LGBT rights in Russia

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LGBT rights in The Russian Federation Russia
Same-sex sexual activity legal?Decriminalised in 1917; Re-criminalised in 1933; Legal since 1993[1]
Age of consent stands at 16 since 2003
Gender identity/expressionLegal gender change since 1997[note 1]
Military serviceNon-official policy "Don't ask, don't tell" since 2003[2][3]
Discrimination protectionsNone
Family rights
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex relationships
Article 12 of Family Code de facto states that marriage is a union of a man and a woman
AdoptionNo legal restrictions to adopt by a single person[note 2]
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LGBT rights in The Russian Federation Russia
Same-sex sexual activity legal?Decriminalised in 1917; Re-criminalised in 1933; Legal since 1993[1]
Age of consent stands at 16 since 2003
Gender identity/expressionLegal gender change since 1997[note 1]
Military serviceNon-official policy "Don't ask, don't tell" since 2003[2][3]
Discrimination protectionsNone
Family rights
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex relationships
Article 12 of Family Code de facto states that marriage is a union of a man and a woman
AdoptionNo legal restrictions to adopt by a single person[note 2]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia face legal and social challenges and discrimination not experienced by non-LGBT people. Although same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults in private was decriminalized in 1993,[1] there are currently no laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, and households headed by same-sex couples are ineligible for the legal protections available to opposite-sex couples. The age of consent has been the same for same-sex relations as for heterosexual relations since 2003, and homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 1999. Transsexuals have been able to change their legal gender since 1997.

Russia is socially conservative on LGBT rights, with 2013 polls indicating a large majority of Russians oppose legal recognition of same-sex marriage and support laws discriminating against LGBT people. Larger cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg have been described as being more tolerant and accepting, and have been known to have thriving LGBT communities. However, there has been historic resistance to gay pride parades by local governments, many of whom deny permission for the parades to be held by claiming a risk of violence—Russia was fined by the European Court of Human Rights in 2010 after they interpreted these patterns as a form of discrimination. Despite this, in 2012, the city of Moscow still denied 100 individual requests for permission to hold Moscow Pride through 2112, citing similar reasoning.

Since 2006, a number of Russian regions had passed varying laws that ban the distribution of materials promoting LGBT relationships to minors; in June 2013, Russia received international criticism for enacting an a national "LGBT propaganda" law, which purportedly was to prevent distribution of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" among minors. The law is an amendment to an existing child protection law.[4] Human rights observers, LGBT activists, and international media disputed its stated purpose of protecting children, and traditional family values, criticizing the law for being a de facto criminalization of LGBT culture, as well as the efforts for LGBT rights, with some noting that even displaying LGBT symbols in public was made illegal by this legislation, which subsequent arrests bore out.[5] They also reported a surge in anti-LGBT rhetoric, violence, and hate crimes, many of which using the law as justification.[6][7][8][9][10] A number of LGBT rights protesters have also been arrested under the law.[11][12]

International rights groups have described the current situation as the worst human rights climate in the post-Soviet era, while Russian historian and human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva called the anti-propaganda law "a step toward the Middle Ages."[5] Britain's Channel 4 produced a documentary, Hunted, about life for LGBT people under the new law, showing how it legitimized vigilante groups who hunt and abuse LGBT people, especially young gay men, in "a wave of terror."[10] Since the law was enacted, Russian LGBT people seeking asylum in the U.S. has spiked fourfold.[13] In addition to activists, leaders of foreign governments have condemned the law, as have 27 Nobel prize winners from the fields of science and the arts.[14]


Current situation[edit]

Homophobia in Russia: Public opinion in Russia tends to be among the most hostile toward homosexuality in the world—outside predominantly Muslim countries and some parts of Africa and Asia—and the level of intolerance has been rising.[16] A 2013 survey found that 74% of Russians said homosexuality should not be accepted by society (up from 60% in 2002), compared to 16% who said that homosexuality should be accepted by society.[17] In a 2007 survey, 68% of Russians said homosexuality is always wrong (54%) or almost always wrong (14%).[18] In a 2005 poll, 44% of Russians were in favor of making homosexual acts between consenting adults a criminal act;[19] at the same time, 43% of Russians supported a legal ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.[19] In 2013, 16% of Russians surveyed said that gay people should be isolated from society, 22% said they should be forced to undergo treatment, and 5% said homosexuals should be "liquidated".[20] In Russian psychiatry, Soviet mentality about homosexuality has endured into the present day.[21] For instance, in spite of the removal of homosexuality from the nomenclature of mental disorders, 62.5% of 450 surveyed psychiatrists in the Rostov Region view it as an illness, and up to three quarters view it as immoral behavior.[21] The psychiatrists sustain the objections to pride parades and the use of veiled schemes to lay off openly lesbian and gay persons from schools, child care centers, and other public institutions.[21]

Same-sex marriage: Neither same-sex marriages nor civil unions of same-sex couples are allowed in Russia. In July 2013, Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, of which approximately 80% of Russians are members, said that the idea of same-sex marriage was "a very dangerous sign of the Apocalypse".[22] At a 2011 press conference, the head of the Moscow Registry Office, Irina Muravyova, declared: "Attempts by same-sex couples to marry both in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia are doomed to fail. We live in a civil society, we are guided by the federal law, [and] by the Constitution that clearly says: marriage in Russia is between a man and a woman. Such a marriage [same-sex] cannot be contracted in Russia."[23] The vast majority of the Russian public are also against same-sex marriage.[19][24]

Military service: According to reporting in, in the past some young Russians would claim they were gay as a pretense to be avoid military service duty.[25] The Major-General of the Medical Service attempted to change that in 2003 when he announced that under a new statute, homosexuality would not be a justification for exclusion from military service: "The issue of a person's homosexuality is not medical. There is no such diagnosis as homosexuality in medicine. There is no such illness in the classification of [the] World Health Organization. The new statute about military and medical expertise follows international law practice. Therefore the reasons for evaluating the ability to serve for homosexuals are the same: physical and psychic health".[25] However, he added that people of non-standard sexual orientation should not reveal their sexual orientation while serving in the army because "other soldiers are not going to like that, they can be beaten".[25] President Vladimir Putin said in a U.S. television interview in 2010 that openly gay men were not excluded from military service in Russia.[26] In 2013, it was reported that the Defense Ministry had issued a guideline on assessment of new recruits' mental health that recommends recruits be asked about their sexual history and be examined for certain types of tattoos, especially genital or buttocks tattoos, that would allegedly indicate a homosexual orientation.[26][27]

Visibility of LGBT organizations & services: There is a visible LGBT community network, mostly in major cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg, including nightclubs and political organizations.[citation needed]

Gay pride events: There have been notable objections to the organization of gay pride parades in several Russian cities, most prominently Moscow, where authorities have never approved a request to hold a gay pride rally.[28] Former Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov supported the city's refusal to authorize the first two editions of Nikolay Alexeyev's Moscow Pride events, calling them as "satanic". The events still went on as planned, in defiance of their lack of authorization.[29][30] In 2010, Russia was fined by the European Court of Human Rights, ruling that, as alleged by Alexeyev, Russian cities were discriminating against gays by refusing to authorize pride parades.. Although authorities had claimed allowing pride events to be held would pose a risk of violence, the Court ruled that their decisions "effectively approved of and supported groups who had called for [their] disruption."[31] In August 2012, contravening the previous ruling, the Moscow City Court upheld a ruling blocking requests by the organizers of Moscow Pride for authorization to hold the parade yearly through 2112, citing the possibility of public disorder and a lack of support for such events by residents of Moscow.[32][33][34][35]

Public opinion[edit]

Circle frame.svg

Support for same-sex marriage (2013 poll)[36]

  Against (85%)
  For (5%)
  Other (10%)

Russia is socially conservative on LGBT rights, with 2013 polls indicating a large majority of Russians oppose legal recognition of same-sex marriage and support laws discriminating against LGBT people.[37][38][39]

Employment discrimination[edit]

Anton Krasovsky, a television news anchor at government-run KontrTV, was immediately fired[40] from his job in January 2013 when he announced during a live broadcast that he is gay and disgusted by the national anti-gay "propaganda" legislation that had been proposed although had not yet passed.[22][41]

In September 2013, a Khabarovsk teacher and gay rights activist, Alexandr Yermoshkin, was fired from his two jobs as school teacher and university researcher.[42] A week earlier, he had been attacked by members of a local neo-nazi group "Shtolz Khabarovsk".[43] A homophobic activist group called "Movement against the propaganda of sexual perversions" had campaigned for his dismissal.[44]

Viewpoints of Political Parties[edit]

The federal law banning of LGBT propaganda was passed unanimously by the Russian Duma; as the bill amended an existing child protection law, it is difficult to know whether or not all of the MPs, and their respective political parties, supported every aspect of the bill or not. A few political parties without members in the Duma, have expressed some, limited support for LGBT rights.

Yabloko is a member of the Liberal International, and has organized public demonstrations against intolerance under the banner of building a "Russia without pogroms." ["Russian liberals march for tolerance in St. Petersburg" LI News, 7 November 2013]

The Libertarian Party of Russia, formed in 2007, has objected to the government ban on "gay propaganda" as a violation of people's right to freedom of speech. [Libertarian Party of Russia. Press Release. 23 April 2012]..

Hate crimes[edit]

Targeting a LGBT person for harassment or violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is not addressed in any sort of law dealing with hate crimes or "bias motivated crimes". Among the more vicious hate crimes reported in the press would include the following;

Transgender issues[edit]

In Tsarist Russia, young women would sometimes pose as men or act like tomboys. This was often tolerated among the educated middle classes, with the assumption that such behavior was asexual and would stop when the girl married.[52] However, cross-dressing was widely seen as immoral behavior, punishable by the Church and later the government.[52]

In Soviet Russia, gender confirmation surgeries were first tried during the 1920s but became prohibited until the 1960s. Later they were performed by Prof. Irina Golubeva, an endocrinologist, authorized by psychiatrist Prof. Aron Belkin, who was the strongest Soviet advocate for transgender people until his death in 2003.[52]

Propaganda bans[edit]

Federal laws passed on 29 June 2013 ban the promotion of homosexuality to minors.[53] Critics contend the law makes illegal holding any sort of public demonstration in favour of gay rights, speak in defence of LGBT rights, and distribute material related to LGBT culture, or to state that same-sex relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships.[54][55][56][57] Additionally the laws have received international condemnation from human rights campaigners, and media outlets that even displays of LGBT symbols, such as the rainbow flag, have resulted in arrests, and incited homophobic violence, like is documented in the Channel 4 documentary Hunted which followed anti-gay groups as they lured young gay men into traps where they were humiliated, with the footage later posted online.[4]

Regional laws[edit]

Ten Russian regions passed laws banning the distribution of "propaganda" relating to homosexuality, and/or other LGBT relationships to minors.
  Ban on the promotion of homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism.
  Ban on the promotion of homosexuality and bisexuality.
  Ban on the promotion of homosexuality.

Between 2006 and 2013, ten regions enacted a ban on "propaganda of homosexualism" among minors. The laws of nine of them prescribe punishments of administrative sanctions and/or fines. The laws in some of the regions also forbid so-called "propaganda of bisexualism and transgenderism" to minors. As of May 2013 the regions that had enacted these various laws, and the years in which they had passed the laws, included: Ryazan Oblast (2006), Arkhangelsk Oblast (2011), Saint Petersburg (2012), Kostroma Oblast (2012), Magadan Oblast (2012), Novosibirsk Oblast (2012), Krasnodar Krai (2012), Samara Oblast (2012), Bashkortostan (2012),[note 3] and Kaliningrad Oblast (February 2013).[58] Then, Arkhangelsk (2013) and Saint Peterburg (2014) removed the law.

National laws[edit]

In June 2013 the national parliament (the State Duma) unanimously adopted, and President Vladimir Putin signed,[59] a nationwide law banning distribution of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" among minors.[53][5][60][61][62] The law does not explicitly mention the word "homosexuality", but instead uses the euphemism "non-traditional sexual relations".[5][63] Under the statute it is effectively illegal to hold any gay pride events, speak in favor of gay rights, or say that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships in presence of minors.[5][57][60][64][65]

The law subjects Russian citizens found guilty to fines of up to 5,000 rubles and public officials to fines of up to 50,000 rubles.[66] Organizations or businesses will be fined up to 1 million rubles and be forced to cease operations for up to 90 days. Foreigners may be arrested and detained for up to 15 days then deported, as well as fined up to 100,000 rubles. Russian citizens who have used the Internet or media to promote "non-traditional relations" will be fined up to 100,000 rubles.[5]

The statute amended a law that is said to protect children from pornography and other "harmful information".[59] One of the authors of the statute, Yelena Mizulina, who is the chair of the Duma's Committee on Family, Women, and Children and who has been described by some as a moral crusader,[67][68][69] told lawmakers as the bill was being considered, "Traditional sexual relations are relations between a man and a woman.... These relations need special protection".[57] Mizulina argued that a recent poll had shown 88% of the public were in support of the bill.[70]

Commenting on the bill prior to its passage, President Putin said, during a visit to Amsterdam in April 2013, "I want everyone to understand that in Russia there are no infringements on sexual minorities' rights. They're people, just like everyone else, and they enjoy full rights and freedoms".[63] He went on to say that he fully intended to sign the bill because the Russian people demanded it.[57] As he put it, "Can you imagine an organization promoting pedophilia in Russia? I think people in many Russian regions would have started to take up arms.... The same is true for sexual minorities: I can hardly imagine same-sex marriages being allowed in Chechnya. Can you imagine it? It would have resulted in human casualties."[57] Putin also mentioned that he was concerned about Russia's low birth-rate and that same-sex relationships do not produce children.[59]

Critics say that the statute is written so broadly that it is in effect a complete ban on the gay rights movement and any public expression of LGBT culture.[22][57][63]

In July 2013, four Dutch tourists were arrested for allegedly discussing gay rights with Russian youths. The four were arrested for allegedly spreading "propaganda of nontraditional relationships among the under-aged" after talking to teens at a camp in the northern city of Murmansk.[71]

Domestic reactions[edit]

According to a survey conducted in June 2013 by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), at least 90 percent of those surveyed were in favor of the law.[7][22]

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, responding to questions raised in the international community about the implications of the new law on the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics Games in Sochi, Russia, said the controversy over Russia's anti-gay propaganda law is an "invented problem" created by the Western media[72] and that the law does not discriminate against anyone.[73] He said that the law is intended to protect the right of children, whose young minds are still developing, from being exposed to propaganda about non-traditional sexual relationships, in the same way that children should be protected from messages promoting alcoholism and drug abuse.[73] He also said that the rights of all Olympic athletes, organisers, and visitors in Sochi would be respected. "An athlete of non-traditional sexual orientation isn't banned from coming to Sochi. But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable".[74]

The screenplay writer, Yuri Arabov, who is working on a new biopic of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky due to be released in 2015, has claimed that "it is far from a fact that Tchaikovsky was a homosexual," this is held in tension with the majority of scholars that acknowledge Tchaikovsky was definitely homosexual.[75] He further added that he would "not sign my name to a film that advertises homosexuality".[75] The film has been given Russian government funding, and Arabov's claim has been reinforced by Russia's culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, who when questioned on the issue claimed: "Arabov is actually right – there is no evidence that Tchaikovsky was a homosexual."[76][76] Scholars have pointed out that Tchaikovsky's homosexuality is in fact extensively documented in the composer's personal papers and correspondence.[76][77] There has been speculation in the Western press that the removal of all evidence of Tchaikovsky's homosexuality in the film - promoted by its director Kirill Serebrennikov as "the true story of the tragic love and death of the brilliant Russian composer" - is in response to Russia's anti-gay propaganda law.[75][76][77][78][note 4] Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva described the passing of the law as "a step toward the Middle Ages."[5]

On 12 October 2013 a demonstration was organised by 15 to 20 LGBT rights activists in Russia's second largest city Saint Petersburg against the new law banning "homosexual propaganda" on the day after the National Coming Out Day.[79][80] The demonstration was blocked by far-right groups, such as radical Orthodox Christians, Cossack paramilitaries and nationalists.[81] After a fight broke out between the groups, the police arrested 67 people from the two opposing groups.[81]

Political parties in Russia have generally been reluctant to oppose this or other discriminatory policies against the LGBT community due to prevailing public opinion and the fact that the current laws essentially criminalize public support for LGBT-rights. Only a handful of small political parties have expressed any support for LGBT-rights.

The Libertarian Party of Russia sees the ban on "promoting" homosexuality as a violation of the right to the freedom of speech and expression.

International reactions and boycott[edit]

Activists painted the pedestrian pavement in front of the Russian Embassy in Finland with rainbow colors to protest Russian's anti-LGBT sentimentality and legislation. Similar activism has been done in Sweden.

International human rights organisations and the governments of developed democracies around the world have strongly condemned this Russian law.[82][83][84][85] The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned this Russian statute and another similar one in Moldova (which was later repealed) as discriminatory and has made clear that the Russian statute in question is a violation of international human rights law, including the right of gay children to receive proper information.[86][87][88][89][90] The European Parliament has condemned Russia for homophobic discrimination and censorship[91] and the Council of Europe has called on Russia to protect LGBT rights properly.[92] The European Court of Human Rights had previously fined Russia for other infringements of LGBT rights.[93] In 2012 the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that a similar statute in the Russia's Ryazan Region was discriminatory, infringed on freedom of expression, and was inadmissible under international law—a Russian court in Ryazan later agreed and struck it down.[94][95] Some members of the gay community commenced a boycott of Russian goods, particularly Russian vodka.[96] Notable individuals have also responded to that ban.

Many Western celebrities and activists are openly opposed to the law and have encouraged a boycott of Russian products—notably Russian vodka—and a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, which are scheduled to be held in Sochi, unless the Games are relocated out of Russia.[97][98][99][100] The boycott against Stoli vodka was called off after the owners publicly explained they were not a Russian company after all, were supporters of the LGBT community, and were opposed to the anti-gay laws. Also a game to dress up Putin as a gay was released during Sochi's Olympics to support the LGBT community and reached more than 500,000 players.[101] [102] Tying into the international spotlight of the February 2014 Olympic games, months of Olympic protests of Russian anti-gay laws took place before the Games, with many campaigns targeted at the worldwide Olympic sponsors.

Political figures[edit]

United States President Barack Obama said that while he did not favour boycotting the Sochi Olympics over the law, "Nobody's more offended than me about some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you've been seeing in Russia".[103] Obama subsequently, in September 2013, met with Russian gay rights activists during a visit to St. Petersburg to attend a meeting of the G-20 nations' leaders. Obama said that he was proud of the work the activists were doing. His aides had said that Obama's opposition to the anti-gay propaganda law was one reason Obama had canceled a meeting previously planned to have been held with Russian President Putin during the trip.[103]

The law was also condemned by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German cabinet secretaries,[104] British Prime Minister David Cameron,[105] Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr,[106] as well as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.[107]


"In 1936 the world attended the Olympics in Germany. Few participants said a word about Hitler's campaign against the Jews. Supporters of that decision point proudly to the triumph of Jesse Owens, while I point with dread to the Holocaust and world war. There is a price for tolerating intolerance".[118]


Summary table[edit]

Homosexuality legalYes (since 27 May 1993)
Equal age of consentYes (since 27 May 1993)[note 5]
Anti-discrimination laws in any areaNo (authorities don't recognize any need for special legislation)
Same-sex marriage(s)No
Recognition of same-sex couples as de facto couples or civil partnershipsNo (no recognition)
Joint and/or step adoption by same-sex couples (regardless of whether they live in Russia or abroad)No (only opposite-sex married couples allowed to adopt)[note 2]
Adoption by single homosexual people who live in Russia or (in case of Russian children) in foreign countries that do not recognize same-sex marriageYes (no legal restrictions based on sexual orientation for single people to adopt)[note 2]
Adoption of Russian children by single people or same-sex couples who live in foreign countries that do recognize same-sex marriageNo (Illegal since 3 July 2013)[15]
Gays allowed to serve openly in the militaryYes (gay people can serve in the military, but are strongly advised to hide their homosexuality for their personal safety, and may face interrogation to discourage enlistment)[2][3]
Right to change legal genderYes (since 15 November 1997)[note 1]
MSMs allowed to donate bloodYes (since 16 April 2008)[130]
Freedom of expressionNo (ban on "homosexual propaganda to minors" (under 18) at federal level; some regions have their own legislation banning "propaganda of homosexuality, bisexuality and/or transgenderism")

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Federal Law On Acts of Civil Status (1997) provides for the possibility to rectify acts of civil status based on the document confirming sex transformation issued by a health institution (art.70). Also, transgender people can change their passport on the grounds of sex transformation. See the Administrative Legislation section of the Russian LGBT Network 2009 Report.
  2. ^ a b c Adoption is being regulated by the Civil Procedure Code of Russia (Chapter 29[dead link]); Family Code of Russia (Chapter 19[dead link]); Federal Law On Acts of Civil Status (Chapter V[dead link]). None of these documents contain any direct restriction or ban for homosexual people to adopt, though unmarried couples are not allowed to adopt children (Article 127.2 of the Family Code of Russia), and since same-sex marriage is not officially recognized, gay couples cannot adopt children together; nevertheless, single individuals can adopt (see also the Parent Relations section of the Russian LGBT Network 2009 Report). The Court makes the decision to allow or deny adoption considering many documents and testimonies, so it is unclear whether LGBT affiliation of the candidate adopter can be in fact an issue for a judge to make a negative decision.
  3. ^ Bashkortostan is the only region where the law does not include any kind of administrative sanctions or fines.
  4. ^ The Guardian reported that late in 2012 the director Kirill Serebrennikov had admitted to the cinema website KinoPoisk that he was having trouble finding funding due to officials' concerns about the composer's homosexuality.
  5. ^ The age of consent for homosexual acts was never specifically mentioned in the old Criminal Code of RSFSR, which was replaced with the new Criminal Code of Russia in 1996, and this new Code mentions the age of consent regardless of sexual orientation in Article 134.


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Further reading[edit]

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