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Although Russia has a reputation of a country that does not tolerate homosexuality, the rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people) were not violated officially yet. There was an attempt to ban “homosexual propaganda” (or homosexual appeal, as it is called in the US) back in 2003, but this law was rejected by the State Duma. Now the position of the politicians seems to have changed, probably due to a visible shift in the public opinion.
The Russians are incredibly homophobic. Last year’s Levada Centre polls reveal that 38% of people regard homosexuality as “dissoluteness and a bad habit”, 36% think it is a “disease”. These points of view are becoming increasingly popular. Only 15% think this is just another sexual orientation that “has the same right to existence”, five per cent less than five years ago. More and more people think that homosexuals need to be “treated” (21%), “isolated from the society” (18%), and even “liquidated” (4%). 84% oppose same-sex marriages, and 82% are not going to tolerate gay pride parades in Russian cities. “A gay parade cannot be called anything but a Satanic act”, ex-Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov said last year, supposedly voicing the common opinion.
While homophobia in the United States has a religious basis, the reasons are different in Russia. According to Gallup polls, only one third of Russians say religion is an important part of their daily life as against two thirds of Americans. Hence it is patriarchal character of Russia that is the key factor of homophobia. They can let lesbian women be, but gay men are undergoing a huge pressure. You are supposed to correspond with the picture of a “real man”, muzhik – butch, strong, and even brutal. Otherwise you risk being despised. For most of the Russians, gay men are not men at all.
Apart from patriarchal nature of the country, LGBT issues in Russia should be considered as a part of a whole tolerance problem. Half of the nation, for instance, want ethnicity section back in their passports. It was first introduced in the USSR as a method of ethnic discrimination, and abolished after the democratic revolution of 1991. Since the idea is popular again, different political groups try to profit from the nationalistic mood with slogans like “Let’s defend ethnic Russians” (in contrast to the Tatars, the Chechens, etc.), including the Communist party and populist LDPR.
Admittedly, neither the society nor the authorities have ever seemed to care about minority issues. Such kind of care is a feature of liberal democracy. However, when the Russian government sequentially suppresses the rights of numerous social groups including minorities, it would be illogical if the rights of LGBT were respected. Similarly, when the Russian citizens accept regular violation of human rights, it would be rather strange if they stood up for homosexuals.
It is therefore no wonder that such laws are passed right now. There are only two weeks left before Election Day to the State Duma and St. Petersburg local parliament. Humbling gay, lesbian, bisexual and trangender people seems to be an easy and a sure way to gain support of Russian voters. It won’t be just swallowed, it will be welcomed.