OPINION: Russia’s ban on the LGBTQ+ movement: A dire threat to freedom and identity

by Yuri Guaiana | All Out
Tuesday, 9 January 2024 16:24 GMT

A view shows the building of Russia’s Supreme Court following a hearing to consider a request by the Ministry of Justice to recognize the LGBTQ movement as extremist in Moscow, Russia, November 30, 2023. A sign reads: "Supreme Court of the Russian Federation". REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

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

From January 10, expressing or supporting LGBTQ+ identities in Russia could be a crime

Yuri Guaiana is senior campaigns manager at AllOut, an international LGBTQ+ rights organisation

Imagine a world where supporting human rights makes you an extremist. This is not a dystopian plot but today's reality in Russia. On November 30, 2023, the Russian Supreme Court shockingly declared the so-called 'international LGBT movement' as extremist.

From January 10, 2024, expressing or supporting LGBTQ+ identities in Russia could be a crime, heralding a new era of oppression.

The irony in Russia’s latest decree against the 'international LGBT movement' is stark – it's banning an entity that doesn't exist. There was no such registered organisation in Russia until November 28, 2023, when activists, in a strategic move to thwart the Justice Ministry's intentions and appeal the decision, registered an organisation with this name. This legal paradox raises questions about the legitimacy and rationality of this action and sets another dangerous precedent where abstract concepts can be criminalised, leaving the door open for arbitrary persecution.

Russia's trajectory toward repression of the LGBTQ+ community isn’t new. The 2013 ban on 'gay propaganda' among minors was just the beginning. In 2022, a comprehensive ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” was enforced, affecting all ages. Last year saw an alarming escalation: a complete ban on trans-specific healthcare and legal gender recognition. These developments are more than policy changes; they represent a systematic erasure of LGBTQ+ identities.

The consequences of the Supreme Court’s ruling are already manifesting. Police raids on gay clubs, censorship of queer content by streaming services, and even the altering of geographical and museum names in a bizarre censorship overreach mark the beginning of a nationwide 'witch hunt'.

This crackdown isn’t just about enforcing laws; it’s about instilling fear and suppressing identity.

For the average Russian, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community, the fear of being labelled an extremist for simply existing is palpable. Any form of LGBTQ+ activism, public support, or even not hiding one’s sexual identity could lead to lengthy prison sentences, frozen bank accounts, and being banned from running for office.

Journalists and content creators face a new challenge in this hostile environment. Covering LGBTQ+ topics risks fines or worse, leading to a chilling effect on freedom of speech and access to information. The ambiguity of the ruling makes it a tool for targeted oppression, which affects anyone, potentially even including those who don’t identify as LGBTQ+ themselves.

For many LGBTQ+ people in Russia, it has just become too dangerous to stay in the country. This isn’t just Russia’s problem: Russian activists need our support right now to convince governments around the world to make it easier for their community members to escape and find a safe haven abroad. 

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