Why Is Russia So Homophobic?

Published: June 12, 2013

The Russian Duma unanimously approved a law on Tuesday that prohibits the distribution of homosexual "propaganda" to minors. Holding gay pride events, speaking in defense of gay rights, or equating gay and heterosexual relationships can now result in fines of up to $31,000.

Before the vote, gay rights activists who attempted to hold a "kiss-in" outside the Duma were pelted with eggs by Orthodox Christian and pro-Kremlin activists. Anti-gay protesters also gathered, with one holding a sign that read: "Lawmakers, protect the people from perverts!"

The argument that a young person can be "propagandized" into turning gay may seem outdated (not to mention an overestimation of the power of propaganda), but it’s actually not out of place in modern Russia.

"Children maimed by pedophiles jump out of windows, they take their own lives. Pedophilia is an attempt on a child’s life!" cried one St. Petersburg lawmaker when a similar ban in that city passed last year, seemingly confusing homosexuality and child molestation. Madonna was recently sued for speaking in favor of gay rights during a St. Petersburg concert. When a 23-year-old man in Volgograd revealed he was gay to some drinking companions last month, they beat him, shoved beer bottles in his anus, and crushed his head with a stone.

In the Soviet Union, homosexuality was a crime punishable by prison and hard labor, and Stalinist anti-gay policies persisted throughout the 60s and 70s. Gays were considered "outsiders," and homosexuality was thought to be the domain of pedophiles and fascists.

Measures like the propaganda ban show that many Russians still haven’t shed that view, even decades after the fall of the regime that kept homophobia in place.

"When the Stalin anti-homosexual law was repealed in 1993, there was no amnesty for those still sitting in prison for sodomy," wrote history professor Dan Healey, an expert on homosexuality in Russia, on Facebook.

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