NY Times Op-Ed Looks At Life Under Russia’s ‘Gay Propaganda’ Ban

RussAn op-ed in Friday's New York Times by author and journalist Mark Gevisser examines the impact of Russia's anti-gay propaganda law for its LGBT community. Gevisser takes the Russian port city of Arkhangelsk (population 350,000) as a case study of sorts to consider the effect of the law on everyday Russians and also to attempt to suss out the root cause of homophobia in Russia:

Yet one often ignored cause for this homophobic surge is perhaps the most obvious: backlash. Whatever else it is, Russian homophobia is a direct, even violent, reaction to the space created by a minority that has only come into the open over the last decade.

This is certainly the case in Arkhangelsk, where Rakurs [the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization] was denied registration as a nonprofit organization in 2010 on the grounds that it promoted “extremism.” Rakurs managed to get this judgment overturned, but soon after, the “gay propaganda” ban was passed.

“The law was clearly designed to limit our activities,” Tatiana Vinnichenko, the director of Rakurs, told me. “And in many ways it has succeeded. We cannot hold protests of more than one person. And any attempts to help young people are stifled.”

Still, despite the encroachment on their rights, young "LGBTs" ("the acronym has become part of the Russian vernacular") are not giving up the fight. In fact, Gevisser suggests that the focus on the LGBT community, even in a negative light, has galvanized many who might otherwise have been silent or inactive:

Even as the rise of a queer rights movement provokes a backlash, the backlash undermines itself — by strengthening the resolve of the movement and by publicizing (even if through hate) the existence of a group of people who were so long invisible…

There is only one way out of this bind: for Russians themselves to speak out in support of the rights of sexual minorities. What is most inspiring about groups like Rakurs, in far-flung communities like Arkhangelsk, is the counterpoint they give, by their very existence, to the official narrative that homosexuals are dangerous outsiders or, worse, child molesters.

In Arkhangelsk, [a 22-year-old bus conductor named] Varya and her friends have graduated from the alt-music scene. “We’re adults now,” she said. “We have kids, we have jobs.”

She held up the hateful sticker she had found on the bus [that reads, "Stamp out faggots"), and kept: “And we have this to fight.”

(Image via NY Times)


  1. Walid says

    Ugh, there’s a whole LOTTA anti gay hate right here in America. I love how obsessed we are about Russia while we do jack about the homophobia right here. Go read GLAAD’s facebook page and see the thousands of comments from Christians bashing gays, wishing death upon us, wishing us AIDS.

    Just this week alone, there were four anti gay hate crimes in four major cities in THIS country.

    The U.S is hardly in a place to lecture Russia.

  2. Ricco says

    If you want to see for yourself that racism is alive and thriving in the United States, consider this: the uproar people make about hardworking Mexicans who cross the border illegally, stealing jobs from American’s . . . you know the jobs you could not pay an American enough money to do . . . who actually are not the drain on American society as has been misrepresented by some, who actually contribute (not only culturally) greatly to our society financially, so much so, in fact, that if conservatives could find a way to deport all the Mexican’s who are here illegally (and the one who are here legally as well, which has been done in this country several times before by huge sweeps of the Latino population) would actually have a financially crippiling affect on the economy . . .and compare that with the great numbers of Russians who are allowed to immigrate into our country by the hundreds of thousands, who ACTUALLY are a drain on the state, swallowing up limited placements for dental care, housing assistance, welfare, and do not want the jobs that Mexicans are willing to do, but are veing for the very few jobs that exist for Americans . . . and add to that that Russians come from a truly backward nation, not nearly as enlightened as a Mexican even from a remote village or small town, who bring with them their early 1960’s attitudes about women, people of color, and gays, elevating the crime in those cities where they have primarily congregated . . . and ask yourself why would conservative allow such a negative and very large immigration of Russians who bring us down as a nation in every way imaginable, while opposing the passing of laws that would make immigration much easier for Mexicans if it were not for the fact that Russians are white and Mexicans are not?

    I know, a very long run-on sentence, but I think you get my meaning.

    I am not saying we should allow people to enter the country illegally. What I am saying is that we should not be allowing but a few and very select Russians to enter our country, at least until they at least catch up to the late 1990’s in their attitudes about women, people of color, and gays, and that we ought to be more respectful of our southern neighbor, who are actually living in the current decade.

  3. gordon says

    It has long been my experience that being gay has at least as much to do with emotion as with physical gender identity. Gay people need to focus on the emotional part more, and not on the physical part as much.

  4. Ricco says

    You are just a very little bit right about what you say WALID . . . at least as far as the United states lecturing Russia (or any nation) about humans rights issues. Racism, misogny, homophobia, are all alive and kicking in America . . . but you are crazy if you think there is not a MARKED and general difference between the Russian people as a whole, and the American people as a whole, or that the same MARKED difference cannot be noted between politicians in Russains and politicians in the United States.

    And here is the difference, that the racism, misogny, and homophobia in America is most represented by the right-wing fringe, while intolerance for racism, misogny, and homophobia in Russia comprises the fringe in that country.

    The United States cannot lecture Russia, but as a citizen who thinks we have enough racism, misogny, and homophobia among our own people then the last thing we need to do is allow Russians with their 1960’s attitudes to immigate here by the hundreds of thousands.

    I say let them hash out all their crap on their shores, catch up to us culturally so their overall genral bigotry is relegated to a right-wing fringe before allowing them to immigrate here.

    Having lived in a city where over a hundred thousand Russians immigrated, who started bashing gays, people of color, and being disrespectful of American women, and substantially elevated crime while acting as a drain on government resources in my city, I do feel I have a lot to say that is quite justifiable.

  5. john patrick says

    This article reminds me of the US in the time of Anita Bryant: the backlash against gay people that spread across the country, but the energy that so many of us felt, and the activism that we engaged in to fight the hatred. That was in the Seventies. Though we have come a long way, we are still fighting, and the backlash had a positive side to it, as painful and depressing as it was. But what has been happening in Russia also reminds me of the destruction of the gay community and the turning back of rights under the Nazis. We have to always be vigilant.

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