Russian lawmakers adopted amendments Thursday that greatly expand the scope of application of a law banning the “promotion” of the LGBT community, amid a hardening of the Kremlin associated with its military offensive in Ukraine.
This new law, which is an enhanced version of a much-criticized 2013 law that banned “promoting LGBT people” among minors, now prohibits “promoting non-traditional sexual relations” to everyone, in the media, on the Internet, in books and movies.
This broad application, in addition to the loose interpretation in light of the vague concept of the word “promotion”, raises fears of increasing repression against the LGBT community in Russia, which is already subject to great discrimination.
“The promotion of non-traditional sexual relations is prohibited (…) and the promotion of pedophilia and sex change has been banned,” said Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament (the State Duma), in a statement. He added, “Fines amount to 10 million rubles” (about 160,000 euros) for violators.
For the text to become law, it must still be ratified by the upper house of Parliament, the Federation Council, and signed by President Vladimir Putin.
“We will protect individuals from this absurd law,” Natalia Solovyova, head of the non-governmental organization Rossiiskaya LGBT-Set, told AFP.
The consequences of this new law are currently vague, and human rights activists fear it could be used arbitrarily.
According to Solovyova, her organization expects “increasing pressure on activists, blocking more websites (…) and greater censorship in the media, cinema and other industries.”
As for Delia Gafurova, president of the non-governmental organization Sfera for the defense of the rights of the LGBT community, she considered that “the law is discriminatory in nature, and this is quite clear.”
She considered that the Russian state’s allegations are “disturbing” to the effect that “LGBT people are a Western invention as a result of external interference.”
The European Union said in a statement Thursday that it “deplores these repressive measures,” saying that they “will fuel homophobia and reinforce the severe suppression of all critical and alternative discourses” in Russia.
The vote on this new law comes after years of repression against the LGBT community, as the Kremlin presents itself as a defender of “traditional” values in the face of a Western world that is portrayed as heading towards decadence.
Volodin considered that this law “will protect our children and the future of this country from the darkness spread by the United States and European countries. We have our own traditions and our own values.”
Activist Delia Gafurova called on the Russian authorities not to use the LGBT community as a “tool of ideological confrontation.”
“We simply exist,” she said. “There is nothing bad about us and nothing that needs to be covered up. We cannot be denied our voice.”
Last month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said he was “deeply concerned” about the tightening of LGBT law in Russia, after the State Duma voted on the text on first reading.
This law also raises concerns in the world of cinema and literature, which fears the strengthening of already severe censorship.