Russian lawmakers unanimously approved a bill banning all forms of LGBTQ “propaganda” in a final reading on Thursday, as Moscow presses ahead with its conservative drive at home while its troops fight in Ukraine.
The legislation passed by the lower house of parliament, the Duma, bars all mention of what authorities deem “gay propaganda” in the media, cinema, books and advertisement.
It also prohibits “the propaganda of paedophilia and sex change”.
If also approved by the upper house of parliament and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, rights groups say it effectively bans all public promotion of LGBTQs in Russia.
Moscow already has a law against “propaganda” directed at minors regarding LGBTQ relationships. The new bill would broaden that rule to adults.
“Any propaganda of non-traditional relationships will have consequences,” the speaker of the Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, said on social media.
He said the bill “will protect our children and the future of our country from the darkness spread by the US and European states”.
Russia has sought to present LGBTQ relationships as a product of dangerous Western influence, toughening this rhetoric as its clash with the West intensifies over Ukraine.
The head of LGBTQ rights group Sfera, Dilya Gafurova, said it was especially “disturbing that the state is saying LGBT+ people are a Western invention.”
She warned of the possible effects of the “demonisation of an entire group”.
The bill introduces hefty fines of up to 10 million rubles ($165,400) for people who ignore the new ban.
Authorities will be able to block websites that contain prohibited information.
According to the Duma website, it would also ban “the sale of goods (including foreign ones) containing prohibited information”.
Putin has for years presented himself as the antithesis of Western liberal values.
This rhetoric has only strengthened since he sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, isolating Moscow and leading to an unprecedented crackdown at home.
– Cannot ‘take our voice away’ –
Russian film production companies and book publishers have expressed concern over the bill, saying it could result in a ban of some Russian classics, such as Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”.
The Duma said “films that promote such relationships will not receive a distribution certificate”.
Senior lawmakers had previously said the bill was needed in the context of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.
Activist Dilya Gafurova urged the authorities not to use the LGBTQ community “as an instrument of ideological confrontation”.
“We just are. There is nothing wrong with us and nothing that needs to be hushed up,” she said, adding that it was impossible “to take our voice away”.
Putin, who turned 70 this year and has spent his rule promoting what he calls “traditional values”, in September railed against same-sex parents.
“Do we really want here, in our country, in Russia, instead of ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, to have ‘parent number one’, ‘parent number two’ or ‘parent number three’?” he said in speech at the Kremlin in September.
“Have they gone completely insane?” he asked.