In an example of further cultural backsliding and scapegoating of gay and trans folks in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill making it illegal to speak out positively about nonheterosexual relationships in the country.
The bill, signed Monday, expands an anti-"propaganda" law passed in 2013 that forbids discussing LGBT issues around minors. Now, according to CNN, Russia has outlawed any sort of public discussion, even among adults, that promotes LGBT relationships as normal or praises them. The law also bans any positive references to gender transitions.
The ban comes with fines that can surpass $6,000 for what the country now classifies as "LGBT propaganda" and can increase to more than $3,000 for participating in pro-LGBT demonstrations. Additionally, any organization that breaks the law can face a fine of $64,000 or more.
One might think Russia might have bigger problems to focus on, given its struggle to successfully "reclaim" Ukraine in its invasion. The latest news has Putin acknowledging that it's going to be a "long process." But he also, as is typical, is attempting to blame the West for his country's behavior for treating Russia like "a second-class citizen that has no right to exist at all."
The last decade has seen a painful pulling back of LGBT acceptance in Russia as the country's nationalist populism has turned against its own citizens. In 2014, not long after that first anti-gay law passed in Russia, Cathy Young wrote for Reason about Russia's return to authoritarianism and aggression as Putin ascended back into power in 2012. As Young explained then, these laws are part and parcel of an escalation of what Putin and his allies see as their rejection "Western" values:
In an insightful recent column on Grani.ru, one of Russia's newly banned websites, the veteran dissident Alexander Skobov argued that the present conflict between Russia and the West should be seen as a "clash of systems." "The essential difference between them lies in who has 'primacy': the individual or the state, society or the 'elite'?" Skobov wrote. "The conflict over this issue is not between civilizations but within each of them. Every state seeks to dominate the individual; every elite seeks to dominate society. But some countries have succeeded at developing a set of institutions that limit the power of the state and the elite over the individual and society, while others have not."
Those mediating institutions may be highly imperfect in today's liberal capitalist democracies; but Russian power unquestionably exerts a pull in the opposite direction.
Putin and Russia's aggressive rejection of individual freedom here should serve as a useful reminder that anti-LGBT panics are bad for liberty. And we're seeing similar authoritarian grumbling in China, where government officials are trying to blame drag queens and "effeminate" men for resistance by younger citizens to the heavy workloads demanded of them. As was the case with Russia, China had been growing more and more comfortable with LGBT folks, only for the government to start pulling back again, ramping up censorship on gay and trans issues.
This repression comes as conservative lawmakers here in the United States are proposing laws that would ban children from attending drag shows, even going so far as to attempt to make it a felony, even if the parent is present.
Russia and China's oppressive treatment of LGBT citizens are intended to turn their own people into enemies in the eyes of the public. Don't let self-serving politicians get away with that behavior here—not if you value your own freedom too.