Book chapter

Russian LGBT Politics and Rights (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Research on LGBT politics in Russia is a growing but still relatively small field. The current conditions of LGBT politics in Russia have been shaped by various historical processes. A key event was the 1933–1934 Stalinist anti-homosexual campaign and recriminalization of sodomy; during this period a discursive frame was established which to a large extent continues to structure public perceptions of homosexuality: according to this framework, it is a political as well as a national transgression, associated with imagined attempts to undermine Russia by Western states. A near-total silence about homosexuality in the post-Stalin Soviet Union—where same-sex relations were regulated by criminal (in the case of men) and psychiatric (in the case of women) institutions—was broken during late 1980s perestroika, leading up to the 1993 decriminalization of sodomy. The Putin years have seen the gradual rise of a nationalist conservative ideology that opposes LGBT rights and stresses the importance of "traditional values." The latter concept became state ideology after Putin's return to the presidency in 2012, as manifested in the 2013 ban on "propaganda for nontraditional sexual relations" and the foreign-policy profiling of Russia as an international guardian of conservatism. In neighboring Eurasian countries—the post-Soviet republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus—the rise of "traditional-values" discourses and proposed propaganda bans in the 2010s indicate the extent to which LGBT politics have become entangled in geopolitical contestations over identity and regional influence. In Russia, a first wave of gay activism in the early 1990s failed to develop into a vital and lasting political movement, but established a queer infrastructure in larger cities. It was followed by a second generation of activists in the mid-2000s, for some of whom the organization of Pride marches have been the main strategy, leading to controversies that have increased the public visibility and politicization of LGBT issues. In scholarship on LGBT politics in Russia and Eurasia, two important subjects of discussion have been visibility and geopoliticization. The first includes a critique of identity-based visibility politics and how it has structured perceptions of queer life in Russia as well as LGBT activism itself. Researchers have examined the multiple and contradictory effects and meanings of public visibility in the Russian context and pointed at alternative forms of activism and organizing. Second, researchers have explored the geopolitical underpinnings of sexual politics, mapping how LGBT issues are interwoven in complex negotiations over national and civilizational identity, sovereignty and regional domination, security, progress and modernity.