LGBT people: Russia’s parliament launches new anti-gay crackdown

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  • Will Vernon
  • BBC

January 23, 2023

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Dania made the difficult decision to leave Russia after parliament approved a new law targeting LGBT people

“I am the only queen of beasts in Russia,” Danya told me proudly, putting white powder on his features in front of a mirror, and we were sitting in his kitchen with a rainbow flag on the wall.

Danya, 22, used to work as an actor and perform regularly at a gay nightclub in St. Petersburg called “Gender Blinder”, but the performances have now stopped after the Russian parliament passed a new anti-homosexual law in December. , and Dania became almost unemployed.

“What we used to do is prohibited by law,” says Dania. “We are very worried now, and the risks are increasing.”

The new law prohibits “promoting non-traditional sexual relations” among all age groups, and anyone caught committing this “crime” faces a fine of 400,000 rubles ($5,840), with much higher fines for organizations or journalists.

Since the law was enforced, Dania decided to leave Russia and move to France.

He said that living in a country where it is forbidden to “just be yourself” makes him feel afraid, adding that he is “handcuffed, I don’t have a choice anymore. Either I leave the country, or I stay here and wait until it gets worse. What’s going on right now is scary.” Extremely”.

The bill began its journey through the Russian legislative system last summer, shortly after Moscow launched its so-called military operation in Ukraine.

The timing is no coincidence, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared that Moscow is not only fighting Ukraine on the battlefield, but also “Western” values.

During a speech in the Kremlin marking the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions, Putin criticized the West and gay rights, calling it “pure Satanism.”

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Dania says that gay clubgoers in St. Petersburg love to watch him

Pyotr Voznesensky, an LGBT activist, says the connection to the war in Ukraine is “clear”.

And in his apartment in downtown St. Petersburg, he shows me exhibits from his LGBT Museum, which is unique in Russia and which he curated for a very short time. The museum was opened to the public in September last year, but had to close again once the new law was ratified.

He says the law is an attempt by the Kremlin to divert public attention away from the country’s setbacks on the battlefield.

“We lost the war, the economy was destroyed, and the authorities need to explain to people why they risked their lives for it. Their best idea was to find a new scapegoat, the gays,” adds Piotr.

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And this is not the first law that imposes restrictions on the LGBT community in Russia. Ten years ago, a bill was passed banning so-called “gay propaganda” in relation to children. Human rights groups say this has been followed by a rise in violent attacks against LGBT people in Russia.

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Olga Baranova, of the Moscow Community Center for LGBT Initiatives, told me the new law will further stigmatize LGBT people.

She said, “We will disappear completely, and there will be sham marriages, sham families. The privileged will leave the country, and those who cannot leave the country will completely disappear and search for partners in some way, using closed channels.”

Pyotr Voznesensky, LGBT activist

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Pyotr Voznesensky, an LGBTQ activist, says link to war in Ukraine is ‘clear’

The LGBT community is currently concerned about how and when the law will be implemented, and who the person concerned is. It is well known that Russian law is characterized by ambiguity, and gives the authorities a heavy tool that can be applied arbitrarily.

However, the fear raised by law enforcement is already leading to censorship, and online cinemas have removed films and TV series on gay-related topics and removed gay scenes.

In one of the episodes of the “White Lotus” series, which has a high viewership rate and is broadcast on the “HBO” channel, the Russian broadcasting service resorted to changing the word “gay” to “man”, in addition to modifying a scene by obliterating the naked ass of one of the characters, and it also deleted A gay sex scene, just days after the law was passed.

The books have also been censored, and stores across the country have pulled titles that relate to LGBTQ topics and characters.

In a St. Petersburg bookstore, I found a recent book, Shattered, that tells a love story between two men. Since the book is wrapped in plastic, I have to buy it to look at its content. The text has been revised by the publisher, with entire paragraphs replaced by black lines.

An open book with most of its lines obscured by black lines

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A book entitled “The Broken One”, which tells a love story between two men, has been revised by the publisher and entire paragraphs replaced with black lines.

Vitaly Milonov, one of the co-authors of the law, a homophobic nationalist, agreed to speak with me via video link and said he was in the city of Horlivka in occupied eastern Ukraine, having traveled to the battlefield as a volunteer fighter. He denied accusations that the law was discriminatory, and said that People’s private lives will be respected.

I asked him if it was appropriate to focus on gay law at a time when thousands are dying in Ukraine, Russia is isolated internationally and people are fleeing the country. He said: “Russia is not isolated, we have a conflict with the Western world!”

Milonov added, “Why do you have to point out to us that we have a wrong ideology? I think it is our sovereign right to have whatever laws we like.”

Back at Dania’s apartment, he shows me some of the costumes he designed with love for acting, and says St. Petersburg cabarets love his acting, and he doesn’t want to leave this country.

I asked him, “What do you think of the Russia you would like to live in?” He said to me, reflecting on the question: “Free Russia. My birth, and no one has the right to annul it, ban it, or prosecute me because of it.”

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