On Thursday, the Supreme Court in Russia outlawed the LGBTQ+ community movement, a decision that marks the most drastic act against gay, lesbian and transgender rights defenders in the increasingly conservative country.
The court’s decision came after reviewing a lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Justice.
What was described in the lawsuit as the “LGBTQ+ movement that operates in Russia”, the court declared extremist and banned it, considering it illegal.
Thursday’s session, which took place behind closed doors, lasted four hours. No one except representatives of the Ministry of Justice was allowed to enter and there were no defendants. Journalists were only allowed in the courtroom during the reading of the verdict by a judge who wore a mask, apparently for health reasons.
The process was classified as secret and the ministry did not reveal any details or evidence, saying only that authorities had identified “signs and manifestations of an extremist nature” in the movement, including “inciting social and religious discord”.
Many activists have pointed out that the lawsuit was filed against a movement that is not an official entity and could open the way for Russian authorities to crack down on any individual or group deemed to be part of it.
“In practice, it may happen that with this court decision in hand, the Russian authorities will act against LGBTQ+ initiatives in Russia, considering them part of this civil movement,” said Max Olenichev, a human rights lawyer who works with the community LGBTQ+ Russian, contacted by the Associated Press news agency before the decision was announced.
Many independent Russian media and rights groups added the rainbow symbol to their social media logos in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.
Amnesty International called the decision “disgraceful and absurd”, warning in a statement that it could lead to a complete ban on LGBTQ+ organisations, violate freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and lead to discrimination.
“It will affect a large number of people and the consequences of the decision will be nothing less than catastrophic,” said Marie Struthers, the organization’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church praised the decision, telling state news agency RIA Novosti that it marked “a form of moral self-defense by society” against efforts to dilute “the Christian idea of marriage and family, in the public and legal sphere.” .
The Justice Department did not respond to The Associated Press’ request for comment on the lawsuit.
Before the hearing, the main Russian groups for the protection of human rights filed a document in court in which the lawsuit was described as illegal, discriminatory and a violation of the constitution and international human rights treaties that Moscow has signed. Several LGBTQ+ activists said they tried to become parties to the lawsuit but were turned down by the court.
“We tried to find a legal logic in this absurdity,” says Igor Kochetkov, a human rights lawyer and founder of the Russian Network for the Protection of the Rights of the LGBTQ+ Community.
“They don’t want to address this issue. This is a political order and they are following it. It is the end of justice in Russia”, he added.
The decision is the latest blow to the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, who has emphasized “traditional family values” during his tenure.
“We really want in our country, in Russia, to have ‘parent no. 1, no. 2, no. 3’ instead of “mom” and “father”?” asked President Putin in September 2022.
Russia strengthened anti-LGBTQ+ laws last year, allowing authorities to fine individuals or organizations that had supported homosexuality in public, online, in movies, books or advertisements.
Authorities reject accusations of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Earlier this month, Russian media quoted Deputy Justice Minister Andrei Loginov as saying that “the rights of LGBT people in Russia are protected by law.”
He was presenting a report on human rights in Russia at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, arguing that “banning the public display of non-traditional sexual relationships or preferences is not a form of censorship”.
Lawyer Max Olenichev says that the decision of the Supreme Court foresees a number of restrictions, such as participation, assistance or financing of extremist organizations, public use of logos and symbols related to them; or public support of the ideas of this movement.
According to him, these restrictions will lead to a decrease in physical, psychological or any other form of support for the LGBTQ+ community from groups for the protection of human rights and will make the needs of the community less visible.
“The authorities are doing their best to eradicate the issue of the LGBTQ+ community from the public sphere,” he added.
Many people will see their only option as leaving Russia before being subject to this crackdown, says Olga Baranova, director of the LGBTQ+ Community Center in Moscow.
“It is clear that they are trying to present us again as an internal enemy to divert attention from all the other problems that abound in Russia,” Olga Baranova told the Associated Press news agency.
Others are determined to stay in Russia and continue working with the LGBTQ+ community.
Dasha Yakovleva says that the women’s group ‘Feminitive’, co-founded by her, is the only one in the Kaliningrad region that, in addition to supporting women’s rights, also offers support to the LGBTQ+ community and will try to find “possible ways” to continue this support.