OPINION: Russia's LGBTQ+ community need international solidarity

by Ekaterina Kotrikadze | TV Rain
Thursday, 11 January 2024 15:04 GMT

Russian President Vladimir Putin, accompanied by Central Election Commission Сhairperson Ella Pamfilova, leaves after submitting documents to be registered as a candidate in the upcoming 2024 Russian presidential election, at the Central Election Commission in Moscow, Russia December 18, 2023. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Russia’s crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights is symptomatic of a wider shift globally towards authoritarianism and dictatorship

Ekaterina Kotrikadze is a news director and anchor of TV Rain (Dozhd TV), the only independent Russian television channel that was forced to shut down at the beginning of March 2022, relocating to Riga, Latvia, four months later

The year began with a police raid on one of the most famous Moscow gay clubs. When I saw this news, two questions arose in my head: “Were my queer friends at this party? Are they safe?”

And second: “How on earth is there still a gay club in Moscow functioning?”

Obviously, many in Russia have not realised the scale of the disaster that is currently LGBTQ+ rights in the country. But they will, eventually.

This year, the world will witness a series of pivotal elections, with 40 countries heading to the polls, including Russia in March and the United States in November. As citizens globally exercise their democratic rights, there is a growing concern for the erosion of liberal values and the rise of authoritarianism.

As a journalist and Russian citizen living in exile, I’m vigilant but hopeful that truth and justice will prevail, but we need our allies. Now is the time for international solidarity.

Earlier in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin staged his anticipated and choreographed election announcement during a military awards ceremony reinforcing his image of a wartime leader and unflappable strongman. This term will be worse than we can even imagine as Putin continues to consolidate power and intensifies repressions at home.

In the lead up to the election, the Kremlin has started to further crack down on basic human rights and any form of dissent.

First, they started to roll back abortion rights citing low birth rates and demographic shifts, mentioning nothing about the thousands of young men who have lost their lives fighting in Ukraine.

This month, a new law has come into effect that labels the LGBTQ movements as an “extremist entity”, criminalising and banning their behaviours and activities.

Many of my friends have fled or fear for their lives, not knowing what the future holds or who to trust. The intentionally broad label criminalises queer people and those who align with them with punishments ranging from up to 12 years in prison, frozen bank accounts and inability to run for public office. Putin is creating an enemy from within and pinning his own people against each other.

Putin's hostility toward the LGBTQ+ movement is not new, reflecting a broader agenda to suppress Western values. While the Russian government has slowly curbed the rights of the queer community for decades through laws, sanctions and culture wars, Putin has taken his policies to a new and dangerous level.

These moves, encouraged by the Orthodox Church, come under the guise of preserving traditional “family values” and “traditional morality” to support the future of Russia. Russian opposition activist Alena Popova wrote on her Telegram channel and later appeared in the Financial Times, “Populism always comes to the rescue when it is necessary to divert attention from real problems.”

This hasn’t happened overnight. It is happening incrementally. It's happening right before our eyes.

Have we become complacent? Have we accepted authoritarian and dictatorial tactics as the norm?

The U.S. pundits have warned of a potential Trump dictatorship and what that could mean for domestic and foreign relations. In a recent interview, Trump said he would only be a dictator on “Day 1” of a new term. He is telling us who he is and what he’ll do, yet his poll numbers remain strong.

The liberal values ​​that still give hope to people like me will be covered with dust. Russia’s most vulnerable will suffer, flee or die.

Unlike in Russia where a single protest with a blank sheet of paper can end in detention, Americans can voice criticism and choose what is right. When Joe Biden first came to the White House, he gave an important speech about the battle between democracy and autocracy. Wittingly or unwittingly, he predicted the future where the time would come to make that choice.

Now is that time.

The foundation of the free world relies on our commitment to protecting and upholding values that celebrate diversity, honor free speech and safeguard human rights.

This is not just about the fate of individual nations; it is a collective responsibility to uphold democratic principles globally. The choices we make now will determine the trajectory of our shared future. Let us not underestimate the power of our voices and let us not give up on the hope for a brighter, more democratic world for Russians, Americans and those who seek freedom.

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