Photo from @ukraine.pride on Instagram
*This article is a modern analysis of the themes and content of “From Russia With Hate“ (Fall 2013), the sixth installment of our From The Archive series.*
**Trigger warning: violent queerphobia**
Since the passing of the law detailed in “From Russia With Hate,” — entailing the banning of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” — Russia has passed more anti-queer legislation. In 2020, same-sex marriage was banned in Russia. In 2021, many queer organizations were added to a list of “foreign agents,” a list that designates organizations that either receive foreign funding, report on crime or corruption, or engage in political activity. Organizations labeled as such can be subject to inspections and raids by the Russian government, not to mention the stigma that surrounds this term — that such organizations are actively spying on Russian people rather than fighting for them.
The narrative surrounding these pieces of anti-queer legislation are that “traditional values,” namely heterosexual, nuclear families that can increase the population of Russia, should be prioritized. When viewing Russia through the lens of this rhetoric, queer identities are in direct opposition, making them threats to the state (hence queer organizations being considered foreign agents by the Russian government).
This is only to mention governmental anti-queer actions. While Occupy Pedophilia is no longer in practice, the condemnation of queer people and organizations continues. Discriminatory governmental actions open avenues for violent and discriminatory acts to be committed against queer people by non-governmental organizations and individuals. Individual citizens take upon themselves the duty of persecuting queer Russians.
This was especially prevalent in the Chechen purges in 2017 and 2019. In these purges, Chechen authorities detained and killed men alleged to be gay or bisexual, and ordinary citizens were a key part. The men authorities did not kill, and instead tortured (either for information about other queer citizens they knew of or just for the sake of it), were outed to their families. Authorities also encouraged “honor killings,” the idea that family members should kill their queer relatives to prevent the dishonor of having them. Just as it was in 2013 when the “gay propaganda to minors” law passed, it seems that the mainstream social culture of Russia is still supportive of the oppression of queer people by the regime.
“From Russia With Hate,” centered around Russia and its anti-queer attitudes, is also once again becoming increasingly relevant during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A U.S. letter to the U.N. states that there is credible evidence that Russian forces have created lists of Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps upon Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; these lists include queer people, amongst others including journalists, activists, and ethnic minorities. The evidence of these target lists during Russia’s invasion implies nothing short of a horrifying human rights abuse; it would appear that Russia has only doubled down on their homophobic and transphobic legislation since the 2013 law detailed in “From Russia With Hate.”
Ukraine has been progressing in some legal fields regarding queer identities, including allowing transgender individuals to legally change their name in 2011 and passing a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in 2015, but there are still many roadblocks to queer people living regular lives, both legally and socially. However, military invasion by Russia may mean that queer people in Ukraine will also be persecuted in the culture war that has targeted queer people in Russia for years now.
However, just as Olympic athletes in 2013 spoke out against the law in Russia, both Ukrainian and Russian citizens alike are condemning Russia’s queerphobic policies in the light of its invasion of Ukraine. There has also been an outcry of support elsewhere around the world for queer Ukrainians, including news articles written by publications such as the LA Times, Boston Review, and Forbes Magazine. One Instagram account, run by queer Ukrainians, actively condemns the invasion and updates its followers on the latest queer news from the frontlines. Their posts are frequently captioned “glory to Ukraine, glory to our heroes” and they call for donations to help queer soldiers and refugees in Ukraine.