Ten years have passed since the first laws against "homo-propaganda" were passed in Russia - now the action against sexual minorities there is to be tightened up enormously again. But there are homosexual Russians, well known to the public, who nevertheless no longer hide.
Russian tennis player Darya Kassatkina says in a video interview that she has a life partner. In St. Petersburg, opposition politician Sergey Troshin has recently spoken openly about his homosexuality. He came out as a gay man at the age of 39. "It's a liberating feeling," he says in a video chat. There are hostilities. "But the positive reactions outweigh the negative."
Kassatkina and Troshin broke a taboo in Russian society, which often excludes lesbians and gays. Conservatives in Russia now want to ban public statements about homosexuality and "non-traditional values" by means of a law. Even a ban on the rainbow flag hoisted at many Western embassies in Moscow in the summer is being discussed.
Russia's head of parliament Vyacheslav Volodin is convinced that the law banning "propaganda of non-traditional values" proposed by various parties will come into force in the autumn. Fines are also expected to increase significantly. A statement on the draft states, for example, that the popularization of non-traditional relationships is a danger to society - just like drugs and extremism.
It's been ten years since the first controversial laws against what is officially known as "homo-propaganda" were passed in Russia. This was intended to prevent positive statements about same-sex love in the presence of children. In 2013, Russia's parliament passed a nationwide law that is now to be significantly tightened: Adults are also said to be now protected.
Human rights activists have already complained that this encourages discrimination, hate speech and persecution. But now the dimension is bigger. "Politicians in Russia see themselves threatened by the liberal West, so they fight everything that comes from there," says Sergei Troschin. He is active in the opposition Yabloko party as a member of a district parliament in the cosmopolitan tourist center of St. Petersburg. He has been campaigning for more acceptance of LGBT people - lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals - for years.
"They need this external enemy to distract attention from the many problems in the country," says Troshin, also with a view to the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. "They want to artificially delay development, but time is against them." Troshin is convinced that one day Russia will represent European values. At some point, the rainbow flag will also fly at the Smolny, the city government in St. Petersburg - as it does at the Chancellery in Berlin and many public institutions in Germany. There is still a long way to go.
In Russia, hate speech against homosexuals and bisexuals, against transgender people and everything queer in general is widespread in the state media and among leading politicians. Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin repeatedly makes fun of "non-traditional relationships". He had marriage between men and women enshrined in the constitution - and promised that with him in power there would never be a "gay marriage". He once accused gays and lesbians of wanting to aggressively impose their point of view on a majority. For a long time, YouTube has also been a nuisance for the traditionalists with its many colorful contents.
Western culture is also popular in Russia. US series, films, comics and books that reflect the diversity of life are available in Russian. But now many are wondering what is left of the content of the bans that are now being discussed. In the case of the rules for the protection of children, labeling 18 was sufficient up to now. But now everything should be banned that does not correspond to the conservative values of the power elite.
In Russia, the scientifically unproven opinion is widespread that homosexuality is a question of upbringing. And even Putin, who repeatedly expresses his concern about declining birth rates in Russia, sees non-heterosexual relationships as a threat to demographic development. This is probably one of the reasons why the law against "homo-propaganda" signed by Putin at the time is now to be tightened and extended to adults.
"The parliamentarians fear that not only minors, but also adults will immediately start having sex with their peers and will no longer pay attention to the opposite sex when they find out that homosexuality is completely normal," says the lawyer Yulia Fedotova in one blog. She considers the initiative to be legally unsustainable. And other experts also refer to the ban on discrimination enshrined in the Russian constitution.
In view of the widespread criticism, the initiators of the law point out that homosexuality itself is not prohibited. In fact, there are gay clubs and saunas in Moscow, for example. Nevertheless, many homosexuals and transgender people have also left the country. 25-year-old Darja Kassatkina is currently the best-placed Russian in 12th place in the world tennis rankings. At a meeting with blogger Vitya Kravchenko in Barcelona, she said that it is important for young people when athletes or other well-known personalities talk about it.
In St. Petersburg, Sergej Troschin also experienced that openness makes a difference. But so far, such public coming-outs are rare in Russia. Troschin says that many in show business are afraid of disadvantages, that they will lose orders. He himself is determined to stay in Russia. "I want to change something here," he says. One day same-sex partnerships would be legalized in Russia too; many states would have experienced that. "Progress cannot be stopped."