First victims of anti-LGBTQ+ law in Russia are trans persons and books

Screenshot from Dasha Kareyka's Twitch account

The law ‘against LGBTQ+ propaganda was passed by the parliament in Russia in late November 2022, and signed by Putin in December the same year. As of today, the first set of people under investigation are openly trans TikTokers and a publishing house. As ordinary citizens and officials report other people, this indirect censorship is also flourishing.

LGBTQ+ propaganda case against a publishing house

The law prohibits the spread of ‘propaganda’ (which in this version of the law also includes simple ‘demonstration’) of LGBTQ+ relations and gender change among both minors and adults.  As Global Voices wrote earlier, one of the main problems with the law was it being a threat to publishers — who actually sent a letter to parliament asking them to explain the bill — and to online and offline cinemas, TV, theatres, and media (for those outlets that are not yet blocked inside Russia).  The law established administrative fines up to USD 5500 per individual for LGBTQ+ propaganda and up to USD 2500 for ‘encouraging’ gender change.

Indeed, one of the first victims of the law was the publishing house Popcorn Books which, according to its website, prints

compelling fiction books that speak about ”uncomfortable” topics: issues of self-identity, racism and sexism, attitudes towards one's own body, and so on.

Member of the State Duma (the lower house of Russian Parliament) Alexander Khinshtein initiated an inquiry that he boasted about in his Telegram channel.  The Moscow Times reported that Khinshtein wrote:

“I hope that the case will be brought to court and that Popcorn Books — which has openly challenged the government — gets what it deserves”

Popcorn books decided in November to redesign several of its book covers to include the passage from the Russian constitution that bans the introduction of censorship. Moreover, one of the novels that Popcorn books has published,  “Summer in a Pioneer Tie,” is about the relationship of two young men, Yura and Volodya, who met in a youth camp in the summer of 1986. As Novaya Gazeta Europa, an independent Russian outlet,  writes, the book was written by Elena Malisova and Katerina Silvanova. It originally appeared on the Ficbook fanfiction site where a lot of young authors got their starts, and the book gained popularity. In 2021, it was published by Popcorn Books publishing house, and became a bestseller, placing second in the Russian book bestseller rating for the first half of 2022.  Not only it was a surprisingly huge success for the book about same-sex relations but also it happened during the time of Russian invasion of Ukraine and the state’s propaganda outbursts about Russian society as a conservative alternative to the ‘immoral West.’

According to RBC Russian online media, one of the largest book selling supermarket networks, Chitai-Gorod, has withdrawn from sale a number of books with  ‘LGBTQ+’  themes.  They claimed that this was the initiative of the Popcorn Books publishing house, and the books have been sent for ‘expert review.’

At the same time, Ficbook website, has changed its rules, and LGBTQ+ content is no longer accepted for publishing at the main site of the project.

The state against transpersons on TikTok

The other victims of the anti-LGBTQ+ law were two bloggers, Hilmi Forks and Dasha Koreyka, popular on TikTok and Twitch. Dasha Kareyka has documented her gender transition on social media platforms. This was a very brave thing to do for a young person coming from a small town in provincial Russia considering the history of violence against LGBTQ+ people in the country.

Despite hateful comments, she has also received support from the Russian-speaking audience, and her blogs were (and are) quite popular.  Her Instagram account has 1.4 million followers, with only 32 posts, her Twitch over 800 000, and Telegram over 200,000 followers. Her TikTok account had over 4 million followers (it now has been blocked on the platform due to unknown reasons).

The RBC Russian online media reported that the case was opened because another MP of the Russian State Duma, Yana Lantratova, has filed a complaint with  the Prosecutor General's Office and Roskomnadzor (the Russian government media watchdog) to check the two bloggers for “spreading LGBTQ+ propaganda, transgenderism, broadcasting immoral behavior and insulting the feelings of believers.” According to Lantratova, a 17-year-old Saint Petersburg activist Dmitry Nazarov gave her a link to Dasha Koreyka and Hilmi Forks's videos.

Global Voices has written that TikTokers are becoming a regular target for the attacks of those close to the Russian government.  In November 2022, TikToker Nekoglai was deported from Russia to Moldova after the daughter of another Russian MP, Elena Mizulina, complained about a  parody video he made of a Russian soldier. Nekoglai later said that he was tortured by the Russian police before being deported. He is now crowdsourcing funds to buy drones for the Ukrainian army.

Nekoglai has also been supportive of Dasha Koreyka: he said on his Telegram channel that no one could degrade her because of her life choices, and everyone had a right to live their own life as they wanted it to be.

The state against movies, series and books

Russian social media watchdog Roskomnadzor has blocked over 300 websites since December 2023 due to the anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law.  Some  TV series (such as, for example, Sex and the City and The White Lotus) had LGBTQ+ scenes with taken out by Russian streaming platforms.

Meduza reported that Roskomnadzor was also developing criteria by which it would define LGBTQ+ propaganda, which it finished and sent to Russian based video streaming services at the end of December 2022. The list includes the movies “Brokeback Mountain” and “Call Me by Your Name”, as well as some episodes of the TV series “Sex Lives of College Girls” and “This is Going to Hurt.”

Earlier, Meduza reported that libraries in Moscow received a list of books from Roskomnadzor that contained ‘LGBTQ+ propaganda.’ Among the authors whose works were included in this list are Michael Cunningham, Oksana Vasyakina, John Boyne, Haruki Murakami, Stephen Fry, and Eduard Limonov. The books would need to be discarded by public libraries — in simpler terms, thrown into garbage.  

Meanwhile, the blogger Hilmi Forks, as the Village reported, has moved to Armenia. The blogger wrote:

There are no laws here that work against me here, on the contrary, they work to protect me.

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