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Russian gay propaganda law

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Gay propaganda law
Emblem of the State Duma of the Russian Federation.png
State Duma
For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values
Date passed 11 June 2013
Date enacted 30 June 2013
Introduced by Yelena Mizulina
Related legislation
On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development
Prohibits exposure of minors to homonormative material.
Gay propaganda
Gay rights movement
Child protection
Status: Current legislation

The Russian federal law "for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values", also known in English-language media as the gay propaganda law[1][2] and the anti-gay law,[3][4][5][6] is a bill that was unanimously approved by the State Duma on 11 June 2013 (with just one MP abstaining—Ilya Ponomarev),[5] and was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin on 30 June 2013.[4]

The Russian government's stated purpose for the law is to protect children from being exposed to content recognizing homosexuality as being a norm in society, under the argument that it contradicts traditional family values. The statute amended the country's child protection law and the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses, to make the distribution of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" among minors, an offense punishable by fines. This definition includes materials that "raises interest in" such relationships; cause minors to "form non-traditional sexual predispositions"; or "[present] distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships." Businesses and organizations can also be forced to temporarily cease operations if convicted under the law, and foreigners may be arrested and detained for up to 15 days then deported, or fined up to 5,000 rubles and deported.

The Kremlin's backing of the law appealed to the Russian nationalist far right, but gained broad support among the Russian populace. The law was condemned by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe (of which Russia is a member), by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and by human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The statute was criticized for its broad and ambiguous wording (including the aforementioned "raises interest in" and "among minors"), which many critics characterized as being an effective ban on publicly promoting the rights and culture of the LGBT community. The law was also criticized for leading to an increase and justification of homophobic violence,[7] while the implications of the laws in relation to the then-upcoming Winter Olympics being hosted by Sochi were also cause for concern, as the Olympic Charter contains language explicitly barring various forms of discrimination.

However, some felt that critics had overreacted to the law, noting that unlike some countries with stricter anti-LGBT legislation, it did not criminalize same-sex relationships, sexual activity, or being associated with pro-LGBT organizations.


Yelena Mizulina, author of the law

Despite the fact that the cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg have been well known for their thriving LGBT communities, there has been growing opposition towards gay rights among politicians since 2006.[8] The city of Moscow has actively refused to authorize gay pride parades, and former Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov supported the city's refusal to authorize the first two Moscow Pride events, describing them as "satanic" and blaming western groups for spreading "this kind of enlightenment" in the country.[9][10][11] Fair Russia member of parliament Alexander Chuev was also opposed to gay rights and attempted to introduce a similar "propaganda" law in 2007. In response, prominent LGBT rights activist and Moscow Pride founder Nikolay Alexeyev disclosed on the television talk show К барьеру! that Chuev had been publicly involved in same-sex relationships prior to his time in office.[12]

In 2010, Russia was fined by the European Court of Human Rights under allegations by Alexeyev that cities were discriminating against gays by refusing to approve pride parades. Although claiming a risk of violence, the court interpreted the decisions as being in support of groups which oppose such demonstrations.[13] In March 2012, a Russian judge blocked the establishment of a Pride House in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, ruling that it would "undermine the security of Russian society", and that it contradicted with public morality and policies "in the area of family motherhood and childhood protection."[14] In August 2012, Moscow upheld a ruling blocking Nikolay Alexeyev's requests for 100 years' worth of permission to hold Moscow Pride annually, citing the possibility of public disorder.[15][16]

The bill "On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development" introduced laws which prohibited the distribution of "harmful" material among minors. This includes content which "may elicit fear, horror, or panic in children" among minors, pornography, along with materials which glorify violence, unlawful activities, substance abuse, or self-harm. An amendment to the law passed in 2012 instituted a mandatory content rating system for material distributed through an "information and telecommunication network" (covering television and the internet), and established a blacklist for censoring websites which contain child pornography or content glorifying drug abuse and suicide.[17][18][19][20][21]

The 2013 amendment, which added "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" as a class of harmful content under the law was, according to the Government of Russia, intended to protect children from being exposed to content that portrays homosexuality as being a "behavioural norm". Emphasis was placed upon a goal to protect "traditional" family values; bill author Yelena Mizulina (the chair of the Duma's Committee on Family, Women, and Children, who has been described by some as a "moral crusader"),[6][22][23] argued that "traditional" relations between a man and a woman required special protection under Russian law.[4][21][24][25] The amendment also expanded upon similar laws enacted by several Russian regions, including Ryazan, Arkhangelsk (who repealed its law shortly after the passing of the federal version), and Saint Petersburg.[26]

Mark Gevisser writes that the Kremlin's backing of the law was reflective of a "dramatic tilt toward homophobia" in Russia that began in the years preceding the law's passage.[27] Gevisser writes that the law's passage allowed the Russian government to find "common ground" with the nationalist far right, and also appeal to the many Russians who view "homosexuality as a sign of encroaching decadence in a globalized era."[27] He writes: "Many Russians feel they can steady themselves against this cultural tsunami by laying claim to 'traditional values,' of which rejection of homosexuality is the easiest shorthand. This message plays particularly well for a government wishing to mobilize against demographic decline (childless homosexuals are evil) and cozy up to the Russian Orthodox Church (homosexuals with children are evil)."[27]


Article 1 of the bill amended On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development with a provision classifying "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" as a class of materials that must not be distributed among minors. The term is defined as materials that are "[aimed] at causing minors to form non-traditional sexual predispositions, notions of attractiveness of non-traditional sexual relationships, distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships, or imposing information about non-traditional sexual relationships which raises interest in such relationships insofar as these acts do not amount to a criminal offence." Article 2 makes similar amendments to "On basic guarantees for the rights of the child in the Russian Federation", commanding the government to protect children from such material.[21]

Article 3 of the bill amended the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses with Article 6.21, which prescribes penalties for violations of the propaganda ban: Russian citizens found guilty can receive fines of up to 5,000 rubles, and public officials can receive fines of up to 50,000 rubles. Organizations or businesses can be fined up to 1 million rubles and be forced to cease operations for up to 90 days. Foreigners may be arrested and detained for up to 15 days then deported, or fined up to 5,000 rubles and deported. The fines for individuals are much higher if the offense was committed using mass media or internet.[21]


Activists painted the pedestrian pavement in front of the Russian Embassy in Finland with rainbow colours to protest Russian's anti-LGBT sentiment and legislation.

According to a survey conducted in June 2013 by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (also known as VTsIOM), at least 90 percent of Russians surveyed were in favour of the law.[8] Over 100 conservative groups worldwide signed a petition in support for the law, with Larry Jacobs, manager of the World Congress of Families, supporting its aim to "prohibit advocacy aimed at involving minors in a lifestyle that would imperil their physical and moral health."[28] President of Russia Vladimir Putin answered to early objections to the then-proposed bill in April 2013 by stating that "I want everyone to understand that in Russia there are no infringements on sexual minorities' rights. They're people, just like everyone else, and they enjoy full rights and freedoms".[29] He went on to say that he fully intended to sign the bill because the Russian people demanded it.[24] As he put it, "Can you imagine an organization promoting pedophilia in Russia? I think people in many Russian regions would have started to take up arms.... The same is true for sexual minorities: I can hardly imagine same-sex marriages being allowed in Chechnya. Can you imagine it? It would have resulted in human casualties."[24] Putin also mentioned that he was concerned about Russia's low birth rate, as same-sex relationships do not produce children.[30] In August 2013, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko also defended the law, equating it to protecting children from content that glorifies alcohol abuse or drug addiction. He also argued that the controversy over the law and its effects was "invented" by the Western media.[31]


The passing of the law was met with major international backlash, especially from the Western world, as critics considered it an attempt to effectively ban the promotion of LGBT rights and culture in the country. Article 19 disputed the claimed intent of the law, and felt that many of the terms used within were too ambiguous, such as the aforementioned "non-traditional sexual relationships", and "raises interest in". The organization argued that it "feasibly could apply to any information regarding sexual orientation or gender identity that does not fit with what the State considers as in-line with 'tradition'." The use of the term "among minors" was also criticized, as it was unclear whether it refers to being in the presence of minors, or any place where minors could be present, arguing that "predicting the presence of children in any space, on-line or off-line, is quite impossible and is a variable that the proponent of any expression will rarely be in absolute control of."[21]

The law was condemned by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe (of which Russia is a member),[32] by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child,[33] and by human rights groups such as Amnesty International[34][35] and Human Rights Watch.[36] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon indirectly criticized the law.[37]

LGBT rights activists, human rights activists, and other critics stated that the broad and vague wording of the law, which was characterized as a ban on gay propaganda by the media, made it a crime to publicly make statements or distribute materials in support of LGBT rights, hold pride parades or similar demonstrations,[38] state that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships, or according to Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Chad Griffin, even display LGBT symbols such as the rainbow flag or kiss a same-sex partner in public.[3][24][39][40] The first arrest made under the law involved a person who publicly protested with a sign containing a pro-LGBT message.[41]

The legislation led to an increase in violence against LGBT people in Russia.[42] Russian LGBT Network chairman Igor Kochetkov argued that the law "[has] essentially legalised violence against LGBT people, because these groups of hooligans justify their actions with these laws," supported by their belief that gays and lesbians are "not valued as a social group" by the federal government. Reports surfaced of activity by groups such as 'Occupy Paedophilia' and 'Parents of Russia', who lured alleged "paedophiles" into "dates" where they were tortured and humiliated.[7] In August 2013, it was reported that a gay teenager was kidnapped, tortured, and killed by a group of Russian Neo-Nazis. Violence also increased during pro-gay demonstrations; on 29 July 2013, a gay pride demonstration at Saint Petersburg's Field of Mars resulted in a violent clash between activists, protesters, and police.[43][44][45]

In January 2014, a letter, co-written by chemist Sir Harry Kroto and actor Sir Ian McKellen and co-signed by 27 Nobel laureates from the fields of science and the arts, was sent to Vladimir Putin urging him to repeal the propaganda law as it "inhibits the freedom of local and foreign LGBT communities."[2] In February 2014, the activist group Queer Nation announced a planned protest in New York City outside the Russian consulate on 6 February 2014, timed to coincide with the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics.[46] The same day, gay rights group All Out similarly coordinated worldwide protests in London, New York City, Paris, and Rio de Janeiro.[47] On 8 February 2014, a flash mob was held in Cambridge, England featuring same-sex couples embracing and hugging, as part of a video project known as "From Russia With Love".[48]

Writing for The Guardian, Marc Bennetts argued that criticism of the law by foreign outlets had ties to anti-Russian sentiment; describing their response as being "both hysterical and hypocritical", he acknowledged that countries had been inconsistent on their treatment of other countries for their stances on LGBT rights. He noted that Russia's laws did not ban LGBT relationships as a whole, and did not go as far as those in other countries, such as India—which had recently reinstated a ban on same-sex sexual activity, and Nigeria, which criminalized same-sex marriage with sentences of up to 14 years' imprisonment, and membership in pro-gay groups with up to 10 years' imprisonment. In conclusion, he stated that "in reality, there is little the west can do to influence Russia, on gay rights or anything else. But to stand even a chance, criticism needs to be measured, accurate and, above all, consistent. There are enough reasons to disapprove of Putin's authoritarian regime without resorting to hyperbole and falsehoods."[49][50]

The TV documentary Stephen Fry: Out There explored gay rights and homophobia in numerous countries in the world, including Russia.[51] In it, Fry interviews a lesbian couple who discuss their fears that simply being out to their 16-year-old daughter and her friends could be taken as breaking this law,[52][53] due to the law's prohibition "on anyone disseminating information about homosexuality to under 18s".[54] The LGBT news magazine The Advocate described the law as criminalising "any positive discussion of LGBT people, identities, or issues in forums that might be accessible to minors. In practice, the law has given police broad license to interpret almost any mention of being LGBT – whether uttered, printed, or signified by waving a rainbow flag – as just cause to arrest LGBT people."[55] The US State Department in its 2013 report on human rights in Russia noted the clarification from Roskomnadzor (the Russian Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications) that the "gay propaganda" prohibited under the law includes materials which "directly or indirectly approve of people who are in nontraditional sexual relationships."[56] One couple interviewed by Fry said: "Of course we are afraid because we really don't know what's going to happen next in the country. ... You just don't know if they can incarcerate you tomorrow for something or not."[52] Fry also interviewed politician Vitaly Milonov, the original proponent of the law, whose attempts to defend it have been strongly criticised;[51][53] Milonov responded branding Fry as "sick"[57] for making a suicide attempt while filming the documentary[58] in an interview in which he also compared homosexuality with bestiality.[57]


A number of protests were held against the law, both locally and internationally. Activists demonstrated outside New York City's Lincoln Center at the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera on 23 September 2013, which was set to feature Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. The protests targeted Tchaikovsky's own homosexuality, and the involvement of two Russians in the production; soprano Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev, as they were identified as vocal supporters of Putin's government.[59][60]

On 12 October 2013, the day following National Coming Out Day, a protest organized by at least 15 activists was held in Saint Petersburg. The protest site was occupied by a large number of demonstrators, some of whom were dressed as Russian Orthodox priests and Cossacks.[61] In total, 67 protestors were arrested for creating a public disturbance.[62]

Activists also called for a boycott of Stolichnaya vodka, who had prominently branded itself as a Russian vodka (going as far as to dub itself "[the] Mother of All Vodkas from The Motherland of Vodka" in an ad campaign). However, its Luxembourg-based parent company, Soiuzplodoimport, responded to the boycott effort, noting that the company was not technically Russian, did not support the government's opinion on homosexuality, and described itself as a "fervent supporter and friend" of LGBT people.[63]

Proposed similar laws in Kyrgyzstan[edit]

In 2014, a bill modeled after the Russian anti-gay law was proposed in the parliament of Kyrgyzstan; the measure, which "drew a welter of criticism from multiple rights groups, governments, the United Nations Human Rights Council and the European parliament," would provide for even harsher penalties than the Russian law.[64] The bill passed its first two readings by wide margins (79-7 and then 90-2) but faltered after two of legislation's lead sponsors failed to win reelection.[64][65] In 2016, the legislation was again raised in parliament, but was held up in subcommittee.[64]

Prosecutions and other effects[edit]

The first arrest made under the propaganda law occurred just hours after it was passed: 24-year-old activist Dmitry Isakov was arrested in Kazan for publicly holding a sign reading "Freedom to the Gays and Lesbians of Russia. Down With Fascists and Homophobes", and ultimately fined 4,000 rubles (US$115). Isakov had performed a similar protest in the same location the previous day as a "test" run, but was later caught in an altercation with police officers who targeted his pro-gay activism, and arrested him for swearing. He would be released without charge, but pledged to return there the next day to show that he would "not be cowed by such pressure." Isakov also claimed that he had been fired from his job at a bank as a result of the conviction.[41][66]

In December 2013, Nikolay Alexeyev and Yaroslav Yevtushenko were fined 4,000 rubles (US$115) for picketing outside a children's library in Arkhangelsk with banners reading, "Gays aren't made, they're born!" Their appeal was denied.[67] Alexeyev later criticized Western media outlets for its "biased" coverage of his conviction.[50]

In January 2014, Alexander Suturin, editor-in-chief of the Khabarovsk newspaper Molodoi Dalnevostochnik, was fined 50,000 rubles (US$1,400) for publishing a news story discussing the teacher Alexander Yermoshkin, who had been fired for self-admittedly holding "rainbow flash mobs" in Khabarovsk with his students, and was subsequently attacked by right-wing extremist groups because of his sexuality. The fine centred around a quote in the article by the teacher, who stated that his very existence was "effective proof that homosexuality is normal."[68][69][70]

Elena Klimova has been charged under the law multiple times for operating Children-404—an online support group for LGBT youth on the social networking services VKontakte and Facebook. The first of these charges was overturned in February 2014, after a court ruled in consultation with a mental health professional that the group "helps teenagers exploring their sexuality to deal with difficult emotional issues and other problems that they may encounter", and that these activities did not constitute "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" as defined under the law.[71][72] In January 2015, Klimova was sent to court for the same charges. They were overturned on appeal, only for the same court to convict Kilmova and issue a fine of 50,000 rubles in July 2015, pending an appeal.[1]

In May 2014, it was revealed that in accordance with the propaganda law, the computer game The Sims 4—a new instalment in a life simulation game franchise that has historically allowed characters to participate in same-sex relationships, had been given a "18+" rating, allowing its sale to adults only. In contrast, the pan-European ratings board PEGI has historically given The Sims games a "12" rating, while the German rating board USK had given The Sims 3 an even lower "6+" rating.[73][74][75]

In November 2014, one day after current Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook publicly announced that he was proud of being gay,[76] it was reported that an iPhone-shaped memorial honoring Apple founder Steve Jobs had been removed from a Saint Petersburg university campus by its installer, the West European Financial Union [ZEFS], which issued a press release citing the law and noting that the memorial was in an area frequented by minors.[77] However, the reports were later found to be a hoax, and the monument had actually been removed for maintenance.[78] In September 2015, Apple became the subject of an investigation by officials in Kirov for implementing emoji on its operating systems which depict same-sex relationships, over whether they may constitute a promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors.[79] Roskomnadzor later ruled that by themselves, emoji depicting same-sex couples did not constitute a violation of the propaganda law, as whether they have a positive or negative connotation depends on their actual context and usage.[80]

Effects on sports[edit]

Emma Green Tregaro (2011)
Moa Hjelmer (2007)
Emma Green Tregaro (pictured in 2011) and Moa Hjelmer (pictured in 2007) were among the first athletes to make prominent statements against the law.

The 2013 World Championships in Athletics, held at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium in August 2013, were overshadowed by comments and protests over the law by athletes. After winning a silver medal at the event, U.S. runner Nick Symmonds stated that "whether you're gay, straight, black, white, we all deserve the same rights. If there's anything I can do to champion the cause and further it, I will, shy of getting arrested."[81] Swedish athletes Emma Green Tregaro and Moa Hjelmer painted her fingernails in rainbow colors as a symbolic protest. However, Tregaro was forced to re-paint them after they were deemed a political gesture that violated the rules of the IAAF. In response, she re-painted them red as a symbol of love.[31][82] Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbaeva criticized Tregaro's gesture as being disrespectful to the host country, stating in a press conference that "we have our law which everyone has to respect. When we go to different countries, we try to follow their rules. We are not trying to set our rules over there. We are just trying to be respectful."[83] After Isinbaeva's remarks were characterized as being homophobic, she argued that her choice of words had been misinterpreted by the media, and that she was against the discrimination of gays.[84]

The implications of the law on Russia's hosting of two major international sporting events; the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (where seven LGBT athletes, all female, were expected to compete)[85] and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, were called into question. In the case of the World Cup, FIFA had recently established an anti-discrimination task force, and was also facing criticism for awarding the 2022 World Cup to the country of Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal;[86] in August 2013, FIFA requested information from the Russian government on the law and its potential effects on the association football tournament.[81] In the case of the Winter Olympics, critics considered the law to be inconsistent with the Olympic Charter, which states that "[discrimination] on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."[87] In August 2013, the International Olympic Committee "received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games", and also received word that the government would abide by the Olympic Charter.[88][89] The IOC also confirmed that it would enforce Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which forbids political protest, against athletes who make displays of support for the LGBT community at the Games.[90] Vladimir Putin also made similar assurances prior to the Games, but warned LGBT attendees that they would still be subject to the law.[91]

Athletes and supporters used the Olympics as leverage for further campaigns against the propaganda law. A number of athletes came out as lesbian, gay, or bisexual to spread awareness of the situation in Russia, including Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff,[92] Canadian speed skater Anastasia Bucsis,[93] gold medal figure skater Brian Boitano,[94] and Finnish swimmer Ari-Pekka Liukkonen.[95] There were also calls to boycott the Games, drawing comparisons to the Summer Olympics of 1980 in Moscow, the last time the Olympics were held on what is now Russian soil.[3] A campaign known as Principle 6 was established in collaboration between a group of Olympic athletes, the organizations All Out and Athlete Ally, and clothing maker American Apparel, selling merchandise (such as clothing) with a quotation from the Olympic Charter to support pro-LGBT organizations.[96] Toronto advertising copywriter Brahm Finkelstein also began to market a rainbow-coloured matryoshka doll set known as "Pride Dolls", designed by Italian artist Danilo Santino, to benefit the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association, organizers of the World OutGames.[97][98]

Action was leveraged directly against Olympic sponsors and partners as well; in late-August 2013, the Human Rights Campaign sent letters to the ten Worldwide Olympic Partner companies, urging them to show opposition towards anti-LGBT laws, denounce homophobic violence, ask the IOC to obtain written commitments for the safety of LGBT athletes and attendees, and oppose future Olympic bids from countries that outlaw support for LGBT equality.[99] In February 2014, prior to the games, a group of 40 human rights organizations (including Athlete Ally, Freedom House, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch and Russian LGBT network among others) also sent a joint letter to the Worldwide Olympic Partners, urging them to use their prominence to support the rights of LGBT athletes under the Olympic Charter, and pressure the IOC to show greater scrutiny towards the human rights abuses of future host countries.[100][101] On 3 February 2014, USOC sponsor AT&T issued a statement in support of LGBT rights at the Games, becoming the first major Olympic advertiser to condemn the laws.[102] Several major non-sponsors also made pro-LGBT statements to coincide with the opening of the Games; Google placed a quotation from the Olympic Charter and an Olympic-themed logo in the colours of the rainbow flag on its home page worldwide,[103] while Channel 4 (who serves as the official British broadcaster of the Paralympics) adopted a rainbow-coloured logo and broadcast a "celebratory", pro-LGBT advert entitled "Gay Mountain" on 7 February 2014, alongside an interview with former rugby union player and anti-homophobia activist Ben Cohen. As part of its Dispatches series, Channel 4 had also broadcast a documentary during the week of the Opening Ceremony entitled Hunted, which documented the violence and abuse against LGBT people in Russia in the wake of the law.[7][104][105]

See also[edit]


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    STEPHEN FRY: According to this new law, every day you are breaking the law by promoting homosexuality to Christina. (Olga and Irina nodding)

    OLGA (in Russian): Yes, not only Christina but her friends too! According to Mr Milinov gay families are perverts and their children are even worse. It's very insulting and hard for the kids, especially Christina. All of that was very unpleasant for her to hear.

    STEPHEN FRY: Does it actually seriously worry you that the day may come when you as a family are threatened by this new law?

    IRINA (in Russian): Of course we are afraid because we really don't know what's going to happen next in the country. There is even aggression in the streets and it is getting worse.

    OLGA (in Russian): We are living in a very difficult period of time historically.

    IRINA (in Russian):You just don't know if they can incarcerate you tomorrow for something or not. 

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