The Russian Ministry of Justice, on Friday (November 17), said it has filed a lawsuit with the nation’s Supreme Court to outlaw the LGBTQ+ “international public movement” due to its “extremist” activity, including inciting “social and religious strife”.
It is still unclear what this lawsuit will result lead to, whether it targets certain specific organisations or the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. However, experts say that it opens all LGBTQ+ people in Russia to wanton state persecution.
“Essentially, it would entail criminal prosecution based solely on one’s orientation or identity,” a Russian LGBTQ+ activist told The Moscow Times.
This is the latest in a decade-long crackdown on gay rights in Russia under the regime of President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly emphasised on “traditional family values”.
Ramping up homophobia amidst the Ukraine War
In 2013, the Kremlin adopted what is popularly known as the “gay propaganda” law, banning any non-critical public depiction of “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors. The scope of this law was extended to include all adults in December 2022.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine stalled, and support for a prolonged campaign faltered domestically, the Kremlin doubled down on homophobia — ostensibly to justify the invasion by furthering the dichotomy between the “decadent” West and Putin’s regime which “protected traditional values”.
“They sought to destroy our traditional values and force on us their false values that would erode us, our people from within … attitudes that are directly leading to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature,” Putin said in a televised address in February 2022.
The role of the Orthodox Church
In its anti-LGBTQ+ crusade, the Kremlin has received support from Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church and a long-term Putin ally. Kirill, in his support to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, linked it to gay pride parades.
“Pride parades are designed to demonstrate that sin is one variation of human behaviour. That’s why in order to join the club of those countries [the NATO], you have to have a gay pride parade,” he said in a sermon in March 2022. Characterising gay pride parades as a “loyalty test” to Western governments, Kirill claimed that Ukraine’s breakaway republics have “fundamentally rejected” them, and that is why Russia’s invasion is “far more important than politics.”
The Russian Orthodox Church has over a 100 million followers in Russia (of a total population of roughly 140 million), and historically has had close ties with the Kremlin — even during certain periods of Soviet rule. Notably, during World War II, the last great conflict on Russian borders, Josef Stalin mobilised the Church to stir up national support.
The LGBTQ+ bogey to consolidate power
As anthropologist Gayle Rubin wrote in ‘Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality’ (2007), “Disputes over sexual behaviour often become the vehicles for displacing social anxieties and discharging their attendant emotional intensity.”
Scholar-activist Dennis Altman described gay rights in ‘The emergence of ‘modern’ gay identities and the question of human rights’ (2000) as a ‘marker of modernity’. This symbolic association with modernity and progress is why gay rights, and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, become punching bags of conservative movements.
For authoritarian populists, they thus become trojan horses to consolidate power by dichotomising gay rights and ‘family values’ to, as Rubin put it, “displace social anxieties” in an unjust and unequal neoliberal world order. After the fall of the Soviet Union, there was a wave of liberalisation in Russia — both socially and economically. Notably, there was significant progress made in the arena of LGBTQ+ rights. However, discontent arising out of this liberalisation — poverty, crime, corruption, etc. — aided the rise of Vladimir Putin, as well as his cult of personality.
Putin has pushed Russia down a far more conservative path, especially since the 2010s, when his hold over power was at its most tenuous.“The appeal to faith, family, and tradition has ever been the last recourse for dictators,” journalist Melik Kaylan wrote in ‘Kremlin Values: Putin’s Strategic Conservatism’ (2014).