The Atlantic Monthly asks: "Why Is Russia So Homophobic?"

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Niccolo and Donkey
Why Is Russia So Homophobic?

The Atlantic Monthly

Olga Khazan

June 12, 2013


The Russian Duma unanimously approved a law on Tuesday that prohibits the distribution of homosexual "propaganda" to minors. Holding gay pride events , speaking in defense of gay rights, or equating gay and heterosexual relationships can now result in fines of up to $31,000.

Before the vote, gay rights activists who attempted to hold a "kiss-in" outside the Duma were pelted with eggs by Orthodox Christian and pro-Kremlin activists. Anti-gay protesters also gathered, with one holding a sign that read : "Lawmakers, protect the people from perverts!"

The argument that a young person can be "propagandized" into turning gay may seem outdated (not to mention an overestimation of the power of propaganda), but it's actually not out of place in modern Russia.

"Children maimed by pedophiles jump out of windows, they take their own lives. Pedophilia is an attempt on a child's life!" cried one St. Petersburg lawmaker when a similar ban in that city passed last year, seemingly confusing homosexuality and child molestation. Madonna was recently sued for speaking in favor of gay rights during a St. Petersburg concert. When a 23-year-old man in Volgograd revealed he was gay to some drinking companions last month, they beat him, shoved beer bottles in his anus, and crushed his head with a stone.

In the Soviet Union, homosexuality was a crime punishable by prison and hard labor, and Stalinist anti-gay policies persisted throughout the 60s and 70s. Gays were considered "outsiders," and homosexuality was thought to be the domain of pedophiles and fascists.

Measures like the propaganda ban show that many Russians still haven't shed that view, even decades after the fall of the regime that kept homophobia in place.

"When the Stalin anti-homosexual law was repealed in 1993, there was no amnesty for those still sitting in prison for sodomy," wrote history professor Dan Healey , an expert on homosexuality in Russia, on Facebook.

Only 16 percent of Russians today say homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with 42 percent in nearby (and also formerly communist) Poland.

Interestingly, Russians buck a major trend in modern homophobia: more religious countries are far more likely to be less accepting of homosexuality. But Russia and China seem to reject both God and gays. Russia ranks as one of the least devout countries on earth, with only 33 percent of Russians saying religion was very important in their daily life in 2009:


But even though Russians aren't churchgoers in the traditional sense, most are still incredibly supportive of the Orthodox Church, which wields power both politically, as an ally of the Putin government, and as a symbol of national pride in much of the population.

Indeed, many Russians today view Church affiliation as a way to reaffirm their "Russianness," as Masha Lipman, the chair of the Carnegie Moscow Center's Society and Regions Program, told me via email. Roughly 80 to 90 percent of Russians identify as Orthodox Christians, but almost none attend services even monthly. Instead, in a 2007 (Russian) poll on the subject , the majority of respondents said religion for them was a "national tradition" and "an adherence to moral and ethical standards," while only 16 percent said it was about personal salvation.

The Church's head, Patriarch Kirill, has been outspoken against "social ills" like alternative sexual orientations.

"The church has very strong anti-gay rhetoric, its getting stronger and stronger all the time," one St. Petersburg gay activist told PRI . "Five years ago, they would ignore the issue and now they say homosexuality is a sin."

It's no coincidence that the punk band Pussy Riot was sent to jail for performing in an Orthodox church, specifically. Kirill and other Church elders have also served as occasional Putin campaigners, issuing bizarre declarations that mash together Christianity and the longevity of United Russia. Kirill has said that "liberalism will lead to legal collapse and then the Apocalypse" and referred to Putin's presidency as "a miracle." Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov warned once that "one needs to remember that the first revolutionary was Satan."

Putin's government seems to cling to the age-old Russian/Soviet idea that rulers should set the country's moral agenda. And Russian lawmakers are more than happy to marshal the Church's support, as well as the public's entrenched intolerance, to rally the country's conservatives. To Elizabeth Wood , a professor of history at MIT, the propaganda ban shows that, "Putin and his cronies are circling the wagons, creating a climate of us versus them."

Wood went on to say in an email:

In some countries, such a law might seem like a sign of religious influence run amok. But in Russia, it's part of a broader anti-opposition push and a crackdown on a wide array of civil liberties.

"Homophobia more often than not ... derives not from one's faith, but from being essentially anti-liberal," Lipman said. "Russia is an illiberal country, and Putin's government capitalizes on illiberal sentiments, especially during the past year -- after the Kremlin faced mass protests of the liberal minority."
Niccolo and Donkey

Good article, pretty much sums it up. Except it strangely omits one important thing which is key here - omnipresence of "prison culture" in Russia. Russian plebian culture since late 60s began to heavily borrow jargon, ideas of valor, glory, right and wrong in absence of a greater moral teaching from convicts, and in prison tradition homosexuals are the most despised of people, live under "schkonka" (under the cot) in a cell and you can't touch them with anything or even give them anything otherwise you can "oshkvaritsia", such contacts viewed as if homosexuality is transferred onto you as well.

As stupid as it is, most people who protest against homosexual propaganda and all that, are probably among this kind of the lowest of proles who think its "manly" to engage in convictthink.


Theo is right. Russia's 'conservatism' is that of soccer hooligans and gangsters, it has nothing to do with religion. Russians worship criminals and criminal behavior in a very wiggerish/chav kind of way.

Bronze Age Pervert

God bless the soccer hooligans, the gangsters, the brutish tattooed criminal, they are the only ones who will save the nations!

Destroy the cities and the states, save the peoples!

Team Zissou
The proles are not wrong; they know if only by instinct that homosexuals and feminists are toxic to society. This is a problem of a vacuum in the country's leadership. Also, it didn't help that they killed, imprisoned and exiled at least two generations worth of aristocracy, business owners, rural yeomen and clerics. All that's left are the thugs.
This is fantastic, and it's absolutely the proper way to handle these criminals seeking to corrupt the morals of the nation's youth and desecrate the institution of marriage. In the West, the punishment should entail prison terms and frankly the death penalty for those who use or cause the mass media to spread homosexual propaganda among the people. (Of course, the mass media of the West should not be in the hands of Jews in the first place, which is a large part of the problem.)

Mass media outlets are fond of focusing on factors like "religion" and "belief in God" with respect to prevailing social attitudes towards homosexuality. You can't expect the mass media to focus on themselves, but rather it's up to the astute individual member of society to observe that the mass media don't merely report on social attitudes, but actively shape them as well. As I tried to argue in the Shoutbox (perhaps not as cogently as I would have liked), the most influential factor for the recent shifts in attitudes, at least in the United States, has been the constant bombardment of homosexual-sympathetic and homosexual-triumphant messages in the mass media of news and entertainment. It is simply inconceivable that ordinary working-class people would be so reflexively mouthing pro-homosexual clichés -- "gay marriage is about equal rights / it's inevitable / what's the big deal / we have bigger issues / we have to overcome hate and bigotry / if you oppose gay marriage you're probably a closet gay yourself / I know a gay couple and they're nice people / etc." -- without homosexual propaganda having saturated the mass media for the last couple decades. Americans took a very dim view of permitting homosexual "marriage" up until about ten years ago.

Furthermore, one needn't have a staunchly religiously defined outlook in order to discern the profound problems attendant to redefining marriage in particular and sexual libertinism in general. One can take a social-utilitarian point of view, a Natural Law point of view, a humanist point of view, or even a hedonistic point of view and use reason to conclude that instant gratification does not lead to the good life or a good society. One can look at sociological data and use reason to conclude that weakening marriage is bad for children and therefore bad for society. The word "homosexual" itself was coined in the 1890s by doctors who wanted scientific terminology to cover what they considered to be psychopathology. The mass media would like to portray anti-homosexuality as a strictly religious phenomenon, but that is simply not the case.

Getting back to Russia, although I have never been there, I think that if the homosexual agenda is not taking root there, one can reasonably conclude that Soviet and post-Soviet mass media have not laid the necessary groundwork. If the Duma can withstand external pressure and vigorously enforce the new law against homosexual propaganda, then I believe that the homosexual agenda can be forestalled indefinitely. And in good will towards Russia I hope that's what happens.
Theo's analysis seems unsatisfactory. The article is about a new law in the Duma. Do Russian soccer hooligans have the clout to push legislation through that body?
Team Zissou

Note the Atlantic's preening about Church attendance like some Baptist preacher. I wish everyone attended every Sunday. I wish I made every Vespers and Orthros. The Church in Russia is a mature institution. She's always there, whether you are individually there or not. That's what a national Church looks like. Russians show up on the major feasts; it's where they go to be baptized, married and buried. I pray for the day when "Church" in whatever iteration America ends up is practically cultural background noise and nobody even gives much thought to where/when/how/who/what in order to "go to church." You just head for wherever the bells are ringing, light a candle, do your devotions, etc. When you're going thru hard times, you go find a monk and ask for advice. When you're feeling guilty, you go to Confession.


Russia had a pretty serious problem with AIDS in the 1990s too. Something that is lost on Liberals is that people who live in places in which major disease epidemics are within living memory aren't real keen to the promotion of sodomy and loose morals. It would be kind of like somebody stumping in defense of street prostitution in Edwardian London in the wake of a Syphilis outbreak.

If you live in poverty and are haunted by the specter of plague, and you worry about the future of your family, your ethnos, your culture, etc. you're not going to be real keen to privileged anarchists who have contempt for your values demanding that people pursue sodomy.