saying that propaganda, i.e. positive promotion, praise, that it is normal and maybe even better than traditional sex, should be prohibited.
Khinshtein is a defensive maneuver aimed at neutralizing sympathy with Russia’s LGBTIQ community, which has grown in strength and organization since homosexuality ceased to be classified as a mental illness.
LGBTQ Network Spokesperson Natalia Soloviova Told France Media Agency the new law would “create a situation where no one can speak openly or positively about LGBTQ people,” making an increase in hate crimes inevitable.
She added, however, that ordinary Russians do not see the issue of sexual minorities as a priority, especially as daily life has become more difficult due to economic sanctions and international isolation.
On the contrary, the regime abused the rights of sexual minorities to “achieve geopolitical triumphs. The LGBTQ community is seen as a western thing. So, it’s like a small victory against the West, even if, in reality, it’s not.”
The Human Rights Sphere Foundationdedicated to defending the rights of LGTBIQ and already threatened with banning, launched a “No to State Homophobia” campaign against the bill. She is unlikely to succeed, given that the community appears to have no friends in the Russian parliament.
FAS summarizes the situation: “The situation of the queer community will be even more frightening and dark after the passage of the new laws on LGBT propaganda. Not only public activists, but all non-heterosexual and transgender people are at risk of harassment by the authorities for “propaganda”.
Lilya, one of the coordinators of FAS, wrote on October 28 to her non-straight followers: “We are witnessing a new phase of state violence. Authorities are trying to ban any mention of the existence of LGBTQ people. Repression against any minority, against people who think or feel differently, is nothing new. An authoritarian regime needs internal enemies against which to pit society. And now you and I have become such enemies.
“But I want to tell you: whatever happens, whatever cannibalistic laws are passed, whatever they try to convince you that you are not worthy to exist, you are not alone! You are loved, worthy and good enough. You are not a mistake. There is nothing wrong with you.
“I know it may be hard to believe now and it will only get worse in the years to come, but eventually this terrible time will inevitably come to an end.”
[Dick Nichols is Green Left’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]