The rights of homosexuals in the Russian Federation continue to be restricted. Since last January, a new law is in place in which it has become illegal for Russian transsexuals and transvestites to drive a car.
The law applies to all those who 'show mental and behavioural problems". This also includes people with a different sexual orientation, fetishists, exhibitionists, sadomasochists and paedophiles. The law aims to reduce the number of fatal traffic accidents. Since 2013, there are also prison sentences in place on "gay propaganda". In addition to this, there is a law that prohibits LGBTs to adopt Russian children. But homophobia does not exist in the Russian Federation. Those are the words spoken by President Vladimir Putin in his speech at the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in December 2014.
The president also claimed that many countries, including the United States of America, are much more homophobic than the Russian Federation. Vladimir Putin had to defend his policy with regard to the gay propaganda law to the Human Rights Council. This law prohibits discussing homosexuality in the presence of minors. Gay couples are also not allowed to adopt, marry, demonstrate, unite and advocate equal rights, and teachers are fired for being homosexual.
Mr Putin said that his country is not against gay people, but that it favours traditional relationships (read: straight relationships), and that the anti-gay propaganda law is not a homophobic law, but a law to protect children. Mr Putin also pointed out that the US was hypocritical, as there are still laws in place that prohibit homosexuality in 14 states. What he apparently does not know is that the US Supreme Court made those laws unworkable in 2003. According to Mr Putin, his country is wrongly labelled homophobic. Putin: "We supposedly persecute people with a different orientation. But this is not true, as homosexuality is legal in the Russian Federation. The only thing we do is to protect the children. A society that does not do that is doomed". It is not the first time the Russian president claims there is no homophobia in his country. Yet, the many prosecutions, attacks, arrests and limitations point to the contrary.
Homosexuality in Russia
Homosexuality has been a taboo subject in Russia for a long time, also with prosecution as a result. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1917, to be re- criminalized in 1933. In 1993, homosexuality was made legal again.
The initial perspective after the October Revolution of 1917 seemed hopeful. In the first Criminal Code that the Bolsheviks implemented after the Revolution (1922), the article that made homosexual acts punishable was stricken. For the first time since 1716, homosexuality was again completely legal. The Bolsheviks chose to cross out Article 995, because they wanted to purify the law of the Old Testamental (read: religious) influences. The legalization of homosexual acts did not mean the end of the prosecution of homosexuals. In the years before the revolution, most openly homosexuals had been members of the higher classes, and therefore politically ultra-conservatives.
Therefore, the Bolsheviks presumed that homosexuality was a perversion of the bourgeois oppressors. Homosexuality was no longer considered a crime, but was seen as a medical or psychological condition that was curable. In the local press, the view surfaced that, although homosexual behaviour was no longer illegal, it should be punished as if it were contagious and would incite young people to act similarly. Despite of this negative attitude of the Bolshevik government, gay culture continued to flourish in the 1920s. In Moscow, the parks around the Boulevard Ring popular were popular meeting places, in St. Petersburg it was the Nevsky Prospekt.
This gay subculture disappeared in one swoop after Stalin's decree from 1933 in which homosexuality was criminalized again. In 1934, article 121.1 was included in the Criminal Code, re-criminalizing homosexual sex. Homosexuality was now a crime, not just against nature, but also against society. Homosexual acts were considered treason in the utopia of the Workers' State, and were punishable by up to five years in a labour camp.
On April 29, 1993, President Boris Yeltsin cancelled article 121; homosexuality was no longer a crime or even illegal. However, this did not mean that homosexuality was socially acceptable in Russian society. A survey showed that only 2.3% of surveyed Russian did not have a problem with homosexuality. The vast majority still did have a problem with it, and a considerable part of that majority thought liquidation was a suitable solution. Homophobia is still a widespread social phenomenon. In addition to this, the government also takes action against gay organisations, treating them like crime centres. Gay groups are thwarted if they wish to register, and many homosexuals are still victims of social and/or governmental violence.
In 2002, the Conservatives put forward a bill in the Duma to make homosexuality punishable again, as homosexuals were responsible for quickly spreading HIV and AIDS and for the moral decay of society. The Russian Orthodox Church (as always) is also strongly opposed to homosexuality. In 2003, an incident took place in Nizhny Novgorod. An orthodox priest married a gay couple in his chapel, after which the Russian Orthodox Church removed him from his office and levelled the chapel to the ground for being defiled. The Church characterized the ceremony as "an attack on fundamental values".
Slowly, gay subculture has started to flourish again and recover. In many cities, local groups are fighting for the rights of homosexuals. Gay discos and pubs are slowly becoming more commonplace, and their number is increasing. A pop group like T.A.T.U. (two girls with a lesbian act) has set off the debate about homosexuality again. In August 2002, there were plans to submit a bill that made discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation a criminal offence. Despite this evolution, much still needs to be done before the country can compare itself in terms of acceptance of homosexuality with Western European countries.