A placard reading "LGBT Fight for Your Rights" with Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen at a Berlin protest.

A protester holds a sign with Russian President Vladimir Putin's image and urging LGBTQ+ Russians to fight for their rights, during an August 2013 demonstration in Berlin, Germany following the passage of the so-called "gay propaganda" ban.

(Photo: Marco Fieber/flickr/cc)

Outrage After Russia Outlaws 'International LGBT Movement'

"This is real repression. There is panic in Russia's LGBT community," said one gay official in St. Petersburg. "People are emigrating urgently."

In a decision that Amnesty International decried as "shameful and absurd," Russia's Supreme Court on Thursday banned the "international LGBT movement"—which critics noted doesn't actually exist—as an "extremist organization," a move human rights groups said will subject the country's already oppressed queer community to further repression.

During a closed hearing, Russia's highest court sided with the country's Justice Ministry, which earlier this month filed a lawsuit accusing the "LGBT movement" of fomenting social and religious discord.

LGBTQ+ advocates said the ruling will effectively silence queer activism in a country that banned so-called "gay propaganda" a decade ago, one of numerous legal attacks on gay rights including a law signed in July by Russian President Vladimir Putin prohibiting gender-affirming healthcare and stripping transgender people of marriage and parental rights.

"Russian authorities should immediately end this perverse persecution of LGBT people and concerned countries should support LGBT people and their advocates facing extreme risks and persecution in Russia," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement.

According to HRW:

Under Russian criminal law, participating in or financing an extremist organization is punishable by up to 12 years in prison. A person found guilty of displaying such groups' symbols faces up to 15 days in detention for the first offense and up to four years in prison for a repeat offense. The authorities may include individuals suspected of involvement with an extremist organization in the countrywide "list of extremists" and freeze their bank accounts. People deemed to be involved with an extremist organization are barred from running for public office.

Tanya Lokshina, HRW's associate Europe and Central Asia director, asserted that the court's move "apparently serves a dual purpose."

"It is meant to increase the scapegoating of LGBT people to appeal to the Kremlin's conservative supporters before the March 2024 presidential vote and to paralyze the work of rights groups countering discrimination and supporting LGBT people," she said.

Sergei Troshin, a municipal deputy in St. Petersburg who came out as gay last year, told the BBC that he thinks the court's ruling "will mean that anyone whom the state considers an LGBT activist could receive a long prison sentence for 'participating in an extremist organization.'"

"For the organizer of such a group, the prison term will be even longer," he added. "This is real repression. There is panic in Russia's LGBT community. People are emigrating urgently. The actual word we're using is evacuation. We're having to evacuate from our own country. It's terrible."

Since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, the Kremlin has increasingly touted "traditional values" as a bulwark against "degrading" Western cultural influences. An expanded version of the 2013 "gay propaganda" law is currently advancing in Russia's State Duma, the lower house of the country's Federal Assembly.

The advocacy group Rainbow Europe this year ranked Russia the third-worst European nation for LGBTQ+ rights, ahead of only Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Yan Dvorkin, an exiled Russian transgender activist who heads the advocacy group Center T, told Al Jazeera that the court's ruling marks a "new low point of insanity."

Dvorkin said that since Russia is "losing the war" in Ukraine, many Russians are "very frustrated and dissatisfied with the government."

"It's very easy to take that anger out on LGBTQ people," he added.

Vitaly Milonov, a notoriously homophobic member of the State Duma from the ruling United Russia party, told the BBC that the Supreme Court ruling is "not about sexual minorities or the private life of individuals."

"It's more about the political agenda proclaimed by this LGBT international movement," he said.

"And I'm looking forward to the next step: banning the six-color rainbow flag," Milonov added. "We don't need this flag. It's a symbol of the fight with the traditional family. I hope that no one can show this flag in Russia."

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