(Moscow) Russian deputies voted on Thursday amendments which considerably broaden the scope of a law prohibiting LGBTQ + “propaganda”, in the midst of a conservative hardening of the Kremlin accompanying its military offensive in Ukraine.
This new law, which is an expanded version of a much criticized 2013 text banning LGBTQ+ “propaganda” among minors, now prohibits “promoting non-traditional sexual relations” to all audiences, in the media, on the internet, in books and in movies.
This broad scope as well as the wide interpretation allowed by the vague concept of “promotion” raises fears of increased repression towards LGBTQ+ communities in Russia, who already face strong discrimination.
“Promoting non-traditional sexual relations is prohibited […] A ban on the promotion of pedophilia and gender reassignment has also been introduced,” the head of the lower house of parliament (Duma), Vyacheslav Volodin, said in a statement.
“Fines range up to 10 million rubles” (about C$222,000) for offenders, he added.
For the text to become law, it must still be validated by the upper house of Parliament, the Federation Council, and promulgated by President Vladimir Putin, which is generally a formality.
“We are going to protect people from this absurd law,” Natalia Soloviova, who heads the NGO Rossiïskaïa LGBT-Set (Russian LGBTQ+ Network), told AFP.
The latter expects “increased pressure on activists, more sites blocked […] and more widespread censorship in media, film and other industries,” she said.
In the eyes of Dilia Gafourova, of the NGO Sphere Foundation for the defense of the rights of LGBTQ + people, “the law is discriminatory by its nature, it is quite obvious”.
She considers “alarming” the assertions of the Russian authorities according to which “LGBTQ+ people” are a Western invention, the result of external interference”, believing that this feeds their “stigma” in society.
The European Union said in a statement Thursday “to regret these repressive measures”, believing that they will “fuel homophobia and reinforce the severe repression of all critical and alternative discourse” in Russia.
The vote on this new law comes after years of repression against LGBTQ+ communities, with the Kremlin presenting itself as the defender of “traditional” values in the face of a West portrayed as decadent.
In the context of the conflict in Ukraine, this law is also described as a means of “defending” Russia against an assault by Western countries on the level of values.
This law “will protect our children and the future of this country against the darkness spread by the United States and European countries. We have our own traditions and values,” Volodin said on Thursday.
Activist Dilia Gafourova calls on the Russian authorities not to use the LGBTQ+ community as an “instrument of ideological confrontation”.
“We just exist and there is nothing bad about us and nothing that should be ignored,” she says. “We cannot be deprived of our voice”.
Last month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, had expressed “deep” concern about the toughening of the law on LGBTQ + in Russia, after a vote of the Duma on the text in first reading.
LGBT-Set, which is the main Russian NGO for the defense of sexual minorities, for its part denounced on October 18 in this law a “new attempt to discriminate and attack the dignity of the LGBTQ + community”.
In addition to LGBTQ+ people, this law is also of concern to the world of cinema and literature, which fears a strengthening of already very strong censorship. The novel “Lolita”, by Vladimir Nabokov, could for example be banned.
“The sale of goods containing prohibited information” will now be banned and “films that promote (”non-traditional“, editor’s note) relationships will not receive a distribution certificate”, according to the Duma website.