The law against gay propaganda was passed in the Duma in final reading by 436 deputies. One abstained and none voted against. After the debates in January, many amendments were tabled and title modified, the word “homosexuality” replaced by “non-traditional sexual relations”. By law, a person risk a fine of € 100-125, a person holding public authority a fine of € 1,000-1,250, a legal entity a fine of € 19,000 to 23,500. Penalties are more severe if this propaganda is carried out on Internet. The law provides that legal entities will be closed until 90 days. Foreigners will also face a fine of up to € 2,000, and may also be held 15 days and expeled. The delegate from the Kremlin for Human Rights, Vladimir Lukin, said feared how the law will be applied. “If it is applied with severity and without indiscriminately, this can make victims and lead to human tragedy” he said. According to a survey, 88% of Russians support the prohibition of homosexual propaganda. In addition, 54% of Russians believe that homosexuality should be punished. Recently, several cases of murder of people because of their homosexuality have been identified in the country.
The history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Russia and its historical antecedents (i.e., the Soviet Union, the Russian Empire) has largely been influenced by the political leanings and levels of liberalism or tolerance of the rulers. It has also been influenced by the historically prohibitive nature of Russian Orthodox religiosity regarding sexuality.
Homosexuality has been documented in Russia for centuries. Government attempts at preventing homosexual practices began in the 18th century, with Tsar Peter the Great banning homosexual relations in the armed forces in 1716, as a part of his attempt to modernise the country. In 1832 further laws were enacted criminalising certain sexual acts between two males, however an LGBT subculture developed in Russia during that century, with many significant Russians being openly homosexual or bisexual.
In 1917, the Russian Revolution saw the overthrow of the Tsarist government, and the subsequent foundation of the Russian SFSR, the world’s first socialist state, followed by the founding of the Soviet Union after the end of the civil war in 1922. The new Communist Party government eradicated the old laws regarding sexual relations, effectively legalising homosexual activity within Russia, although it remained illegal in other former territories of the Russian Empire. Under Lenin’s leadership, openly gay people were allowed to serve in government. In 1933, the Soviet government, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, recriminalised homosexual activity, most probably to improve the strained relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, who considered homosexuality sinful. Following Stalin’s death, there was a liberalisation of attitudes toward sexual issues in the Soviet Union, but homosexual acts remained illegal. Nonetheless, homosexual culture became increasingly visible, particularly following the glasnost policy of Mikhail Gorbachev’s government in the late 1980s.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the foundation of the Russian Federation in 1991, the Council of Europe pressured the new administration to legalize homosexuality, leading President Boris Yeltsin to do so in 1993. However, there are several restrictions on activities related to homosexuality.
Prior to Tsarist policy, homosexuality and cross-dressing were punished by religious authorities or militias. Ivan the Terrible was accused of being gay, in an attempt to discredit him. When Tsar “False Dmitry I” was overthrown his broken body was dragged through the streets, from his genitals, alongside his reputed boyfriend.
- In 1716, Tsar Peter the Great enacted a ban on male homosexuality in the armed forces. The prohibition on sodomy was part of a larger reform movement designed to modernize Russia and efforts to extend a similar ban to the civilian population were rejected until 1835.
- In 1832, Tsar Nicholas I added Article 995 which outlawed muzhelozhstvo. While this could have created a ban on all forms of private adult voluntary homosexual behavior, the courts tended to limit its interpretation to anal sex between men, thus making private acts of oral sex between consenting men legal. The law did not explicitly address female homosexuality or cross-dressing, although both behaviors were considered to be equally immoral and may have been punished under other laws. Persons convicted under Article 995 were to be stripped of their rights and relocated to Siberia for four to five years. It is unknown how many Russians were sentenced under this law, although there were a number of openly gay and bisexual Russians during this era, e.g. the conservative Nikolai Gogol, and homoerotic rites were popular among some religious dissidents in the far north of Russia. The relatively high number of openly gay or bisexual artists and intellectuals continued on into the late nineteenth century.
- Author and critic Konstantin Leontiev was bisexual, and one of the most famous couples in the late-nineteenth-century Russian literary world were the lesbians Anna Yevreinova (a laywer) and Maria Feodorova (an author). Another notable Russian lesbian couple were author Polyxena Soloviova and Natalia Manaseina. Other notables included poet Alexei Apukhtin, Peter Tchaikovsky, conservative author and publisher Prince Vladimir Meshchersky, Sergei Diaghilev, who had an affair with his cousin Dmitry Filosofov and, after the breakup, with Vaslav Nijinsky. Mikhail Kuzmin’s novel Wings (1906) became one of the first “coming out” stories to have a happy ending and his private journals provide a detailed view of a gay subculture, involving men of all classes.
- While there was a degree of government tolerance extended to certain gay or bisexual artists and intellectuals, especially if they were on friendly terms with the Imperial family, the pervasive public opinion, greatly influenced by the Eastern Orthodox Church, was that homosexuality was a sign of corruption, decadence and immorality. Russian author Alexander Amfiteatrov‘s novel titled People of the 1890s (1910), reflected this prejudice with two gay characters; a masculine lesbian attorney and a decadent gay poet.
- Leo Tolstoy‘s Resurrection introduces a Russian artist, convicted for having sex with his students but given a lenient sentence, and a Russian activist for gay rights as examples of the widespread corruption and immorality in Tsarist Russia.
- These depictions of gay men and women in literature suggest that the government’s selective tolerance of homosexuality was not widely expressed among the Russian people and that it was also divorced from any endorsement of LGBT rights. While other nations, most notable Germany, had an active “gay rights movement” during this era, the most visible example of Russian homosexuality, aside from literature, was prostitution.
- Russian urbanization had helped to ensure that St. Petersburg and Moscow both had gay brothels, along with many public places where men would buy and sell sexual services for or from other men. While there certainly was lesbian prostitution, and some alleged lesbian affairs, less was publicly said, good or bad, about gay or bisexual women. Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich Romanov (the younger brother and uncle, respectively, of Russian Emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II) served as the Governor of Moscow from 1891–1905. His homosexual relationships were widely famous in Moscow.