Russia has banned the so-called ‘international LGBT movement’ What does this mean for queer people and activists living there?
- What’s happening with LGBTQ+ rights in Russia?
- How does the Supreme Court define the ‘LGBT movement’?
- Can they really ban such an abstract structure?
- So, the Justice Ministry can just invent ‘extremist’ organizations?
- What were the Justice Ministry’s arguments in court anyway?
- So now, will LGBTQ+ people who don’t hide their sexual identity be considered extremists and be prosecuted for it?
- Who can now be designated a ‘participant’ or ‘organizer’ of this non-existent association?
- Who could be considered an ‘LGBT supporter’?
- Will members of the LGBTQ+ community who aren’t involved in activism be affected?
- Will the media also not be able to write about LGBTQ+ topics?
- Are there any other risks?
- When will the Supreme Court’s decision come into force?
- How should LGBTQ+ people in Russia prepare for this nightmare?
- Would calling yourself an ‘equal rights activist’ instead of using the abbreviation LGBT help at all?
On November 30, the Russian Supreme Court granted the Justice Ministry’s request to ban the “international LGBT movement” as an “extremist organization.” According to the Justice Ministry, which filed its lawsuit on November 17, the so-called “LGBT movement’s” activities showed “signs and manifestations of an extremist orientation, including the incitement of social and religious discord.”
Meduza first published this analysis on November 17. It was updated on November 30 after the Supreme Court’s decision.
Russian authorities have been discriminating against and persecuting LGBTQ+ people for many years. In 2013, Russia banned “gay propaganda” among minors, and in 2022, they passed a law prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations and pedophilia” among people of all ages. Bookstores and libraries removed books affected by the law from their shelves, and mentions of same-sex relationships were cut from TV shows and games. Those who didn’t comply faced fines.
In July 2023, Putin signed a law banning “gender change,” which prohibits both changing gender markers in passports and preforming gender-affirming surgeries. People who’ve already changed the gender marker in their passports aren’t allowed to adopt children.
We don’t know. Obviously, there’s no such thing as an “international LGBT movement” that was somehow “operating” in Russia.
Valeria Vetoshkina, a lawyer for the human rights group Department One, told Meduza that there’s no such organization registered in Russia and no documentation that would identify a “single-entity” LGBTQ+ movement.
(A group of activists and human rights advocates did register an organization under the name “International LGBT Movement” on November 28, but they did this in an attempt to thwart the Justice Ministry’s strategy; when the ministry filed its lawsuit on November 17, there was no such entity.)
Yes — there have already been similar instances in Russian judicial history.
LGBTQ+ rights lawyer Max Olenichev, who collaborates with Department One, notes that the federal law on “countering extremist activity” only allows structures that actually exist to be recognized as extremist. A public association may be unregistered, but for a movement to exist, it has to meet three criteria:
Since the “international LGBT movement” doesn’t exist, it’s obvious the Justice Ministry can’t present evidence that it meets the necessary criteria, says Olenichev.
Unfortunately, we don’t know. Just like in the case of “Columbine,” the hearing wasn’t open to the public. “The decision won’t be published and the lawsuit also won’t be available,” explains lawyer Valeria Vetoshkina.
Another lawyer who spoke to Meduza under the condition of anonymity brought attention to the case number — AKPI23-990c:
Yes, this is more than likely, according to lawyers who spoke with Meduza. One lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, says that since the Supreme Court considers “participation in the activities of an extremist organization” to be any “deliberate actions aimed at achieving [its] goals,” meaning any public LGBTQ+ activism could qualify.
Lawyer Max Olenichev says that if a person positions themselves as an LGBTQ+ activist, the authorities may start to pay increased attention to them: investigate their social media and gather information about their activities. Then, if the authorities associate these activities with the non-existent “international LGBT movement,” they could bring charges against the person.
Once an organization is declared “extremist” and banned, “participating in” or “organizing” its activities, as well as financing its operations becomes illegal. Violations of these rules can lead to lengthy prison sentences and inclusion on a list of terrorists and extremists. Once on the list, a person’s bank accounts will be frozen.
We don’t know for certain — it’ll only be clear after the first court decision. But by evaluating the judicial practice related to the AUE movement, we can conclude that people who speak about LGBTQ+ rights, either in public or in private conversations, would be at risk.
One lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, told Meduza:
In addition to “participants” and “organizers,” the fictitious "international LGBT social movement" may also have "supporters," whose rights will be restricted by the authorities.
According to the authorities, “supporters” are those who are “involved in the actions of” “extremist” organizations. This could be anyone who helps such organizations by donating, giving advice, or providing other forms of assistance. Involvement can be considered participation in activities or even just making supportive statements.
Supporters can be banned from running for office, as was the case for Alexey Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation, which was designated an “extremist” organization. This applies retroactively to anyone who was involved in the activities of an organization up to one year before they were labeled “extremist.” In other words, anyone who has in the last year spoken out about LGBTQ+ people on the Internet, demonstrated for their rights, or donated money to an LGBTQ+ human rights organization may be banned from running for office at any level.
Most likely, yes. One lawyer said he was confident that problems may arise for everyone — even if a person isn’t an activist, but has merely expressed the opinion that LGBTQ+ people should have the same rights as other people. At the same time, he doesn’t think it likely that they “will start getting rounded up in the streets,” but says anyone seen in any “public activity” that could be construed as related to LGBTQ+ is at risk.
Experts from the human rights organization Public Verdict also write that “there are risks that some forms of statements about one's orientation may be seen as recruitment or involvement in [extremist organization] activities.” Even wearing LGBTQ+ symbols could qualify.
Lawyer Max Olenichev says that the lawsuit (and resulting ruling) will make it much harder for groups to provide legal and psychological support to LGBTQ+ people and that it will further stereotypes and prejudices in society, “creating an atmosphere of fear and violence.”
It’s already challenging now: for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations,” which is very vaguely defined, media outlets can already be fined up to 400,000 rubles (about $4,500).
After the Supreme Court’s decision comes into effect, it will become even more difficult: mass media, bloggers, and ordinary people on social media will be required to mention that the Russian authorities have declared the “international LGBT movement” an “extremist organization” and banned it. Those who don’t will face fines.
The law also prohibits the media from disseminating “extremist materials.” In Russia, there’s a federal list of these materials compiled by the Justice Ministry (using court decisions). If any materials from the so-called “international LGBT movement” end up on the list, their distribution will be punishable by a fine of up to one million rubles (about $11,100) or even suspension of media activities for up to three months.
Unfortunately, there are. On September 28, Russia’s State Duma approved the first reading of a law that punishes “the justification or propaganda of extremism.” They plan to supplement and rename an existing law that prohibits publicly calling for extremism, an offence carrying a potential five-year prison sentence.
The authorities plan to punish “justification” and “propaganda” of extremism the same way they currently punish calls for extremist activity. Those who do so on the Internet (or in the media) can face up to five years imprisonment. Unfortunately, this can also affect those who speak out about LGBTQ+ issues.
Only after the statutory period for appeal has passed. According to Russia’s administrative code, this period lasts for one month (even if no one appeals the decision). Human rights group Department One says this would happen on January 10, 2024.
Experts from Public Verdict recommend checking through social networks for any information and symbols that the authorities might consider “subversive” and removing them before the Supreme Court’s decision comes into effect.
Here’s what else the experts that Meduza spoke to advise:
At the same time, lawyers interviewed by Meduza agree that the decision to leave the country should be an individual one — not everyone has the resources or desire to do so. However, every LGBTQ+ person in Russia will now have to regularly assess the risks — and build their life with them in mind.
It’s unlikely. In certain cases, it could help to avoid attracting attention to your activities. But if law enforcement gets involved, it won’t take much for this shield to come down, explains lawyer Max Olenichev:
The fact that the authorities plan to designate the “international LGBT movement” — rather than LGBTQ+ — as extremist won’t help either, explains lawyer Valeria Vetoshkina: