MOSCOW, Russia — Russian lawmakers unanimously approved a bill banning all forms of LGBTQ “propaganda” in a final reading on Thursday, as Moscow presses ahead with its conservative drive at home while its troops fight in Ukraine.
Activists said the new legislation ramps up the crackdown on “non-traditional” sexual relationships in Russia, affecting everything from books and films to social media posts, and vowed to keep fighting for the rights of minorities.
President Vladimir Putin has sought to promote his country as the antithesis of Western liberal values and pushed an increasingly conservative agenda to rally his core constituency amid raging tensions with the world’s top democracies.
Moscow already has a law against “propaganda” directed at minors regarding LGBTQ relationships. The new bill would broaden that rule to adults.
The legislation passed by the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on Thursday bars all mention of what authorities deem “gay propaganda” in media, cinema, books and advertisements.
It also prohibits “the propaganda of pedophilia and sex change.”
“Any propaganda of non-traditional relationships will have consequences,” the speaker of the Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, said on social media.
He said the bill “will protect our children and the future of our country from the darkness spread by the US and European states.”
The legislation will need to be backed by the upper house and Putin before becoming law, steps seen as a formality.
The bill introduces hefty fines of up to 10 million rubles ($165,400) for people who ignore the new ban.
Rights groups said the legislation will effectively ban all public promotion of LGBTQ rights in Russia and vowed to keep up the fight.
“We plan on protecting people from this absurd law,” said Natalia Soloviova, the chairperson of the Russian LGBT Network organization.
“LGBTQ people are not leaving, they still need our help and support,” she told AFP.
The exact consequences of the new legislation are still unclear, and rights activists warned that it could be applied indiscriminately.
Soloviova said she and other activists expected “more pressure on activists, an increase in the number of blocked websites… and widespread censorship in the media, movie and other industries.”
Russia has sought to present LGBTQ relationships as a product of dangerous Western influence, toughening the rhetoric as Moscow presses its military campaign in Ukraine.
Illustrative: LGBT activists wave their flags during a rally to cancel the results of voting on amendments to the Constitution in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Dilya Gafurova, the head of LGBTQ rights group Sphere Foundation, said it was especially “disturbing that the state is saying LGBT+ people are a Western invention.”
She warned of the possible effects of the “demonization of an entire group.”
Authorities will be able to block websites that contain prohibited information.
According to the Duma, it would also ban “the sale of goods (including foreign ones) containing prohibited information.”
‘Nothing wrong with us’
Russian film production companies and book publishers have also expressed concern over the bill, saying it could result in a ban of some classics, such as Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” about a middle-aged businessman’s obsession with a 12-year-old girl.
The Duma said “films that promote such relationships will not receive a distribution certificate.”
Senior lawmakers had previously said the bill was needed in the context of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.
Gafurova urged the authorities not to use the LGBTQ community “as an instrument of ideological confrontation.”
Illustrative: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his speech as he attends a ceremony to receive credentials from newly appointed foreign ambassadors to Russia, at the Kremlin, Moscow, September 20, 2022. (Pavel Bednyakov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
“We just are. There is nothing wrong with us and nothing that needs to be hushed up,” she said, adding that it was impossible “to take our voice away.”
Putin, who turned 70 this year, has repeatedly railed against same-sex parents.
“Do we really want here, in our country, in Russia, instead of ‘mom’ and ‘dad,’ to have ‘parent number one,’ ‘parent number two’ or ‘parent number three?’” he said in a speech at the Kremlin in September.
“Have they gone completely insane?”