Russian Anti Gay Law: What It Says And What It Means

Putin's poster in protest against anti-gay russian law

A few months ago, there was a huge furore over the Russian anti gay legislation. There were protests and the Russian government tried to curb the protests, they ended up hurting a lot of people. Heck there were citizens against citizens and the police wasn’t doing much to control the situation. Eventually the entire matter simply slipped away from the media highlights. Here we are attempting to bring attention back to the issue, because we feel that any country that has an anti gay legislation certainly has a problem in its understanding of human life and rights.

India has only recently read down section 377 and with the kind of ties that we have with Russia, this could only set back the movement for LGBTQIA rights by a couple of centuries. So what does the legislation mean? Same sex activity is criminal. Does this bill say that? – Simply put, No. It doesn’t. Russia decriminalized same sex activity way back in 1993. But there is no law which criminalizes discrimination against LGBTQIA. Homosexuality was also considered ‘not a mental illness’ in 1999. This legislation, particularly Article 6.21:

1. Talks about Propaganda of ‘non-traditional’ sexual relations among minors.

2. Prohibits the distribution of information to minors related to homosexual or any other kind of relations. The euphemism used in the article is ‘non – traditional sexual relations’. Any information which can essentially tell adolescents or even children that it is okay to have homosexual relations and be attracted to the same sex is thus banned. The offence can be booked as criminal and/or the fine that will be levied is around four to five thousand rubles.

3. Prohibits such distribution digitally, through the media or the internet. This offence too can be booked as criminal or the fine is around fifty to one hundred thousand rubles or the closure of any organization doing so for at least 3 months.

4. If a foreign organization tries to do that then they can be booked under criminal offence or fined up to four thousand to five thousand rubles with deportation or arrest. If it is done by them through the internet then it can be considered a criminal offence or the fine is around fifty thousand to one hundred thousand rubles with deportation or arrest.

If you can’t understand the ramifications, here is your enlightenment:

Like in India, or any other country, there is a lot of discrimination against the LGBTQIA in Russia too. No surprises there. What is problematic though is that there are a lot of things unsaid in the legislation. Which are those? Let me ask you these: –

Does it specify where? So where is the venue of this distribution of information? Where do you think – schools, colleges? Can it be the street? It can be. But then the law prohibits these places. The internet, the television, the radio too.

Does it specify the target audience for such a distribution of information? Yes it does. It says minors. But the age of consent for heterourl / homo sexual relationship is 16, so the target audience will be younger than that. But children’s perceptions are formed before that. And the venue could be something as wide as the street or the internet, the media. If you read between the lines, the legislation effectively bans the distribution of information, spreading of awareness regarding different kinds of sexualities completely (irrespective of age group) especially through these channels which cannot be regulated, by saying that it is banned for minors. Certainly it also translates to no pride walks or events, because you cannot say that minors are not allowed between 5:30 EST to 7:30 EST because there is a pride walk. Russian government’s printer goes out of ink to print that kind of permission or any permission to any pride walk.

Does it specify what you cannot do? No. The legislation uses the words ‘distribution of information’, which is so broad that the smallest acts such as a pamphlet distribution to holding seminars can be booked under it. Now imagine an instance, a parent talking to their children about different kinds of sexualities and ensuring that they don’t turn up to be douchebags can be sent to jail or face a hefty fine if an overzealous neighbor thinks that they are propagating different kinds of sexualities and their own children will be exposed to such an abomination (really???). Good, vigilant neighbors have always been a blessing. Earlier it was for us, now it is for the state.

Who can distribute this information? No one. Not the government officials, not citizens, no non government organizations, no media houses, no outside agencies.

Why is the Russian government doing this? Are they nuts? – Well you know, I am tempted to answer the question with – Yes, they are also homophobic snobs who happen to hijack the entire nation and no one sees sense, but I will refrain. The Russian government like many other governments in other countries is bound by what the majority believes. Here are some shocking findings: –

  • A 2013 survey found that around 74% Russians believe that homosexuality should not be accepted by the society.
  • The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church says that the idea of same sex marriage was a very dangerous sign of the Apocalypse (those who watch Supernatural can bombard him with links to the relevant episode). 80% Russians are members of this church.
  • At least ten regions in Russia have similar laws which ban the propaganda of homosexuality among minors, some even have laws against the propaganda of bisexuality and transgender-ism. These may or may not be restricted to distribution of information but can include a variety of prohibitions. Also some of them may not be just among minors but also propaganda in general.
  • In June 2012, the Moscow City Court upheld a new law banning gay pride parades in the city for the next hundred years. Tells a lot about their belief that a hundred years from now, people like them will survive the supposed Apocalypse.
  • Almost 90 percent Russians support this law. I write that and then I think, phew, what can I say?

Ummm, so what can people in Russia do exactly? If you ask me that, there are two choices:

a) Douchebags and really bad people: – They can continue discriminating against the LGBTQIA. The numerous pictures from the protests tell you that. They can also discriminate against the young, who are yet to understand their own sexuality, if they turn out to have ‘non-traditional sexuality’. The government gives them their whole hearted blessing. Can you imagine that there were no votes against this law? It was passed unanimously.

b) LGBTQIA and the good people: – They can continue to be awesome. They can continue with their sexualities – hetero, homo, a-, bi, or any other consensual relationship. Congratulations, they can hold seminars, meetings and workshops for those who are not minors. But, I doubt that the Russian government will again find something wrong with that and make some other medieval law making them illegal too. They, particularly the LGBTQIA, can adopt children but they should be single and not married. Only heterosexual couples can adopt children (that’s another stupid law, but more on that later). Transgenders, transsexuals can change their sex. I totally empathize with the handful of sane people, because looking at the statistics, they are really rare and far between.

What can we do? Criticize the Russian government, may be. International pressure can be a wonderful thing. Give it more and more attention, so that they don’t get away with it. Let the LGBTQIA in Russia know that we are with them.

I understand that many would believe that this may not be such a big issue than it is made out to be. But if you look at the numerous interpretations that this law can have, you would agree that being a person with ‘non-traditional sexuality’ will not be exactly comfortable in Russia. Hence one would be more vulnerable to attacks and there might be faint to no hope of justice by the law.