As the world’s attention has been focused on Vladimir Putin’s actions in the Ukraine, the situation inside Russia for LGBT people and organizations has been getting worse. The anti-“propaganda” law was just the beginning. Now Putin has new legal tools to oppress them with.
First, official state prosecutions and persecution of LGBT organizations has morphed and intensified. Previously, LGBT organizations were pressured to register as “foreign agents”—spies, basically—but those registrations were subject to judicial review. The results were uneven: Some courts rubber-stamped the government’s positions, but others found a lack of evidence and ruled for the LGBT organizations.
Earlier this year, says Vinnichenko, the law was quietly changed. Now the government has the power to declare an organization a foreign agent as an administrative matter. In other words, what was once a matter of law, however imperfect, is now a matter of bureaucracy. With one fell swoop—and one that can come at any moment, without warning—a gay community center, or film festival, or support group can be branded a spy.
The St. Petersburg-based LGBT organization Coming Out has been immersed in Russia’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy for months, having endured four hearings to ascertain whether it is a foreign agent. But it has endured, thanks to the rule of law. Without that protection, Coming Out would have no recourse. And once one is labeled a foreign agent, even routine administrative errors can result in criminal prosecution.
“We are being boiled in a pot,” Vinnichenko said.
The foreign agents law and the “anti-propaganda law” are really just the tip of the anti-gay iceberg, however. The newest phase of Putin’s campaign has been, ironically, privatization.
According to Vinnichenko, Russian authorities are putting pressure on all kinds of institutions—banks, landlords, employers—not to do business with LGBT people and LGBT organizations. Because licenses are required for just about everything in Russia, this “pressure” is existential. Banks are being told, “Dump your LGBT customers, or we’ll shut you down,” she said.
This, of course, makes Putin a hero to the American anti-gay bigots.