Trigger warning: This piece contains reference to homophobia and homophobic hate crimes.
You may or may not have heard that Russia isn’t quite up there with what should be considered basic freedom of speech. Vladimir Putin’s government isn’t one of the friendliest governments going around. While Putin claims his regressive policies are promoting “traditional Russian values”, most of us living in a democracy would probably call them ‘denying anyone and everyone basic liberties and tolerance.’
Aside from Putin’s staunch and limiting government, what is really concerning is the latest craze to be hitting the scene in Russia. A recent news report from the Spectrum Rights Human Alliance claimed that “neo Nazis…spearheaded a country-wide campaign against LGBTI teens using a popular social network to lure unsuspecting victims through personal ads.”
Russia isn’t known to support homosexuality. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that, in this case, Russia’s lack of support is really more of an all-out affront on basic civil liberties, and further, a lack of care for the welfare of the citizens of its own country.
There are now three forms of legislation that effectively criminalise homosexuality in Russia. Yep, you read that correctly – the government in Russia has attempted to make it illegal to be a member of the LGBTI community..
The current legislations that exist are as follows:
Homosexual couples are banned from adopting children.
This law not only bans same-sex Russian couples from adopting children, it goes a step further and prohibits residents of foreign countries in which same-sex marriage is legal from adopting Russian children. According to a fact sheet on the Kremlin website, “The law seeks to protect children from ‘dictated non-traditional sexual behaviour’ and free them from ‘distresses of soul and stresses’, which according to psychologists’ research, are often experienced by children raised by same-sex parents.”
Gay Pride Parades have been banned for 100 years.
Nope, it’s not some ridiculous fairy tale – the highest court in Moscow has actually enforced a ban on gay pride marches for the next 100 years. Their argument for this? It might upset some members of the general public. What happens in reality is that the marches go ahead anyway and end up fostering all out hate-riots in which anti-gay activists beat up those from the LGBTI community who are marching to have their rights re-instated. It goes somewhat beyond ‘upsetting some members of the general public’ when teenagers are bleeding in the streets because of their sexual orientation.
‘Homosexual Propaganda’ has been made illegal
The term ‘homosexual propaganda’ is slightly ambiguous, but essentially what Putin has done here is two things. The first is a law that fines people who spread information “directed at forming non-traditional sexual setup in minors or which may cause a distorted understanding that gay and heterosexual relations are socially equivalent.” This will essentially be used directly against homosexual individuals to justify hate crimes. It applies to foreigners too, who can be fined, and even serve up to fifteen days in jail and face potential deportation. The second part of this legislation (or Russia’s “anti-gay” law, as The Guardian reported) is the fact that it bans the transfer of information to children about homosexuality and the LGBTI community. According to Putin, not only will this information corrupt his rule, but it will corrupt the Russian youth as well. So any information let slip incurs massive fines.
So, yes – Putin has essentially managed to make homosexuality a crime. In July of this year, four homosexual Dutch tourists were arrested and detained by Russian police under charges of ‘homosexual propaganda.’ The tourists had engaged in a Youth For Human Rights Camp in which a documentary outlining the human rights situation in Russia was shown, and a pro-LGBTI performance was given.
The scary thing is that this is happening now. Right now. In a world that is heading towards legalising same-sex marriage at a rapidly growing pace (think New Zealand, followed by the legislation passed in the US, France and most recently United Kingdom…that’s awkward, Australia…), Putin is effectively doing everything in his power to ensure that homosexuality becomes a criminal act. The government, the Prime Minister himself, is condoning and encouraging a culture where homosexuality is demonised and vilified; where members of the LGBTI community are tortured and considered paedophiles; where they are considered as having committed acts of sexual abuse. What is equally as frightening is that this is largely going unnoticed by the rest of the free world. And it needs to be stopped.
This isn’t Putin’s first crackdown on anything that represents freedom-of-speech. Go back a few months and you’ll remember Pussy Riot, an all-female punk band who were arrested last year on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” following a forty-second performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Pussy Riot has said they are fighting against injustices within Russia – including conformism, commercialism, authoritarianism, sexism, homophobia and the merging of Church and State. Putin, as you may have guessed, isn’t so hot on any of these things being questioned or publicly spoken against. Instead, he’d rather spend his time showcasing his ‘power’ in a bizarre series of propaganda acts – such as discovering ancient Greek urns buried deep in the ocean, capturing grey whales, tracking polar bears, and still being the unquestioned authoritative ruler of Russia.
Currently, and undoubtedly most pressing, is what is being done to LGBTI teens by the aforementioned neo-Nazi group. Two projects have developed from followers of the group’s leader, Maxim Martsinkevich (known by the nickname ‘Cleaver’); ‘Occupy Pedophilyaj’ and ‘Occupy Gerontilyaj’. They claim to be identifying and reporting paedophiles. Strange, that their ideas of fighting against paedophilia means exclusively targeting male teenagers who respond to same-sex personal ads, show up for a date and are then captured, tortured and filmed. This footage is then leaked onto the internet, with the movement’s intention to out LGBTI teenagers to their schools, friends and families. From there, they are ridiculed, outcast and subject to displays of atrocious violence – both verbal and physical – in broad daylight.
A recent report in the New York Post quoted a member of Occupy Pedophilyaj, who after pouring a bottle of urine over his victim, justified his actions by saying: “Today he likes boys, and then it’ll be children. They’re not suitable for life in society.”
There is literally nowhere for these teenagers to hide, as the police have done – and continue to do – absolutely nothing. This creates a nation of hypocrites in which the actions taken against said members of the LGBTI community are clearly violations of the Russian criminal code, and yet the authorities and law enforcers continue to turn a blind eye. Some victims of these hate crimes have even been driven to suicide.
It may seem as if we’re faced with a somewhat helpless situation. Putin will continue his strange feats of propaganda nonsense whilst maintaining a non-challenged rule over Russia. It seems he’ll go to any lengths to ensure that his country stays the way he wants, maintaining the ‘traditional values’ he speaks of so often but never defines. What is obvious to us all though, is that this is clearly a breach of human rights that doesn’t make sense in an otherwise mostly free world. While other countries are doing everything in their power to give all citizens equal rights and power, regardless of race, gender or sexuality, Russia is fast pedalling backwards into an age where homosexuality is considered a disgrace.
But we are not helpless, even though it may seem so. Spreading and creating awareness and support of the LGBTI community in Russia is the first step, and it can be done by reading this article, telling someone about it, writing your own article, or telling a whole bunch of people about it. The smallest things do help to promote change. If every person who reads this tells one other person, that’s another person who is now more informed than they would have been an hour previous. Change will occur, even though it may be slow, and with time, the situation may be alleviated.
And eventually, Putin may pull himself away from the wild boar he’s planning to wrestle and see that injustice and intolerance can only last so long.