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Facing a panel of human rights activists last December, Vladimir Putin awkwardly defended Russia’s notorious legal ban on homosexual “propaganda.” While admitting that human rights abuses had occurred, he argued that the law was part of Russia’s “strategic choice” to protect traditional relationships, and that a “balanced approach,” where people neither “bother” nor “exclude” each other, is best for Russia.
As “balanced” as Putin purports the Kremlin’s policy to be, it has set off a wave of anti-LGBT sentiment in Russia. Discrimination and hate towards the LGBT community have skyrocketed following the adoption of the 2013 law, which human rights activists have called out for having intentionally “broad and vague wording” and for “violating right to freedom of expression.” A single web search will show that Russia’s LGBT community has a wide and thriving presence online, but what it won’t reveal is that the Internet is quickly becoming a battleground in the Kremlin and Russian conservative lobby’s assault on the LGBT community.
Origins and Successes
The legalization of homosexuality in 1993 and the advent of the Internet contributed to an explosion of gay dating and social networks in Russia. Gay online websites provided an opportunity for LGBT individuals to be part of a community while being relatively free from pressure to publicly identify themselves and from the threat of homophobic violence.
Today, a large variety of LGBT dating sites exists, with both Russian and foreign websites widely used by the community members. While enclaves within St. Petersburg and Moscow provide safe public spaces, in smaller and/or more socially conservative cities the Internet may be the only connection people have to the broader LGBT community in Russia. Though some Russians have reported that these dating sites are not worth the time and effort, the sites continue to be popular in Russia, with some sites like qguys.ru hosting nearly 300,000 active profiles.
Dating apps like Grindr are also popular, although they often come with privacy issues: in 2014, after a flaw in the Grindr location feature was exposed, a blogger reported locating many Grindr users within Russia, including several active Grindr profiles within the Kremlin itself.
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