Monitoring of Discrimination and Violence based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Russia in 2016-2017

Monitoring of Discrimination and Violence based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Russia in 2016-2017

In the course of the monitoring program implementation in 2016-2017 Russian LGBT Network has recorded 366 personal cases containing evidence of discrimination and violence towards LGBT people in Russia. Our trained volunteer team interviews survivors and works in several regions of Russia. The staff changes yearly, a geography of participation broadens, and at the same time, new cases of rights violations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are being recorded. Collected data during the monitoring program cannot be considered exhaustive, since a lot of LGBT people are not aware of the monitoring, and among those who know about this program there are only few who are willing to talk about the discrimination that’s happened to them. As a matter of fact, LGBT people face violence and human rights abuse much more often than the monitoring statistics reflects.

Many factors influence the high level of discrimination. Legally LGBT people are barely recognized as a social group, that is why crimes of violence cannot be classified as hate crimes and a motive of hostility cannot be recognized as aggravating circumstances. Cases of murders, that were committed only for homophobic reasons, according to the offenders themselves, consist statements as “disagreements during a sudden quarrel”.

Systematic discrimination in socio-economic institutions and domestic violence is affected by political course towards traditional norms and values and placing emphasis on differences between Western countries and Russia. Unfortunately, to Russians, the value of human rights and respect for personality in public are considered as alien expressions of tolerance and recede into the background, which inevitably leads to development of intolerance to different social groups.

Mass media continue portraying LGBT people mainly in a negative light. Popular politicians, celebrities and other public figures, who shape public mind, express their opinions by hate speeches towards LGBTQ people with no fear to get legal sanctions and public criticism. So-called “propaganda law”  has created a basis for suggestions to limit LGBT people’s rights and by the 2017 has transformed into real appeals to deprive LGBT people of fundamental rights, in some cases – even the right to life. It has created and strengthened an idea in public conscience that LGBT people, as well as organizations that set up their mission to achieve equal rights regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, serve the interests of some “imposed enemy”, and society's duty is to resist it through the fight against equality.

In regions where traditionalist discourse is recognized as fundamental, one can set a course for a radical struggle “with vice”. In 2017, cases of flagrant violations against LGBT people in the Chechen Republic became known. Law enforcement agencies in Chechnya launched an unprecedented campaign aimed to “purge the nation from gays”. The police and the military unlawfully detained and placed men in unofficial prisons those under suspicion of having a homosexual intercourse. The detainees were severely beaten, tortured, were set against other prisoners, deprived of sleep, light, food and water. According to informants from the North Caucasus region, there have been cases of homosexual murders that were sanctioned or committed independently by authorities of the Chechen Republic. There were women among the victims who reported the brutal persecution on the grounds of homophobia and transphobia. In most cases, lesbians and transgender women were “punished” by their relatives, but violence against homosexual and transgender women by police officers was also documented.

Since March 29, 2017, the Russian LGBT Network has been providing emergency assistance to victims, including evacuation of those who have been persecuted or threatened with extrajudicial killings from Chechnya because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Most of the organization's resources and efforts were aimed to this area. This also explains the lack of activity of the monitoring team in interviewing victims of discrimination based on SOGI in other regions of Russia, which in turn affected the number of documented cases. 

At the same time, monitoring volunteers documented the testimony of 77 people from the region who were subjected to the massive persecutions of LGBT people in the North Caucasus. All stories recorded from the survivors’ words confirm the facts of violence and threats of violence on the mere basis of belonging to the LGBT community. 

The events in Chechnya illustrate the consequences of systematic neglect of the rights of a particular social group and empowered by government representatives’ eloquence against the protection of such group.
Above-mentioned law of propaganda of “untraditional sexual relations among minors”, that was passed in 2013, has legitimated discrimination  and contributed to significant reduction of LGBT people’s opportunities in Russia. It has been tremendously influencing the matters of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people during 2016-2017.

Furthermore, the meaning behind “propaganda” in everyday perception includes both positive and negative mentions of LGBT people, that leads to suppression of sexuality as it is, especially in minors’ presence. Sexual education of young people and teenagers is not provided, HIV and STD prevention is hindered by constant control of religious activists and ideologically caused reluctance to discuss sex-related issues with teenagers on a public institutions level. Non-adult LGBT persons are isolated from adequate information even more: a side effect of propaganda law imposes restrictions for under-ages to information that their sexual orientation and gender identity are not a deviation or a disease that needs to be treated. Those teenagers who have not met with support among friends and family face a high risk of becoming depressed and to suicide tendency. Adult activists are persecuted by government for information dissemination that could lower the risk degree for LGBT teenagers.

Suppression of topics, connected with sexuality and gender, results in systematic and complex negative consequences to LGBT people. That’s why we conduct monitoring of discrimination yearly: not only to cover the status of human rights in Russia, that’s left much to be desired, but also to break a taboo on sexuality discussion, increase visibility of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people and attract general public’s attention to difficulties that millions of Russian LGBT citizens face.