State Sanctioned Homophobia in Russia?


Illustration by Dayna Weissman, Staff Illustrator

Matthew Rephen, Staff Writer

On June 29, 2013, the Russian national congress passed a law banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors. This law prohibits public or private demonstrations in favor of gay rights, condoning homosexual behavior, defending gay rights, or likening homosexuality to heterosexuality. Violations of these laws can result in fines of up to $31,000 (The Atlantic). The actual text of the law never uses the word “homosexual” in any form, but instead uses euphemisms like “non-traditional sexual relations.”


Whether or not the original intent of the statute was to encourage violent homophobic acts, it appears that has been the case over the past few months. While gays once had to keep their true identities to themselves for fear of ostracization, coming out of the closet now more than ever runs the risk of subjecting oneself to brutal attacks. The Russian LGBT Network stated that this new legislation has incentivized more organized malicious anti-gay groups, and they are right to believe so.


Occupy Gerontophilia and Occupy Paedophilia are two online networks that have recently come into being, both with the aim of “reforming homosexuals.” These groups lure unsuspecting gay adults and teenagers into meetings where they are humiliated in some way on camera. Igor Kochetkov, the founder of these two websites, has put hundreds of videos on Occupy Paedophilia, which targets adult homosexuals and has achieved hundreds of thousands of views. At the same time, Occupy Gerontophilia, which focuses on gay teenagers, has dozens of videos and had 170,000 subscribers before it was taken off the internet “for invading the privacy of minors” (The Guardian).


According to Kochetkov, these new laws enable the kind of violence towards homosexuals that he has displayed on the internet: “The latest laws against so-called gay propaganda, first in the regions and then on the federal level, have essentially legalised violence against LGBT people…With this legislation, the government said that, yes, gays and lesbians are not valued as a social group.”


The federal Russian government, specifically President Vladimir Putin, publicly took the stance that these laws were not passed to encourage violence towards the gay community, during a meeting with party officials on November 20th: “You know how much criticism I had to listen to, but all we did on the government and legislative level, to do with limiting (gay) propaganda among minors…We should not create a torrent of hatred towards anyone in society, including people of non-traditional sexual orientation”(Reuters).


Whether or not Putin’s words are sincere doesn’t change the fact that more hate crimes have arisen since these new laws were passed. The fact that Putin is commenting on this situation at all acknowledges that fact.


But why is all of this homophobia present in Russia in the first place? People that are anti-gay almost always justify their stance using religion, but Russia is one of the most secular countries in the world. Statistics have actually shown a clear correlation between the religiosity of a country and the homophobia of that country; the most secular nations tend to be the most accepting–with two outliers: China and Russia (The Atlantic).


While Russia is quite secular, it’s also very nationalistic, and most people there are willing to support the government and the Russian Orthodox Church fully, even if they don’t really practice religion. In fact, between 80 and 90 percent of Russians call themselves Russian Orthodox, even though few of them attend church on a monthly basis, if ever. Not surprisingly, the Russian Orthodox Church has a strong anti-gay agenda. As one anonymous gay activist explained, “The church has very strong anti-gay rhetoric, it’s getting stronger and stronger all the time. Five years ago, they would ignore the issue and now they say homosexuality is a sin” (The Atlantic). In addition, several Russian special interest groups are quite supportive of their government, so since the anti-gay legislation was passed, many citizens have taken that as a kind of incentive for violence.


Clearly, the gay rights movement has a ways to go in Russia, and the banning of gay “propaganda” doesn’t do it any help, although that hasn’t stopped many young LGBT supporters from pursuing their dreams of having a tolerant Russia.

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