Russia’s Recent Anti-Gay Push Harkens back to Soviet Era Intolerance
A Russian LGBT activist is assaulted by traditional protester
While some countries are slowly making progress for LGBT rights, Russia took a rather large step backward earlier this week. The lower house of the Russian Parliament had a unanimous 460-0 vote in favor a bill that bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” (pro-homosexual “propaganda”) and set in place fines and jail sentences for offenders.
The bill still has to pass the upper house and be signed into law by President Putin. It is said to have strong support and will likely meet no resistance.
The support for these bills comes from the large population of Russian Orthodox Church members. John Garrard, Professor of Russian Studies at University of Arizona said in an article from the Wilson Center, “The Russian Orthodox Church has re-branded itself as the repository of Russian patriotism.” Their thriving post-Soviet membership means the church has a large percentage of the population that agrees with its stance on a number of issues.
This is not the first bill to be passed by Putin’s government that is likely meant to appease Russia’s more “traditional” voters. The lower house also passed a bill making it illegal to insult people’s religious beliefs. This is meant to deter actions such as the ones taken by the feminist group “Pussy Riot” when they staged a protest in an Orthodox church.
Russia has never been a safe haven for the gay community. Under Stalin’s Soviet rule homosexual relations were made to be illegal. Stalin had said “these scoundrels must receive exemplary punishment,” and that is what they received: a law enacted in 1934 set the punishment for homosexual relations at two to five years in prison. However, in 1993, it was once again made legal. Meaning this latest passage by the lower house of parliament could mean an ugly step towards Russia’s bleak Soviet past.
Even so, in a recent state-run poll 88% of those asked said that they agreed with the ban on homosexual “propaganda.” One could argue that this is democracy at work; the Government is simply in stating the opinion of the people. Yet in other countries that have set up oppressive religious based Governments, it has never seemed to end well. Sharia law, for example, has led to countless cases of misogyny and discrimination within Islamic countries.
In defense of the recent bill Putin told the state-run news service Ria-Novosti, “Can you imagine an organization promoting pedophilia in Russia? I think people in many Russian regions would have started to take up arms. The same is true for sexual minorities: I can hardly imagine same-sex marriages being allowed in Chechnya. Can you imagine it? It would have resulted in human casualties.” There are a couple of problems with this quote 1) He is comparing homosexuality to pedophilia 2) He makes it sound as if same-sex marriage was an option that was on the table, which it wasn’t.
Instead of working towards a more human rights oriented society, Putin has decided to regress in hopes of continued traditionalist support. Pussy Riot has recently visited America on a promotional tour for their documentary, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. We can only hope that more groups like Pussy Riot come along in Russia in an attempt to create change. It might take a while, but it will be worth the wait.
I am originally from a small town in North Carolina and have recently moved to Richmond. Meaning I am a novice to the ways of Richmond life, but from what I have seen it is a culturally rich environment that I look forward to diving into. My daily hustle consists of playing bass, reading, and hunting for new music. This summer I will be interning with RVA Magazine and GayRVA.com. In the fall I will be transferring to Virginia Commonwealth University where I will major in journalism.
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