Op-ed originally appeared in The Advocate.
Investigations. Harassment. Secret recordings. Arrests. Violence. These terms evoke powerful memories of brutal regimes that fill the pages of history books with reigns of terror, persecution, and violence.
Sadly, these horrors are not relegated to a dark and long-closed chapter. They represent the very real dangers that LGBT people face each and every day in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Monday marks the one-year anniversary of Putin’s horrific anti-LGBT “propaganda” legislation. After being unanimously approved by the Russian Duma and condemned by the international community, the law — and the homophobic and transphobic cultural debate that swirled around it — has fueled an appalling backlash against LGBT Russians.
In a new report, released by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, we document some of the many instances of fines, investigations, harassment, and violence that have followed in the wake of the law’s passage.
The wide array of incidents we outline range from the frightening to the farcical. Moscow’s largest gay club was subjected to poisonous gas attacks and other frightening assaults before being forced to temporarily close and then permanently relocate. Activists attempting to hold a pride march were openly beaten in the street and had their signs set on fire. A gay St. Petersburg man lost sight in one eye after an LGBT organization was assaulted by masked men with air rifles. LGBT citizens are leaving Russia in droves and many Western nations, including the U.S., are seeing an uptick in asylum requests.
At least three individuals and one news outlet have been convicted and fined under the antipropaganda law, and an increasingly mystifying array of targets are now under investigation. These include a 14-year-old girl who came out to her class, a number of children’s books and games deemed too pro-LGBT, and even a children’s puppet show featuring a pillow as its main character.
The anti-LGBT witch hunt has been all too serious for many LGBT Russians and their allies. Pro-LGBT teachers have been targeted by online vigilante groups and fired for their beliefs, and college professors report being pressured to drop their activism or risk losing their jobs.
One year on from the signing of the antipropaganda law, as the attention of many around the world has moved on, the persecution of LGBT citizens persists as a daily reality in Russia. Today we must renew our commitment to solidarity with Russian LGBT activists and individuals, as well as to those around the world who continue to struggle to bring greater acceptance and equality to their own nations.