Even as international pressure on Russia heats up – with fifty-two Olympians launching a campaign this week to force Moscow to repeal its recently adopted anti-gay laws – the controversial legislation banning any propaganda of “non-traditional sexual relations” was quietly enforced for the first time on Wednesday. Alexander Suturin, a newspaper editor, was fined $1,400 for publishing a story called “A History about Gay-ography” about a teacher reportedly fired in September because of his homosexuality. The article included an interview with the schoolteacher who said: ‘My very existence is proof being gay is normal.’ The presiding judge said that if children read the story, they could be led to believe that ‘serial killers’ are normal as well. Suturin, who is the fourth person to be charged under the new legislation, is planning to appeal.
That Suturin was found guilty is no surprise. Russia has been intensifying its crackdown on its LGBT community, alongside political dissidents, since President Vladimir Putin began his third term in 2012, international criticisms be damned. Indeed, Wednesday’s verdict reflects the disconnect between Western unease with Russia’s restrictions on gay rights and the reality at home — i.e., that a majority of Russians support Putin’s emphasis on so-called traditional values, notably the propaganda law.
Not that Moscow is turning a deaf ear to the backlash. Putin has been quick to reassure the international community that Russian gays are not being discriminated against, albeit in a ham-fisted manner that did little to quell outrage among human rights groups: “One can feel calm and at ease,” he said on January 17, before adding, “Just leave kids alone, please.”
The Duma, equally conscious of the importance attached to the Sochi games, is now trying to soft-pedal the contentious legislation. Lawmakers proposed a bill on Monday to broaden the original law by prohibiting propaganda of any and all “sexual relations.” But like Putin’s reassurances, such measures read as stopgaps, meant to mute external criticisms until Sochi is over. Once the games end, and the snow melts, there will be even less of a brake to slow Russia’s anti-LGBT efforts.