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A new law in Russia is Putin's latest attack on LGBTQ rights

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It's been nearly a decade since Russian President Vladimir Putin's first attack on LGBTQ rights in the country, and that crackdown is intensifying. Just this week, he signed a law that makes it illegal to spread so-called propaganda about non-traditional sexual relations. It's an expansion of a similar ban that Russia instituted back in 2013. To understand some of the roots of Russia's anti-LGBTQ laws, I'm joined now by Dan Healey. He's a professor of Russian history at the University of Oxford. Welcome.

DAN HEALEY: Thank you very much.

CHANG: So I want to start with that 2013 law I just mentioned. It banned, quote, "propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia among minors." Can you talk about, how does this new law that we mentioned expand on that 2013 law?

HEALEY: It spans the same range of things, propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations, but among adults as well as minors. And it also expands the kind of venues in which this propaganda is imagined to be taking place, like on television and advertising, streaming services, the internet, and it ladders a whole series of different penalties for these different venues.

CHANG: What kind of penalties could people face if they were found to have violated this law?

HEALEY: Well, it's about $800 for an individual, up into the tens of thousands for an organization.

CHANG: Any potential prison time?

HEALEY: Prison time is there. It's mostly reserved, though, for foreigners who could be sent out of the country.

CHANG: Oh, interesting. You know, this month, Russia also expanded a crackdown on free speech and activism against the government by so-called foreign agents. Last month, Putin also issued a decree to protect, quote-unquote, "traditional Russian values." All of this is happening against the backdrop of Russia's war in Ukraine. What connections do you see between the invasion of Ukraine and these more repressive measures coming into effect in Russia?

HEALEY: Well, I think, first of all, that you can't see the anti-LGBT campaigning as separate from the war and as separate from this growing authoritarianism in Russian society. And what's really interesting about the November 9 decree from the president on the protection of traditional values is the way that it takes the initiatives of the Kremlin around traditional values and bundled them together and made them a kind of security concern. So this war is now being fought for traditional values as much as it's being fought against supposed Nazis who run Ukraine according to the Kremlin narrative.

CHANG: What's your sense of how people in Russia are responding to all of these measures that we're talking about?

HEALEY: Well, LGBT people are mostly trying to leave the country. And I think something else that's going to start happening much more and activists are talking about. This is really people going underground, people ceasing to be visible, ceasing to act in organizations, and also to go back to methods of meeting and gathering that resemble the Soviet period, really.

CHANG: It goes without saying that anti-LGBTQ laws and hate rhetoric are not unique to Russia. Why do you think certain political movements, certain groups, both in Russia, even here in the U.S., are increasingly targeting queer communities now?

HEALEY: My sense of this is that LGBT communities offer an opportunity to these political groups. They can be raised as a particularly frightening threat to your family in some way that is visceral and that is very emotive, and it motivates a base of support. And particularly where that base of support is close to religious views, there is a lot of crossover there that works for political opportunists who are using official forms of homophobia to define their political stance.

CHANG: That is Dan Healey, professor of Russian history at the University of Oxford. Thank you very much.

HEALEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mallika Seshadri
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.