Since 2013, the conditions for LGBT individuals in Russia have begun to deteriorate and worsen considerably, even from an already difficult situation.
In 2006, a move began through the various provinces of the country to pass laws banning “propaganda of homosexualism” directed to minors. By 2013, ten regions had enacted similar bans, and in the same year, the national parliament passed a law prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among youths. President Vladimir Putin then signed the law into effect.
The punishments vary: citizens found guilty must pay fines up to 5,000 rubles (about $145), public officials about 50,000 ($1450). Organizations, businesses, or corporations could be subject to fees up to a million rubles (about $29,000), and would be compelled to halt all operations for a period of ninety days. Foreigners, likewise, would face punishment: up to fifteen days detainment before deportation, in addition to a fee of 100,000 rubles ($2900). Any transgressions against the law by Russian citizens taking place in the internet would likewise be punished with a fine of 100,000 rubles.
The wording is vague and broad, and critics have seen in the laws a set of restrictions prohibiting all forms of homosexual expression and existence.
Homosexual couples are not allowed to adopt children, and do not enjoy the same legal status as heterosexual couples. Although while on the other hand separate legal considerations of LGBT peoples have not been overturned (same-sex sexual relations remain legal, gender changes are permitted, and homosexuality is not classified as a mental illness), further considerations of the social climate beyond the legal situation must be made: namely, the populace.
Homophobia is highly prevalent in Russian society: estimates place support for last year’s anti-gay legislation above 80%. Other surveys and studies have produced results of a similar nature: 74% of Russians say that gays should not be accepted by society, a 4% rise since 2007. More chilling results have also been produced: in 1994, 23% of Russians said that homosexuals should be killed, and a further 24% that they should be isolated.
Why is Russia homophobic?
For many, the extreme trends in the country are confusing. Following decades of oppression and restriction, logical following the dissolution of the Soviet Union might seem to be moves towards liberalization and tolerance.
One answer lies in the Russian Orthodox Church. Adherents make up about 75% of Russia’s population, and since the revolutions of 1989 the church has grown stronger and more present in Russian society – the filling of ideological, spiritual, and emotional voids left after decades of communism.
Seen by many as intricately linked with the ROC is another key player: Vladimir Putin. Despite comments last year – “I want everyone to understand that in Russia there are no infringements on sexual minorities’ rights. They’re people, just like everyone else, and they enjoy full rights and freedoms.” – which deflect from the dangerous situation for LGBT people in Russia, he has also stated that the rampant public support for the bill compelled him to sign it.
It has been speculated that behind Putin’s homophobic actions lies not genuine animosity, but capitalization upon what he has recognized as an opportunity to solidify and strengthen his power and influence over Russia. This line of thought is such: through the creation of an enemy and an other Putin can simultaneously distract the populace from other issues, can reinforce an ideal of a traditional and national Russia, and furthermore, create solidarity behind such an ideological Russia.
With the olympics starting soon, all eyes are on Russia. Education about tolerance and understanding represent a way out for the LGBT people living in Russia. Russian society, however, will not be changed overnight: only through diligence, patience, courage, and the spread of unbiased information can trends be reversed and new ones started.