Russia’s Supreme Court has effectively outlawed LGBTQ activism and advocacy in a landmark ruling on Thursday, delivering a devastating blow to the embattled community in an increasingly conservative country.
The ruling allows authorities to prosecute activists under Russia’s controversial law against "LGBT propaganda", and openly identifies the LGBTQ movement as "extremist", potentially leading to widespread criminalization of routine activities.
Supreme Court Upholds Legal Request to Ban LGBT Movement
Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the authorities’ request to designate the LGBT movement as an "extremist" organization and ban its activities in the country.
The ruling formally prohibits any public promotion of LGBTQ relationships or community events. Activists say it essentially outlaws their existence in public life.
"From the text of the ruling it is absolutely unclear what LGBT people can say, what they can do. This uncertainty is dangerous because people are scared to do anything at all now," said Tatyana Glushkova, a lawyer defending LGBTQ activists.
The ruling came after Russian authorities asked the court to ban the "LGBT network" and "Rainbow House" activist groups under the country’s anti-extremism laws. However the court instead issued a sweeping nationwide ban on the broader LGBTQ movement and any public activism or information sharing.
Human rights groups heavily criticized the ruling as oppressive and intentionally vague:
"The Russian authorities have essentially criminalized any public expression of LGBTQ identity. Their goal is clearly to bully LGBTQ people back into the closet and deny their very existence. The extremism label they’ve given to the LGBTQ movement puts anyone even suspected of activism at risk of prosecution and imprisonment," said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Concerns Over Spreading Persecution and Abuse
LGBTQ advocates fear the court ruling will encourage authorities and vigilante groups to more aggressively persecute sexual minorities in Russia. They warn it could lead to widespread sham trials and false convictions that would be difficult to overturn.
"When we’re gone they’ll come for you," said LGBTQ activist Mazepova Marya, warning that the repression could spread beyond just the LGBTQ community over time.
There are also concerns that labeling LGBTQ rights as "extremist" cultivates hatred and abuse at a societal level:
"It is a classic case of scapegoating. The ruling cements existing widespread animus and discrimination against LGBT persons in Russia,” said Tanya Lokshina, associate director for Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division.
Under the amended law, even waving an LGBTQ flag or wearing rainbow symbols risks prosecution. Something as simple as holding hands with a same-sex partner in public could also lead to jail time.
Authorities Declare Open Season on Vulnerable Minorities
Many LGBTQ advocates see the ruling as part of a broader shift towards social conservatism in Russia, as the Kremlin seeks to shore up support from religious and traditionalist groups. The war in Ukraine has accelerated the trend, as authorities promote “traditional values” to consolidate power domestically.
“The Kremlin is criminalizing LGBT lives. The world must step up," writes prominent LGBTQ activist Igor Kochetkov in the Moscow Times. He argues the Russian state is effectively declaring open season on vulnerable minorities to divert attention from other problems.
A survey on public attitudes shows just 25% of Russians support equal rights for LGBTQ persons. The remainder either want restrictions or an outright ban on their activism and community events. However human rights advocates argue constitutional rights should not be subject to a popularity contest.
What Happens Next
By formally designating the LGBTQ movement as extremist, Russian authorities now have wide latitude to increase enforcement. Police raids, surveillance, arrests, and prosecutions are expected to ramp up dramatically for suspected LGBTQ advocates and community event organizers.
Some activists are planning to launch a mirror "International LGBT Movement" in response, but its legal status would be highly questionable after this ruling.
With same-sex marriages also now banned in Russia’s constitution, few legal options remain for the nation’s embattled LGBTQ community. Most will be forced back into secrecy, while a brave few may continue to quietly resist at great personal risk.
International pressure is rising however, with widespread condemnation of Russia’s regressive hostility towards sexual minorities. It remains to be seen whether cross-border activism or sanctions over human rights issues might influence decision making in Moscow.
For now though, Russia’s LGBTQ community will be left fighting for survival as the sweeping Supreme Court ban relegates them back to the shadows.
Tables Comparing Situation Over Time
|LGBTQ Rights & Activism in Russia – 2012
|LGBTQ Rights & Activism in Russia – 2022
Activism allowed with some restrictions | All activism and public events now banned |
Information sharing & online communities OK | Information sharing now treated as illegal "LGBT propaganda" |
Pride permitted if approved by authorities | Public display of LGBTQ symbols illegal |
Same-sex activity legalized | LGBTQ relationships not legally recognized |
Movement classified under NGO laws | LGBTQ movement formally classified as "extremist" |
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