Russia’s parliament has passed the third and final reading of a law banning “LGBT propaganda” among all adults, as Moscow ramps up its conservative push at home amid the war in Ukraine that passed the nine-month mark on Thursday.
The bill criminalises any act regarded as an attempt to promote what Russia calls “non-traditional sexual relations” – in film, online, advertising or in public – and expands on a notorious 2013 law that banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” among minors and was used to detain gay rights activists.
Under the new law, individuals can be fined up to 400,000 roubles (£5,400) and organisations 5m roubles (£68,500) for “propagandising nontraditional sexual relations”, while foreigners could face up to 15 days’ arrest and expulsion from Russia.
Human rights groups and LGBTQ+ activists say the extension of the law means any act or public mention of same-sex relationships is functionally being outlawed.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is expected to sign the bill in the coming days.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the Kremlin has launched a fresh effort to promote “traditional values”, with the Russian leader making anti-gay rhetoric one of the cornerstones of his political agenda.
In a recent speech, Putin accused the west of “moving towards open satanism”, citing the promotion of gay and transgender rights in Europe as an example.
Alexander Khinshtein, a senior lawmaker and one of the bill’s designers, said the war in Ukraine had given the proposed anti-LGBTQ+ law “new relevance”.
“The special military operation takes place not only on the battlefield but also in the minds and souls of people,” Khinshtein said, referring to the conflict in Ukraine.
In an earlier discussion of the bill, Khinshtein targeted the popular children’s cartoon Peppa Pig, after a lesbian couple joined its cast of characters in an episode titled Families.
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox church and a close ally of Putin, also backed the new law. In an earlier sermon, Kirill bizarrely blamed the country’s invasion of Ukraine on gay pride parades.
Human rights activists on Thursday condemned the bill. Igor Kochetkov, the head of the rights group Russian LGBT Network, said the bill was an “absurd” government attempt to further discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community in Russia.
“This law is part of an ongoing homophobic government campaign against LGBTQ rights,” said Kochetkov, who recently left Russia. “This is part of a broader attack on anything the government deems ‘western and progressive’.”
Kochetkov said the bill was also an attempt by the Kremlin to look for internal enemies and distract attention from battlefield losses.
Human rights critics fear the law will be used to close down independent film and book festivals, making the topic of gay sexual orientation essentially taboo in Russia.
Kochetkov said the vague wording of the bill made it difficult to gauge just how restrictive the law would be. “Officials don’t explain what they mean under ‘LGBT propaganda’. At this point, it is hard to know how this will affect the community,” he said. “But the situation of the LGBTQ community was already very dire before this bill.”
Over the past few years, Russia has banned a number of prominent LGBTQ+ rights groups, including the Sphere Foundation, an organisation that shed light on violent anti-gay purges in Chechnya.
Kochetkov’s LGBT Network, with a number of other human rights groups, has also received the “foreign agent” label, a Soviet-era tag designed to target groups the authorities say receive “foreign funding” and engage in “political activity”.
But while the Russian government has expanded its attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, recent polling has indicated parts of Russian society are becoming more tolerant towards the gay community, with a 2019 poll showing that 68% of younger Russians view the LGBTQ+ community as “normal”.
And in July, Daria Kasatkina, Russia’s highest-ranked female tennis player, came out as gay, a move applauded by fellow athletes and parts of the Russian public.
Pointing to these reactions, Kochetkov said the new law would not drastically change the way Russians viewed lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people. “Many in the country are becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ community and a new law will not buck this trend,” he said.