Russian Justice Ministry seeks to “liquidate” LGBT organization
As Russia encroaches on Ukraine and causes a furor at the Olympics over doping, at home, the government continues to attack LGBTQ people. According to Human Rights Watch, Russia’s Justice Ministry has filed a lawsuit seeking to “liquidate” Sphere Foundation, the legal name under which the Russian LGBT Network operates. The Russian LGBT Network is a non-governmental LGBT rights organization working for the social acceptance of and protection of the rights of LGBT people in Russia. During Chechnya’s anti-gay purge in 2017, the network led the advocacy efforts to stop abuses and evacuate survivors.
The lawsuit asserts that the network’s activities run contrary to “traditional values” — a common theme regularly used in Eastern Europe, as PGN has reported about Poland and Hungary.
According to the Press Service for St. Petersburg Courts, the ministry’s lawsuit argues that “all the activities of Sphere run contrary to the state policy designed to preserve, expand and develop [the country’s] human capital.” The ministry also accuses Sphere of spreading “LGBT views” and working with people under the age of 18, aspiring, among other things, to “change Russian federal legislation regarding the LGBT movement,” that is the discriminatory “gay propaganda” law PGN has previously reported on.
The suit asserts that if the work of a non-profit organization does not align with the “fundamental family values enshrined in the Russian constitution,” then it is “a threat to public order and the rule of law.”
Sphere Foundation was founded in 2011 by Russian LGBT rights activist Igor Kochetkov. In 2016, authorities designated Sphere Foundation a “foreign agent.” In 2021, Russian LGBT Network and Kochetkov personally were also given the “foreign agent” designation, which puts people at high risk for targeted attacks. HRW notes that “state-sponsored media organized a vicious smear campaign against the network and Kochetkov.”
In a social media post, Kochetkov said, “During [its] 11 years, Sphere … was never found in breach of any regulations. The government’s claims against us are ideological, rather than law-based.”
After years of interfering with the work of LGBT rights activists and restricting their actions by application of the “foreign agent” and “gay propaganda” laws, Russian authorities have now moved to completely shut down the organization.
HRW said, “The courts should not be compliant with this act of political, homophobic censorship that blatantly violate Russia’s human rights obligations.”
Tanya Lokshina, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, told NBC News that there is an “ongoing, very disturbing trend of stifling independent voices in Russia.”
She added, “If you’re gay, as long as you hide it, as long as you do not speak up… it’s OK, but if you speak up… it becomes a very serious problem. The Russian government is ready to tolerate gay people as long as they’re in the closet.”
In a statement to NBC News, Dilya Gafurova, a spokesperson for the Sphere Foundation, said, “From the point of view of the Russian government, our very activity goes against the state ideology of traditional values. However, despite the whims of the political climate, LGBT+ people exist. We refuse to give up and let the government shut us down; we refuse to agree that the very activity of helping LGBT+ people does not correspond to the idea of ‘charity,’ as is stated in their claim.”
Gafurova added, “LGBT+ people are the citizens of this country just like every other social group and deserve the same rights and freedoms, [but it] seems more and more like the government is trying to make any LGBT+ activism taboo.”
New Zealand bans conversion therapy
On February 15, New Zealand became the latest country to ban conversion therapy. Canada banned the harmful practice in December and France is considering a similar ban.
Conversion therapy is a widely discredited practice that claims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The New Zealand legislation “makes it an offence to perform conversion practices on anyone aged under 18, or with impaired decision-making capacity.” There is a sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment for violations.
The law also makes it illegal to perform conversion practices that cause “serious harm,” even in adults. That violation of the law would entail a sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment.
The justice select committee of New Zealand received nearly 107,000 public submissions on the law — the equivalent of an amicus brief in the U.S. The Guardian reports that this is the “highest number of public submissions received on a piece of legislation in New Zealand.”
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson spoke to the legislature and said the law would “right some of the wrongs caused by conversion practices.”
Robertson, who is openly gay, said, “I grew up in a religious churchgoing household in the era of homosexual law reform. When I finally gathered the courage to come out to my parents, I was met with love… but not everyone is or was so lucky.”
Robertson said, “To all those who have been affected by conversion practices or attempts at them, we want to say, this legislation is for you. We cannot bring you back, we cannot undo all of the hurt, but we can make sure that for the generations to come, we provide the support and love you did not get and protect you from the harm of those who seek to try to stop you from being who you are.”
The founder of the Conversion Therapy Action Group, Shaneel Lal, said, “The ban on conversion therapy is a win for humanity, not just the queer community. Queer rights are human rights. Queer people do not need to be tolerated or accepted, we need to be liberated.”
New Zealand has a very high youth suicide rate, with an even higher suicide rate among LGBT+ youth. Research from 2019 found 79% of trans and non-binary New Zealanders had seriously contemplated suicide and two-fifths had self-harmed in the past 12 months.
The ban is effective immediately.
Chinese censors take out “Friends” LGBT plotlines
The popular U.S. sit-com “Friends” is being censored in China. LGBT plotlines and references have been elided throughout the series, according to reports in the South China Times and other publications.
The show, which ran from 1994 to 2004, was just re-released in China on Tencent, Bilibili, Sohu, iQiyi and Alibaba’s Youku.
Chinese viewers of the series say scenes have been deleted, including those that reference a lesbian character, and another featuring a same-sex kiss. In one instance, dialogue was cut about the ex-wife of one character, Ross, who left him after she realized she was a lesbian.
Incorrect subtitles were also used to downplay sexual references. The hashtag #FriendsCensored was being used on the Chinese social media site Weibo.
BBC reports that none of the platforms have responded publicly to the accusations.
According to BBC, “Friends has a massive following in China, with many Chinese millennials crediting the show with teaching them English and introducing them to U.S. culture.”