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Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin

Vladimir Vladimirovich PutinPutin

Homophobia on the rise in Russia

Under protests outside of the Russian parliament, the State Duma passed the controversial "anti-homosexual propaganda" bill unanimously with one abstention in a second reading on June 11, 2013. Now that the Upper House voted in its favor and President Putin signed the bill, it has passed into law. A background article by Marion Messmer

The bill was introduced into a first reading on January 25 with support from a vast majority of parliamentarians. Only two opposed: a member of Vladimir Putin’s own United Russia Party outright vetoing the measure, and a member of the Liberal Democratic Party abstaining. This bill is an attempt at regulating at the federal level what nine provinces have already passed into law independently. About a year ago, the normally liberal city St. Petersburg enacted a law that spoke to the same point of preventing the corruption of minors through homosexual propaganda.

The consequences will be dire for Russia’s disenfranchised gay community. It is a widely-held view in Russian society that being gay is a sickness and can be passed onto children; therefore, any public display of affection between gay couples could be punished with a large fine and some time in prison. Similarly, gay pride parades and other public events promoting gay rights, which had been difficult to organize before, would now become impossible. In an effort to protect children from becoming gay, it is no longer allowed to speak to children about homosexuality.

Despite public protests, no tolerance for homosexuality

Ever since the first large-scale anti-government protests in December 2011, organized through citizen participation, there have been hopes of a Russian Spring movement. Legislative attacks on civil rights have been met with indignation and protest. Unfortunately, this particular attack on human and civil rights has been met with support from the Russian population. A survey by the independent polling organization Levada Center, conducted in July 2010, showed that only 45 percent of Russians believed that gay people should enjoy the same rights as other citizens.  74 percent of respondents said they thought gay people were amoral or mentally deficient. In consequence, 88 percent of respondents said in a poll by state institute for public opinion, Vciom, they supported the measure.

Those numbers paint a dire picture for gay rights in Russia. The Kremlin portraits homosexuality as a part of the liberal West’s agenda to undermine traditional Russian values. Gay couples are seen as a menace because they are further decreasing Russia’s already low birth rate of 1.6 children per woman. From 1991 to 2009, Russia saw a yearly decline in its population because of a falling birth rate and a rising mortality rate due to declining health standards after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Violence against peaceful protests

Protests in support of the Russian Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) community have been met with little public support and much violence. About 20 gay rights activists staged a peaceful kissing protest outside the Duma during the second reading. Radical orthodox believers threw eggs at these activists outside of the Duma; other anti-gay rights protestors became more violent by attacking them. There were also several incidents of police violence as the police attempted to break up the kiss-in. Anti-gay rights protestors by far outnumbered the gay rights activists.

Experts have called the bill “unsurprising” because it goes in line with the Kremlin’s past attacks on human and civil rights. A surprising fact about this problematic bill is the feebleness of Western criticism. Neither the U.S., which had been very outspoken against a Russian ban on U.S. adoption of orphans in December 2012, nor the European Union have been particularly vocal in criticizing the Russian government for this human rights violation in the lead-up to the second reading in the Duma. German chancellor Merkel criticized the bill after it passed its second reading, saying she expected President Putin to veto the measure.