In a troubling turn of events, members of Russia’s LGBTQ community find themselves living under a cloud of fear as a court ruling, scheduled for Thursday, threatens to brand them as “extremists.” This ruling could set a dangerous precedent, leading to arrests and prosecutions of individuals who advocate for the rights and well-being of gay and transgender individuals.
The Russian Justice Ministry has petitioned the Supreme Court to designate what it terms “the international LGBT social movement” as extremist and to ban its activities. The ministry’s justification revolves around vague allegations of “various signs and manifestations of extremist orientation, including the incitement of social and religious discord,” without providing concrete examples.
This move follows a pattern of restrictive measures concerning sexual orientation and gender identity, including laws that criminalize the promotion of “non-traditional” sexual relations and prohibit legal or medical gender transitions.
Alexei Sergeyev, an LGBTQ activist in St. Petersburg, expressed his concerns, stating, “Of course it’s very alarming, and I don’t remember the threat ever being so serious and real.” Sergeyev connects the Justice Ministry’s request to the upcoming presidential election, where Vladimir Putin is expected to seek and likely secure another six-year term. He suggests that this move serves a propaganda purpose and enjoys some level of support, making it a politically motivated decision.
Vladimir Putin, bolstered by the backing of the Orthodox Church, has long positioned Russia as a guardian of traditional morality, in stark contrast to Western societies that he portrays as decadent due to their tolerance of “gay parades” and acceptance of diverse gender identities.
The “extremist” designation, if approved, could be a prelude to further crackdowns. The Justice Ministry has previously published a list of over 100 “extremist” groups banned in Russia, often followed by arrests. Sergei Troshin, an openly gay municipal deputy in St. Petersburg, warns that security officials seeking advancement are likely to initiate criminal cases once the new designation is in place. The looming threat is already casting a shadow of fear over the community.
The consequences of such a designation could be dire. Activities aimed at assisting LGBTQ individuals, such as psychological and legal support or simple gatherings, may be severely restricted, if not forced underground. Sergeyev laments the potential consequences, including heightened risk of suicide, deteriorating health, and increased substance abuse among LGBTQ individuals who might find themselves trapped in this grim reality.
As the court’s decision looms, the international community watches closely, concerned about the implications for human rights and the LGBTQ community in Russia.