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Russia tightens LGBTQ+ law in clampdown on beleaguered community

"Homophobes now openly compare LGBT people with fascists and Nazis," says a spokesman for a support group.

As if there weren't other things for Russian MPs to worry about nine months into the Kremlin's war with Ukraine.

But as their president seeks to exalt traditional Russian values above what he has called the "outright Satanism" of the West, his parliament has adopted in the second reading a bill that further tightens the screws on Russia's beleaguered LGBTQ+ community.

Legislation introduced in 2013 which banned the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors has been expanded to incorporate all age groups.

That means that films, literature, journalism, advertising - anything which actively promotes the notion of non-traditional sexual relations or which advocates a change of gender will be punishable with hefty fines.

Those can reach up to 400,000 rubles for individuals (£5,500) or five million rubles for legal entities (£70,000).

Foreign citizens found to have violated the law will face expulsion from the Russian Federation.

How lawmakers plan to implement the new law remains to be seen, whether with a flood of cases or simply by scaring people into self-censorship.

"There are so many pieces of law now and this obviously won't be the last," says Vladimir Komov from Delo LGBT which provides legal assistance to the LGBT community.

"We partly hope that by resisting and not hiding we will be able to stop the system. It simply won't be able to cope with the number of cases."

Delo LGBT is one of the few remaining LGBT support groups in Russia. Others have been labelled foreign agents and have left the country.

It is not clear how many tens of thousands from the LGBT community have fled since 24 February, especially given the fear of mobilisation into the notoriously homophobic Russian armed forces but Mr Komov says he needs to defend the rights of those who stay.

He is worried that the new legislation will worsen trends of violence, forced outing, catfishing and extortion of Russia's LGBT community and provide a permissive environment for ever-worsening hate speech.

"Homophobes now openly compare LGBT people with fascists and Nazis," Mr Komov says.

"Since February, LGBT changed from ordinary opponents who were created as targets of the state ideology, a homophobic ideology by the way, and we became almost the main enemy."

Despite the growing restrictions, the gay scene in cities like Moscow, St Petersburg or Sochi over the past decade was pretty vibrant. Gay clubs were packed. There would be no markings or advertising, but they weren't hard to find.

Domestic homophobia, if anything, was on the wane, especially amongst a younger demographic.

"I was born in the year 2000 and most of my peers are LGBT friendly or they have a neutral attitude," says Robert, who lives as an openly gay man in Moscow.

"Most of them just don't get the reason why we need this ban and it sounds incredible to them that you can lure someone into being gay by propaganda."

Russia's parliamentarians are largely 40 plus at least, and they are legislating on behalf of younger generations, many of whom have grown up seeing things differently. One good illustration is the book that topped the bestseller lists this summer.

Summer in a Pioneer Tie tells the story of a romance between a teenage boy and his 19-year-old male group leader at a Soviet pioneer camp.

Labelled 18+ in accordance with existing laws, it has nevertheless picked up a massive teenage following, the associated hashtag #lpvg racking up 317 million views at present count on TikTok.

"We must do everything to protect our children and those who want to live a normal life," said the speaker of the Russian parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, as lawmakers voted on the bill.

"Everything else is sin, sodomy, darkness and our country is fighting this."

But by banning any so-called LGBT propaganda, Russia's lawmakers run the risk of making it a lot more alluring to a younger generation who may find the endless rhetoric around traditional values wearing.


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