TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday effectively outlawed LGBTQ+ activism, in the most drastic step against advocates of gay, lesbian and transgender rights in the increasingly conservative country.
In a statement announcing a lawsuit filed to the court earlier this month, the Justice Ministry argued that authorities had identified “signs and manifestations of an extremist nature” by an LGBTQ+ “movement” operating in Russia, including “incitement of social and religious discord,” although it offered no details or evidence. In its ruling, the court declared the “movement” to be extremist and banned it in Russia.
The hearing took place behind closed doors and with no defendant. Multiple rights activists have pointed out that the lawsuit targeted the “international civic LGBT movement,” which is not an entity but rather a broad and vague definition that would allow Russian authorities to crack down on any individuals or groups deemed to be part of the “movement.”
“Despite the fact that the Justice Ministry demands to label a nonexistent organization -- ‘the international civic LGBT movement’ -- extremist, in practice it could happen that the Russian authorities, with this court ruling at hand, will enforce it against LGBTQ+ initiatives that work in Russia, considering them a part of this civic movement,” Max Olenichev, a human rights lawyer who works with the Russian LGBTQ+ community, told The Associated Press ahead of the hearing.
Some LGBTQ+ activists have said they sought to become a party to the lawsuit, arguing that it concerns their rights, but were rejected by the court. The Justice Ministry has not responded to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
The Supreme Court ruling is the latest step in a decadelong crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights in Russia begun under President Vladimir Putin, who has put “traditional family values” at the cornerstone of his rule.
In 2013, the Kremlin adopted the first legislation restricting LGBTQ+ rights, known as the “gay propaganda” law, banning any public endorsement of “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors. In 2020, constitutional reforms pushed through by Putin to extend his rule by two more terms also included a provision to outlaw same-sex marriage.
After sending troops into Ukraine in 2022, the Kremlin ramped up its comments about protecting “traditional values” from what it called the West’s “degrading” influence, in what rights advocates saw as an attempt to legitimize the war. That same year, the authorities adopted a law banning propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relations” among adults, also, effectively outlawing any public endorsement of LGBTQ+ people.
Another law passed earlier this year prohibited gender transitioning procedures and gender-affirming care for transgender people. The legislation prohibited any “medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person,” as well as changing one’s gender in official documents and public records. It also amended Russia’s Family Code by listing gender change as a reason to annul a marriage and adding those “who had changed gender” to a list of people who can’t become foster or adoptive parents.
“Do we really want to have here, in our country, in Russia, ‘Parent No. 1, No. 2, No. 3’ instead of ‘mom’ and ‘dad?’” Putin said in September 2022. “Do we really want perversions that lead to degradation and extinction to be imposed in our schools from the primary grades?”
Authorities have rejected accusations of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. Earlier this month, Russian media quoted Andrei Loginov, a deputy justice minister, as saying that “the rights of LGBT people in Russia are protected” legally. Loginov spoke in Geneva, while presenting a report on human rights in Russia to the U.N. Human Rights Council, and argued that “restraining public demonstration of non-traditional sexual relationships or preferences is not a form of censure for them.”