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Lower house of Russian Parliament passes anti-LGBTQ propaganda law

Human Rights Watch has sharply criticized proposal

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(Public domain photo)

A new law which expands Russia’s “gay propaganda” law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2013 passed the lower House of the State Duma on Nov. 24.

The legislation, which still needs the approval of the upper house of the Duma and Putin, introduces an expanded “all ages” ban on “propaganda of non-traditional relations,” pedophilia, as well as a ban on the dissemination of information about LGBTQ people in the media, the Internet, advertising, literature and cinema. 

The language of the bill, according to the official Russian state news agency TASS, also introduces a ban on issuing a rental certificate to a film if it contains materials that promote non-traditional sexual relations and preferences is established. The document also provides for the introduction of a mechanism that restricts children’s access to listening to or viewing LGBTQ information on paid services. 

The newly expanded law provides for the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, to be vested with the right to determine the procedure for conducting monitoring on the Internet to identify information, access to which should be restricted in accordance with the federal law on information.

A requirement is also set on paid services to enter codes or perform other actions to confirm the age of the user. At the same time, access to LGBTQ information is prohibited for citizens under 18 years of age.

In addition, it provides for a ban on the sale of goods, including imported goods, containing information, the dissemination of which provides for administrative or criminal liability. 

Also, the law “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” is supplemented by an article on the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations, pedophilia and information that can make children want to change their sex.

The latter language pointedly inserted as transgender people have been a frequent target of attacks by the Russian president in speeches recently blaming the West for a global decay in moral values that run counter to what Putin describes as “Russia’s strong morals.”

In an October speech announcing the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories, Putin attacked Western nations on the issue of gay and transgender rights.

“Do we want children from elementary school to be imposed with things that lead to degradation and extinction?” he asked. “Do we want them to be taught that instead of men and women, there are supposedly some other genders and to be offered sex-change surgeries?”

It’s not just the Russian leader.

Patriarch Kirill, head of the powerful and influential Russian Orthodox Church, portrayed the war with Ukraine as a struggle seeking to reject Western values and LGBTQ Pride parades.

Vyacheslav Viktorovich Volodin, the chairman of the State Duma and a former aide to Putin, is one of the bill’s sponsors. Volodin told TASS that the bill is “adopted exclusively in the interests of all Russians.”

“We have a different path, our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers chose it. We have traditions, we have a conscience, we have an understanding that we need to think about children, families, the country, to preserve what we handed over by the parents,” Volodin said.

A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch told the Washington Blade this expansion of the 2013 “gay propaganda” law “is a classic example of political homophobia. It targets vulnerable sexual and gender minorities for political gain.”

A young Russian LGBTQ activist, who asked to not be identified for fear of Russian government reprisals, spoke to the Blade from Helsinki regarding this latest effort by the so-called conservative “family values” politicians in the Duma.

“This is a distraction to avoid the real news of dead young Russian males killed in his illegal war in Ukraine,” they said. “These [Russian obscenity] politicians want to so-called ‘non-traditional’ LGBTQ+ lifestyles practiced by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people out of public life, make us erased. They and their so called colluders in church are ignorant of truth that LGBTQ+ people will exist no matter what. It is scientific fact not their religious fairytales and fictions.”

The activist also told the Blade they had fled to avoiding the Russian military draft enacted by Russia to replenish the levels of combat troops fighting in Putin’s illegal war, in the face of mounting casualties and wounded soldiers.

Human Rights Watch noted that given the already deeply hostile climate for LGBTQ people in Russia, the organization warned there will be uptick in often-gruesome vigilante violence against LGBTQ people in Russia — frequently carried out in the name of protecting Russian values and Russia’s children.

Legal scholars say the vagueness of the bill’s language gives room for government enforcers to interpret the language as broadly as they desire, leaving members of the Russian LGBTQ community and their allies in a state of even greater fear and stress filled uncertainty.

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Russia

Vladimir Putin takes office for fifth term as Russia’s president

Kremlin’s crackdown on LGBTQ people expected to continue

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Russian President Vladimir Putin takes his 5th presidential oath of office on May 7, 2024. (Photo by Alexander Kazakov/RIA Novosti)

On Tuesday, Vladimir Putin took his oath of office becoming the second ever longest serving leader of the modern Russian state since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who held power from 1922 until his death in 1953.

Putin’s tenure in office has been marked by his acquisition of concentrated political power in part due to his eradication and imprisonment or the deaths of his political opponents, such as his rumored unproven involvement in the assassination of fierce Putin critic Boris Nemtsov on Feb. 27, 2015, just steps away from the gate to the Kremlin, and more recently in the prosecution and imprisonment of another high profile Putin critic, Alexei Navalny, who died on Feb. 16 at a penal colony north of the Arctic Circle.

Putin ordered military operations in August 2008, which led to the Russo-Georgian War and diplomatic relations were broken. To this day, the two countries have maintained no formal diplomatic relations. Then in February and March 2014, Russian troops at his direction invaded the Crimean Peninsula, part of Ukraine, and annexed it. The resulting hostilities also spread to the far-eastern Ukrainian oblasts, [provinces] which culminated with Russia invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, an escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War that started in 2014. The invasion became the largest attack on a European country since the end of World War II in 1945.

As the war drags on Putin’s threats of military escalation against NATO countries and use of battlefield nuclear weapons has created a tense relationship with a majority of the European Union as well as with the United States. Russia has been heavily sanctioned by the West and is turning to other totalitarian regimes like China, Iran, and North Korea for support.

In his inaugural speech Putin made oblique reference to his oft stated desire to recreate a hybrid of the former Soviet Union:

“In these solemn and crucial moments of assuming the office of the president, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the citizens of Russia across all regions of our country, as well as those living in the historical territories of Russia who have won their right to stand united with our Motherland.”

The Russian president then thanked the forces fighting in the invasion of Ukraine saying:

“I humbly honor our heroes, the participants in the special military operation, and all those who are fighting for our Fatherland. I would like to thank you again for the trust you have placed in me and for your unwavering support. These words are directed to every citizen of Russia.”

On the domestic front Putin has stifled media outlets with draconian laws passed designed to keep the Russian population largely ignorant of the cost both human lives and governmental spending as the warfare in Ukraine drags on and losses to the Russian military continue.

The Associated Press reported neither the U.S., U.K. nor German ambassadors attended. The U.S. Embassy said Amb. Lynne Tracy was out of the country on “prescheduled, personal travel.”

A handful of EU envoys attended even though top EU diplomat Josep Borrell said he told them “the right thing to do is not to attend this inauguration,” because Putin is the subject of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine.

In his speech Putin issued a veiled threat to critics of his regime that dissention would not be tolerated:

“We can see that the atmosphere in society has changed, and how much we now value reliability, responsibility, sincerity, integrity, generosity, and courage. I will do everything in my power to ensure that those who have displayed these admirable human and professional traits, and who have proved their loyalty to the fatherland through their deeds, achieve leading positions in state governance, the economy and all other spheres.

We must ensure reliable continuity in the development of our country for decades to come and bring up new generations who will strengthen Russia’s might and develop our state based on interethnic accord, the preservation of the traditions of all ethnic groups living in Russia, a civilizational nation united by the Russian language and our multi-ethnic culture.”

The Russian president has also targeted the country’s LGBTQ community with passage of multiple laws that forbid public mention or acknowledgment of queer Russians. In his speech he emphasized his commitment to maintaining “family values.”

“Our top priority is the preservation of the people. I am confident that the support of centuries-old family values and traditions will continue to unite public and religious associations, political parties, and all levels of government.

Our decisions regarding the development of the country and its regions must be effective and fair and must promote the prosperity of Russian families and improve their quality of life,” he said.

The Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in D.C., noted recently:

“Escalating state discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community in Russia is directly informed by the Putin regime’s struggle to maintain legitimacy and public support, especially as Russia’s war in Ukraine drags on. Russian federal elections are scheduled for 2024, and officials are reportedly planning to project record levels of public support for Putin.”

The war in Ukraine and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community are both popular policies among the socially conservative interest groups that make up Putin’s strongest base of support, and Russian policymakers draw clear connections between the Kremlin’s narrative that Russia is fighting Western ideology by proxy in Ukraine and the Kremlin’s attack on the LGBTQ+ experience in Russia.

Putin’s inaugural speech today signaled his future intentions on conducting the war in Ukraine and his ongoing persecution of LGBTQ+ Russians.”

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Transgender journalist who enlisted in Ukrainian military designated a terrorist by Russia

Sarah Ashton-Cirillo is from the US

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Sarah Ashton-Cirillo in D.C. on May 19, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A transgender journalist from the U.S. who enlisted in the Ukrainian military has been designated a terrorist by Russia.

“The Kremlin added me to Russia’s official international terrorism list,” wrote Sarah Ashton-Cirillo in a Feb. 5 post on her X account.

Russia launched its war against Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. 

Ashton-Cirillo was a journalist when she began to cover the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s Kharkiv Defense Forces. She later enlisted and is now a junior sergeant. Ashton-Cirillo has also traveled to the U.S. several times on behalf of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.

Shrapnel from a Russian artillery shell wounded Ashton-Cirillo last February while she was working as a senior combat medic in a trench near Kreminna, a city in eastern Ukraine. 

“For Russia to name me as an officially sanctioned terrorist is laughable enough, however what was truly indicative of the hate coming from the Kremlin’s regime was that every press release and article in Russia about my being placed on Putin’s terrorism list was prefaced with the fact that I am trans,” Ashton-Cirillo told the Washington Blade on Friday. “The Russian government is genocidal and hate ridden and this is why it will collapse.” 

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Putin signs law banning transition therapy and surgery in Russia

Lawmakers approved measure earlier this month

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Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Russian government/Office of the Russian President)

Legislation that will effectively ban the existence of transgender Russians was signed on Monday as expected by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The new law, which takes effective immediately, was passed earlier this month by the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, and then last week by the Federal Council, which is its upper body.

The law now bans Russians from changing their gender on official government identity documents including internal and external passports, driver’s licenses and birth certificates, although gender marker changes had been legal since 1997.

Medical healthcare providers are now banned from “performing medical interventions designed to change the sex of a person,” including surgery and prescribing hormone therapy.

The law, which human rights organizations have labeled draconian and barbaric, also bans individuals who have undergone gender reassignment from adopting children and annuls marriages in which one of the partners is trans. 

LGBTQ activists have warned that the law will lead to a further increase in already high rates of suicide and suicide attempts among trans Russians. Worse, say sympathetic physicians and trans rights advocates, it will foment an underground market for surgeries and medications, which are dangerous as unproven drugs or outright fake drugs may cause irreparable harm.

LGBTQ activists also said that this law will lead to an increase in attempted suicides among trans youth unable to access medical care.

“The way how these people see their future is collapsing,” Yan Dvorkin, the head of Center-T, a group that helps trans and nonbinary people in Russia, said in an interview with The Moscow Times earlier this month. 

During debate over the law, Deputy Duma Speaker Pytor Tolstoy, a co-sponsor of the legislation, pointed out that banning the “practice of transgenderism” was in the interest of national security.

The diagnosis of “transsexualism,” he added, refers to gender identity disorders and is the basis for recognizing a citizen as unfit for military service. In addition, “we must not forget that by changing the sex of one of the partners, a homosexual couple gets the right to adopt a child. Unfortunately, there are already such cases in Russia,” he said.

LGBTQ and human rights organization ILGA-Europe issued a statement condemning the actions of the Duma and offered support and solidarity with the Russian trans and queer communities.

“We firmly assert that such legislation flagrantly violates fundamental human rights standards and principles.

ILGA-Europe firmly believe in the inherent dignity and equal rights of all individuals, regardless of their gender identity or expression. International human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, emphasize that everyone has the right to self-determination, privacy and the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Denying trans and gender diverse individuals access to trans-specific healthcare and legal gender recognition blatantly disregards the international human rights framework,” ILGA-Europe wrote.

A young woman who only identified herself to Russian freelance journalist Sergei Dimitrov by the name Elena, told him in an interview in St. Petersburg earlier this month:

“There is no safety anymore, soon they will openly hunt us like swine, we no right to exist they say,” she said.

The young woman also said that since the latest passage of laws including expansion of the Russia’s “gay propaganda” law to include adults last December, coupled with the crackdown by the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, on any websites and on popular phone apps that cater to LGBTQ people, she has now begun efforts in earnest to leave the country.

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