Promoting LGBT+ rights in Russia: The liberal view

By Nikolai Kavkazsky, member of YABLOKO Federal Council, lawyer of the Stimul Moscow LGBT+ Initiative Group and Board member of the “For the Civil Rights” Committee

After Vladimir Putin came to power, the situation with human rights in Russia began to steadily deteriorate. Repressive laws were adopted, many independent media outlets were closed, political and human rights organisations found themselves subject to intense pressure, an administrative resource has been used in elections and voting results have often been falsified. Thousands of political prisoners are in prisons convicted for their participation in peaceful actions and commentaries in social networks. The authorities even resort to political murders of their opponents. Simultaneously, the ruling regime has been fueling hatred against the dissenting and LGBT+ with the help of television propaganda.

Discrimination of LGBT+ has been a part of the systematic curtailment of human rights and democratic freedoms in the country. Since mid 2000s, the government has restricted freedom of assembly for the LGBT+ community. Public actions of the LGBT+ community are prohibited. In recent years, the police began to prohibit rainbow flags in all-democratic public actions. There is a problem of discrimination against LGBT+ communities in the workplace and in educational institutions. Hate crimes are committed against LGBT+, but the police do not take into account the homophobic motive in the investigation of such crimes. Discriminatory laws prohibiting freedom of speech for LGBT+ and restricting their right to adopt children have also been adopted.

The most acute issue is the situation in Chechnya, where the authorities have taken the course towards the genocide of the LGBT+ community. According to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, if people are suspected of belonging to LGBT+, the authorities keep them in secret prisons, torture them and kill them. The same persecutions against LGBT+ are undertaken by their relatives under pressure from the authorities and ultra-conservative traditions.

YABLOKO is the only large political party protecting the rights of the LGBT + community, despite the danger of conducting such human rights activities in Russia. Experience shows that the best way to protect innocent people who are being harassed for political reasons is to make the situation publicly known both domestically and internationally. The party demanded that law enforcement agencies immediately investigate the murder of LGBT+ representatives and called on foreign countries to provide asylum to people who were in danger. Activists of the YABLOKO Youth Faction went out to an action under the slogan “Stop Genocide in Chechnya” and conducted it on the bridge named after the President of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov.

We have always taken part in the actions in support of LGBT+ community: we have analyzed films dedicated to this issue in the central office of our party and discussed them, took part in the week against homophobia in Moscow and organised street actions. The Yabloko faction in the St. Petersburg parliament tried to achieve the abolition of the odious law banning propaganda of homosexuality at the regional level, but the bill was not supported by the deputies from other factions. Support for LGBT+ community rights is also contained in the party’s election documents.

In 2016, the Communist Party faction in the State Duma initiated a bill banning the “coming out”, i.e., banning public expression of feelings for same-sex couples, according to which “public expression of unconventional feelings” is punishable by a fine or even an administrative arrest. Yabloko immediately appealed to the office of the Communist Party with a poster depicting the famous kiss of the USSR leader Leonid Brezhnev and the GDR leader Erich Honecker with the inscription reading: “The Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev is ashamed of you.” While Yabloko representatives were not allowed into the office of the communist party, the action created a huge momentum and drew significant attention to the absurdity of the bill.

Unfortunately, Russian society is atomized, fears the government and does not fight for its rights. In my opinion, our party will only be able to effectively defend human rights (and the rights of LGBT+ inclusive) when civil society becomes more active and a mass democratic upswing begins. This requires systematic work on conducting public-awareness campaigns and education. There is a need for constant discussion on the topic in Russia, even if it is regarded as unpopular- and I am proud that the Yabloko party has become such a political force on the national level.