This week the European Court of Human Rights has found the Russian government to be in violation of the human right to freedom of association. Consequently, the government has paid 42,500 euros in damages to three LGBTQ+ not for profit organisations: The Rainbow House, the Movement for Marriage Equality, and the Sochi Pride House. These organisations have attempted to register themselves with the Russian authorities, however, the government has denied their applications sighting that in doing so would conflict with Russia’s 2013 ‘Gay Propaganda Law’.
The view of the government towards these organisations is that they will “destroy the moral values of society” and “undermine [Russia’s] sovereignty and territorial integrity…by decreasing its population”. The government has further construed LGBT+ rights activities as “gay propaganda” and said the work of the organisations amounted to “extremist activities”.
Originally the three not-for-profits had appealed the decision within Russia’s regional courts. However, these courts sided with the government with the Pervomayskiy District Court ruling that the refusal to register the Sochi Pride House, an organization formed to combat homophobia in sports ahead of the 2014 winter Olympics is “lawful and justified”. The Court further stated that the “aims of combating homophobia and creating positive attitudes towards LGBT+ sportspeople are incompatible with basic morality as they may lead to increasing the number of citizens belonging to sexual minorities, thereby undermining the conception of good and evil, of sin and virtue”.
Much is to be said in regards to Russia’s gay propaganda laws, formerly known as the law “aimed at protecting children from information promoting the denial of traditional family values”. This is a classic example of political homophobia a past which Russia has grappled with multiple times and therefore the law needs to be repealed if any progress is to occur in Russia. This law is aimed at minimising the level of access children in Russia have to information pertaining to LGBT+ lifestyles, which includes a ban on materials being disseminated via the press, tv, radio and the internet. This shut down of information has also included limiting the access to mental health referral services for children and discouraged support groups and mental health professionals from addressing LGBT+ issues with children. Consequently, the Russian government has essentially prevented any advocacy for the rights of sexual minorities. This is divisive causing rhetoric and does nothing but to enhance stigma against LGBT+ people as well as excluding them from society as a whole. Already, the law has seen harassment and violence against LGBT+ people increase – back in February a Russian neo-Nazi group released a video advocating for violence against LGBT+ people, thereby highlighting the very real threat of hate crimes.
Not having access to information or not allowing support of sexual minorities can only cause higher rates of depression and anxiety amongst youth. This denial of access to information requires global condemnation, for the process of ‘coming out’ for these minorities as well as understanding these feelings is difficult enough when they are not shown in mainstream media. To then not have access to mental health counselling is allowing children to suffer in their insecurities and anxieties. Already, the law has been condemned by various human rights organisations globally, including the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe and others. Just recently, Human Rights Watch praised the European Court of Human Rights outcome and reiterated its call for the propaganda law to be repealed.
These propaganda laws have not only affected organizations, but recently President Putin and Sir Elton John have shared a dispute over the film Rocketman, a biopic of Sir Elton John’s life. In Russia, the film has been heavily censored to avoid any homosexual references. In an interview with the Financial Times Putin stated that Russia “has no problems with LGBT persons…God forbid, let them live as they wish…let everyone be happy”. However, over Twitter Sir Elton John outlined the duplicity in these comments by highlighting that the Russian removal of these references diminished “my finding true happiness through my 25-year relationship with David and the raising of my two beautiful sons.” He said “this feels like hypocrisy to me.”
Russia currently holds a less than impressive human rights record. As the world continues to progress and lose hold of these biases we can again reunite as a society. Support matters, children need to be supported and require information to understand their emotions and feelings towards certain stigma. By disallowing them access to a state of being in which they have little control over is harmful. For Russia to continue this abhorrent treatment of sexual minorities is a huge step backwards for global human rights.