LGBT rights in Russia

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LGBT rights in Russia
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 1993[1]
Age of consent stands at 16 since 2003
Gender identity/expression Legal gender change since 1997[note 1]
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex relationships
Article 12 of Family Code de facto states that marriage is a union of a man and a woman
Adoption No legal restrictions to adopt by a single person[note 2]
Military service Non-official policy "Don't ask, don't tell" since 2003[2][note 3]
Discrimination protections None

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Russia may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents, though many advances have been made in the past two decades. (when MSMs were finally allowed to donate blood)[3], Russia has no criminal law directed at LGBT people, but since male homosexual acts were decriminalized in 1993,[1] authorities did nothing to enact legislation to address discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

  • The age of consent currently stands at 16 since 2003, regardless of sexual orientation.
  • Transsexual and transgender people can change their legal gender after corresponding medical procedures since 1997.[note 1]
  • Homosexuality was officially removed from the Russian list of mental illnesses in 1999 (after endorsing ICD-10).
  • There is currently no legal recognition of same-sex couples in Russia, and same-sex marriages are not allowed. Public support for gay marriages is at 14% .[4][5]
  • Single persons can adopt children, regardless of sexual orientation, but only married couples can adopt children together, as a couple.[note 2]
  • Gay people officially can serve in the military on a par with heterosexual people since 2003[2], but they are not welcome there.[note 3]

Public opinion about LGBT topics and people tends to be negative: according to 2005 poll, 43.5% of Russians support re-criminalization of homosexual acts between consensual adults;[4] at the same time, 42.8% of Russians support a legal ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.[4] There is a visible LGBT community network, mostly in major cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg, including nightclubs and political organizations.

Tsarist Russia

In 1716, Tsar Peter the Great enacted a ban on male homosexuality in the armed forces. The prohibition on sodomy was part of a larger reform movement designed to modernize Russia and efforts to extend a similar ban to the civilian population were rejected until 1835.[6]

Prior to Tsarist policy, homosexuality and cross-dressing were punished by religious authorities or militias. Ivan the Terrible was accused of being gay, in an attempt to discredit him. When Duke Dmitry was overthrown his broken body was dragged through the streets, from his genitals, alongside his reputed boyfriend.[6]

In 1832, Russian czar Nicholas I added Article 995 which outlawed muzhelozhstvo. While this could have created a ban on all forms of private adult, and voluntary homosexual behavior, the courts tended to limit its interpreted to anal sex between men, thus making private acts of oral sex between consenting men legal. The law did not explicitly address female homosexuality or cross-dressing, although both behaviors were considered to be equally immoral and may have been punished under other laws.[7] Persons convicted under Article 995 were to be stripped of their rights and relocated to a Siberia for four to five years. It is unknown how many Russians were sentenced under this law, although there were a number of openly gay and bisexual Russians during this era; i.e. the conservative Nikolai Gogol and homoerotic rites were popular among some religious dissidents in the far north of Russia.[8] The relatively high number of openly gay or bisexual artists and intellectuals continued on into the late nineteenth century.

Author and critic Konstantin Leontiev was bisexual, and one of the most famous couples in the late nineteenth century Russian literary were the lesbians; feminist-lawyer Anna Yevreinova and author Maria Feodorova. Another notable Russian lesbian couple were author Polyxena Soloviova and Natalia Manaseina.[9] Other notables included poet Alexei Apukhtin, Peter Tchaikovsky, conservative author and publisher Prince Vladimir Meshchersky, Sergei Diaghilev, who had an affair with his cousin Dmitry Filosofov and, after the breakup, with Vaslav Nijinsky. Mikhail Kuzmin's novel Wings (1906) became one of the first "coming out" stories to have a happy ending and his private journals provide a detailed view of a gay subculture, involving men of all classes.

While there was a degree of government tolerance extended to certain gay or bisexual artists and intellectuals, especially if they were on friendly terms with the tsarist family, the pervasive public opinion, greatly influenced by the Eastern Orthodox Church, was that homosexuality was a sign of corruption, decadence and immorality. Russian author Alexander Amfiteatrov's novel titled People of the 1890s (1910), reflected this prejudice with two gay characters; a masculine lesbian attorney and a decadent gay poet.

Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection introduces a Russian artist, convicted for having sex with his students but given a lenient sentence, and a Russian activist for gay rights as examples of the widespread corruption and immorality in Tsarist Russia.[7]

These two depiction of gay men and women in literature, suggest that the government's selective tolerance of homosexuality was not widely expressed among the Russian people and that it was also divorced from any endorsement of LGBT rights. While other nations, most notable Germany, had an active gay rights movement during this era, the most visible example of Russian homosexuality, aside from literature, was prostitution.

Russian urbanization had helped to ensure that St. Petersburg and Moscow both had gay brothels, along with many public places where men would buy and sell sexual services for or from other men.[6] While there certainly was lesbian prostitution, and some alleged lesbian affairs, less was publicly said, good or bad, about gay or bisexual women.[6] Grand Duke Sergey Alexandrovich Romanov (uncle of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II)was Governor of Moscow from 1891 till 1905. His homosexual relationships were widely famous in Moscow.

Anarchists & Kadets

Anarchist Alexander Berkman softened his prejudice against homosexuality through his relationship with Emma Goldman and his time spent in jail, where he learned that working class men could be gay, thus rebuking the idea that homosexuality was sign of upper middle class or wealthy exploitation or decadence.[10]

One of the founders of the Kadets, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, had written a research paper on the legal status of homosexuality in Russia, published by early gay rights advocate Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin.

Pre-Stalin Soviet Russia

The Russian Communist Inessa Armand openly called for feminism and sexual liberation. The Russian Communist Party effectively legalized no-fault divorce, abortion and homosexuality, when they abolished all the old Tsarist laws and the initial Soviet criminal code kept these liberal sexual polices in place.[11]

Yet, the legalization of private, adult and consensual homosexual relations only applied to Russia itself. Homosexuality or sodomy remained a crime in Azerbaijan (1923), Soviet Georgia, Central Asia and Uzbek throughout the 1920s.[12] Similar criminal laws were enacted in Uzbekistan (1926) and Turkmenistan (1927).[13] Why homosexuality was legal and illegal in different parts of the Soviet Union is not all together clear.

The Soviet Union sent delegates were the German Institute for Sexual Science, and to some international conferences on human sexuality, who expressed support for the legalization of adult, private and consensual homosexual relations. However, in the 1930s, LGBT themes faced official government censorship, and a uniformly harsher policy across the entire Soviet Union.


In 1933, Article 121 was added to the criminal code, for the entire Soviet Union, that expressly prohibited male homosexuality, with up to five years of hard labor in prison. The precise reason for the new law is still in some dispute.

Some historians have suggested that Stalin's enactment of the anti-gay law was, like his prohibition on abortion, an attempt to increase the Russian birthrate and build a better relationship with the socially conservative Eastern Orthodox Church. Some historians have noted that it was during this time that Soviet propaganda began to depict homosexuality as a sign of fascism, and that Article 121 may have a simple political tool to use against dissidents, irrespective of their true sexual orientation, and to solidify Russian opposition to Nazi Germany, who had broken its treaty with Russia.[14]

More recently, a third possible reason for the anti-gay law has emerged from declassified Soviet documents and transcripts. Beyond expressed fears of a vast "counterrevolutionary" or fascist homosexual conspiracy, there were several high profile arrests of Russian men accused of being pederasts.[15] In 1933, 130 men "were accused of being 'pederasts' — adult males who have sex with boys. Since no records of men having sex with boys at that time are available, it is possible this term was used broadly and crudely to label homosexuality."[15] Whatever the precise reason, homosexuality remained a serious criminal offense until it was repealed in 1993.[15]

The Soviet government itself said very little publicly about the change in the law, and few people seemed to be aware that it existed. In 1934, the British Communist Harry Whyte wrote a long letter to Stalin condemning the law, and its prejudicial motivations. He laid out a Marxist position against the oppression of homosexuals, as a social minority, and compared homophobia to racism, xenophobia and sexism.[16]

While the letter was not formally replied to, Soviet cultural writer Maxim Gorky authored an article, published in both Pravda and Izvestia titled "Proletarian Humanism", that seemed to reject Whyte's arguments point by point. He rejected the notion that homosexuals were a social minority, and argued that the Soviet Union needed to combat them in order to protect the youth and battle fascism.[17]

A few years later, 1936, Justice Commissar Nikolai Krylenko publicly stated that the anti-gay criminal law was correctly aimed at the decadent and effete old ruling classes, thus further linking homosexuality to a right-wing conspiracy, i.e. tsarist aristocracy and German fascists.[15]

1950s - 1960s

When Joseph Stalin came to power, homosexuality became a topic unfit for public depiction, defense or discussion. Homosexual or bisexual Russians who wanted a position within the Communist Party, were expected to marry a person of the opposite sex, regardless of their actual sexual orientation. A notable example was the Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein, who despite his homosexuality managed to survive by leading a double life, he had affairs with men while married to a woman, producing films that were politically pleasing to Stalin.

After Stalin died in 1953, he was replaced by Khrushchev, who proceeded to liberalize the Stalin era laws regarding marriage, divorce, and abortion, but the anti-gay law remained.

1970s - Glasnost

In the 1970s - 1980s censorship rules regarding homosexuality slowly began to change. Russian gay author Yevgeny Kharitonov illegally circulated some gay fiction before he died of heart failure in 1981. Author Gennady Trifonov served four years of hard labor for circulating his gay poems and, upon his release, was allowed to write and publish only if he avoided depicting or making reference to homosexuality.[18] Vicktor Sosnora was allowed to write about witnessing an elderly gay actor being brutally murdered in a Leningrad bar in "The Flying Dutchman" (1979), but the book was published in Eastern Germany. Kozlovsky was permitted to include a brief interior monologue about homosexuality in "Moscow to the End of the Line" (1973). Perhaps the first public endorsement of gay rights since Stalin was a brief statement, critical of Article 121 and calling for its repeal, made in the "Textbook of Soviet Criminal Law" (1973).[14] In 1984, a group of Russian gay men met and attempted to organize an official gay rights organization, only to be quickly shut down by the KGB. In the late Glasnost period, some public discussion was permitted about re-legalizing private, consensual adult homosexual relations. In 1989-1990 a Moscow gay rights organization lead by Yevgeniya Debryanskaya was permitted to exist, with Roman Kalinin given permission to publish a gay newspaper, "Tema".[19]


On May 27, 1993, homosexual acts between consenting males were legalized.[1] However, there have been reports that by August 13, 1993, "not all persons serving sentences under the old legislation have been released from jail", and there have been "cases of homosexuals being re-sentenced and kept in jail, cases of imprisoned homosexuals who cannot be located and of missing files".[20] The reform was largely the result of pressure from the Council of Europe.[1] While President Boris Yeltsin signed the bill into law on April 29, 1993,[1] neither he nor the parliament had any interest in LGBT rights legislation[6] and none of the Russian political parties endorsed LGBT rights.

In 1996, a Russian LGBT human rights organization called "Triangle" was formed, with several new LGBT themed publications and local organizations arising in light of the fall of the Soviet Union.[6] Yet as was the case with the groups that arose during 1989–1990, many of these organizations, including "Triangle", folded due to lack of funding as well as legal and social harassment.[6]

In 1999, homosexuality was formally removed from the list of Russian mental disorders (due to endorsing ICD-10, which removed homosexuality in 1990).

In 2002, Gennady Raikov, who led a conservative pro-government group in the Russian Duma, suggested outlawing homosexual acts. His proposal failed to generate enough votes but the suggestion generated public support from many conservative religious leaders and medical doctors.[6]

In 2003, a new statute about military and medical expertise was adopted (July 1, 2003); it contained «a clause of "deviations of gender identification and sexual preferences" among the reasons of disability for military service <...> this clause irritated the proponents of having equal rights for people of different sexual orientation <...> [while] another clause said that different sexual orientation should not be considered a deviation.»[2] Finally, Valery Kulikov, the Major-General of the Medical Service, announced:

In May 2005, LGBT Human Rights Project was founded by Nikolai Alekseev to fight discriminations on the basis of sexual orientation and raise awareness of LGBT issues in Russia. In July 2005, Nikolai Alekseev launched the Moscow Pride initiative which has been organized every year since May 2006. As of July 2009, LGBT Human Rights Project is a transnational organization promoting LGBT Rights in Russia and Belarus.

In 2006, Grand Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin was quoted as saying about Moscow Pride marchers, "If they come out on to the streets anyway they should be flogged. Any normal person would do that - Muslims and Orthodox Christians alike".[21] Similar comments were made by one of Russia's Chief Rabbis, Berl Lazar, who joined Tadzhuddin in condemning the march, saying that it "would be a blow for morality".[22]

Russian LGBT network was founded in May 2006. At the current moment (July, 2009) this is the first and only interregional LGBT organization in Russia.

In late April and early May 2006, protesters blockaded some popular gay clubs in Moscow. After initial complaints that police had failed to intervene, later blockade attempts were met with arrests.[23]

In May 2006, a gay rights forum was held in Moscow. An accompanying march was banned by the mayor in a decision upheld by the courts. Some activists, head of them Nikolai Alekseev tried to march despite the ban and attempted to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This march is known as the first Moscow Pride. This act and the presence of non-Russian activists aroused a nationalist reaction in addition to a religious condemnation of homosexuality, leading to the presence of both neo-Nazi groups and Orthodox protesters threatening the gay activists. Anti-march protesters beat the marchers, and about 50 marchers and 20 protesters were arrested when riot police moved in to break up the conflict.[24] The documentary Moscow Pride '06 features the events that took place from May 25 to May 27, 2006 in Moscow. It contains a vivid testimony of the first attempt to stage a gay pride march in Russia as well as the festival organized around it."

In the midst of a row over the decision by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov to ban a Moscow Pride, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked for his opinion on homosexuality at a press conference on February 1, 2007. Putin said:

On May 27, 2007, the Moscow Pride was banned again by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who had earlier branded it as "satanic",[25] was held in Moscow again and for the second year running degenerated into violent clashes with anti-gay protestors. For the second time police failed to protect gay rights activists. Italian MP Marco Cappato was kicked by an anti-gay activist and then detained when he demanded police protection. British gay rights veteran Peter Tatchell and Russian gay leader Nikolai Alekseev were detained as well.[26][27] The march is documented in the 2008 film East/West - Sex & Politics.[28]

On June 1, 2008, Moscow Pride again attempted to hold a gay parade. Some 13 Orthodox opposers were held by police for violent actions against protesters.

On February 2009, at the final press conference in Moscow the Russian LGBT Network and the Moscow Helsinki Group published a paper titled «The situation for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people in Russian Federation»[29][30]. This is the first complex study of the legal situation of LGBT people in the history of Russia. The 100-page paper contains the analysis of relevant Russian laws and also assembles and generalizes specific instances of infringement of rights and discrimination. On May 8, 2009, Russian Duma rejected a bill criminalizing gay propaganda in Russia (with only 90 votes if favor against 226 minimum required). This bill was initiated in 2007 by a Fair Russia party member and suggested depriving those who "openly demonstrated a homosexual way of life and a homosexual orientation" of the right to hold posts in educational establishments or in the army for a term from 2 to 5 years.[31] According to Interfax, the parliamentarians decided that gay propaganda was not dangerous for society and thus could not be punished under the criminal code.[32] Nikolai Alekseev, Chief organizer of the Moscow Pride, commented that with parliament rejecting this bill, it is likely that the Constitutional Court of Russia follows their request to cancel a similar law that is in force in the Ryazan Region.[31]

On May 16, 2009, the Moscow Pride timed to coincide with Moscow's hosting of the 2009 Eurovision song contest finals was broken up by police, with all 30 participants — including British human rights activist Peter Tatchell — arrested.[33][34]

On May 17, 2009, for the International Day Against Homophobia Russian LGBT network organized the «Rainbow flash mob» in Saint Petersburg; this event brought together from 100 to 250 people by various estimations, and the organizers consider it to be the most large-scale action in the whole history of Russia dedicated to the problem of LGBT rights[35][36][37][38][39]. Also the action in smaller scales has passed in more than 30 cities of Russia.

Transgender issues

In Tsarist Russia, young women would sometimes pose as men or act like tomboys. This was often tolerated among the educated middle classes, with the assumption that such behavior was asexual and would stop when the girl married.[6] However, cross-dressing was widely seen as immoral behavior, punishable by the Church and later the government.[6]

In Soviet Russia, sex change operations were first tried during the 1920s but became prohibited until the 1960s, when they were often done by Russian endocrinologist Aron Belkin, who was something of an advocate for transgender people until his death in 2003.[6]

Summary table

Homosexuality legal Yes (since 27 May 1993)
Equal age of consent Yes (since 27 May 1993)[note 4]
Anti-discrimination laws in any area No (authorities refuse to recognize the need in special legislation)
Same-sex marriage(s) No
Recognition of same-sex couples as de facto couples or civil partnerships No (no recognition)
Joint and/or step adoption by same-sex couples No (only married couples allowed to adopt)[note 2]
Adoption by single homosexual people Yes (no legal restrictions based on sexual orientation for single people to adopt)[note 2]
Gays allowed to serve openly in the military Yes (gay people can serve in the military, but they are advised to hide their homosexuality)[2]
Right to change legal gender Yes (since 15 November 1997)[note 1]
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes (since 16 April 2008)[3]

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The Federal Law "On Acts of Civil Status" (1997) provides for the possibility to rectify acts of civil status based on the document confirming sex transformation issued by a health institution (art.70). Also, transgender people can change their passport on the grounds of sex transformation. See the Administrative Legislation section of the Russian LGBT Network 2009 Report.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Adoption is being regulated by the Civil Procedure Code of Russia (Chapter 29); Family Code of Russia (Chapter 19); Federal Law "On Acts of Civil Status" (Chapter V). None of these documents contain any direct restriction or ban for homosexual people to adopt, though unmarried couples are not allowed to adopt children (Article 127.2 of the Family Code of Russia), and since same-sex marriage is not officially recognized, gay couples cannot adopt children together; nevertheless, single individuals can adopt (see also the Parent Relations section of the Russian LGBT Network 2009 Report). The Court makes the decision to allow or deny adoption considering many documents and testimonies, so it is unclear whether LGBT affiliation of the candidate adopter can be in fact an issue for a judge to make a negative decision.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Though officially there is no prohibition for gay people to serve in the Russian military services, gays are not welcome there, enlisting officers preferring to find any grounds to transfer them to the reserve, rather than to let them to discharge of their soldier's duty.Template:Citation needed
  4. The age of consent for homosexual acts was never specifically mentioned in the old Criminal Code of RSFSR, which was replaced with the new Criminal Code of Russia in 1996, and this new Code mentions the age of consent regardless of sexual orientation in Article 134.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Russia: Update to RUS13194 of 16 February 1993 on the treatment of homosexuals. Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (2000-02-29). Retrieved on 2009-05-21.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Gays are not Willingly Accepted in the Russian Army. Pravda Online (2003-12-01). Retrieved on 2009-05-20.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Russian Health Ministry Ends Ban on Blood Donations by Gays. GayRussia.Ru (2008-05-23). Retrieved on 2009-05-25.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Public opinion poll: Majority of Russians oppose gay marriages and a gay President but support ban on sexual orientation discrimination. GayRussia.Ru (2005-05-19). Retrieved on 2009-05-26.
  5. Same-Sex Marriage Nixed By Russians. Angus Reid Global Monitor (2005-02-17). Retrieved on 2009-05-21.
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 Healey, Daniel (2004, last updated 2005-07-19). Russia. glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. glbtq, Inc. Retrieved on 2009-05-21.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Duberman 1989, p.349.
  8. Duberman 1989, p.350.
  9. Duberman 1989, p.351.
  10. Duberman 1989, p.353.
  11. Hazard, John N. "Unity and Diversity in Socialist Law".
  12. Healey, Dan. "Masculine purity and 'Gentlemen's Mischief': Sexual Exchange and Prostitution between Russian Men, 1861-1941". Slavic Review. Vol. 60, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), p. 258.
  13. Dan Healey GLQ 8:3 Homosexual Existence and Existing Socialism New Light on the Repression of Male Homosexuality in Stalin's Russia p. 349 - 378 2002
  14. 14.0 14.1 Duberman 1989, p.362.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Can a homosexual be a member of the Communist Party?
  16. "Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia" Dan Healey, 2001, p.188.
  17. "Proletarian Humanism" May 23, 1934
  18. Duberman 1989, p.363.
  19. Russian Gay History
  20. Russia: Information on whether men have in fact been released from jail subsequent to the 27 May 1993 legislation lifting the ban on consensual homosexual relations. Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (1993-08-01). Retrieved on 2009-05-21.
  21. Kim Murphy (2006-05-26). Gay Pride Parade Polarizes Moscow. Los Angeles Times.
  22. "Russian Chief Rabbi Echoes Muslim Leader in Protesting Gay Pride in Moscow", Moscow News, 2006-02-16. Archived from the original on 2006-12-20. 
  23. Moscow Gay Club Blockades. (2006-05-02).
  24. "Banned Moscow gay rally broken up", BBC News, 2007-05-27. 
  25. McArdle, Helen. "Inside: Eurovision, the campest show on earth. Outside: riot police round up Moscow's gays", The Sunday Herald. Retrieved on 17 May 2009. 
  26. Arrests at Russian gay protests, BBC News, May 27, 2007.
  27. Eggs and punches at Russia gay march by Mike Levy, BBC News, May 27, 2007.
  28. East/West - Sex & Politics
  29. The report "Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Russia"
  30. The situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgenderov in the Russian Federation
  31. 31.0 31.1 Bill Criminalizing Gay Propaganda Rejected by Russian Parliament. GayRussia.Ru (2009-05-10). Retrieved on 2009-07-14.
  32. Russian parliament refuses to make gay propaganda criminal offence. MosNews (2009-05-08). Retrieved on 2009-07-14.
  33. Walker, Shaun. "Riot police arrest Tatchell at gay march in Moscow", The Independent (UK), 2009-05-17. Retrieved on 2009-05-17. 
  34. Blomfield, Adrian. "Moscow police break up gay rights protest and arrest Peter Tatchell before Eurovision", The Daily Telegraph, 2009-05-16. Retrieved on 2009-05-17. 
  35. Balloons all over Russia for IDAHO
  36. St Petersburg celebrates IDAHO
  37. St. Petersburg host a pride parade
  38. Russiche Rainbow Flash Mob-acties rustig en succesvol
  39. Rainbow fleshmob in St. Petersburg

Sources with multiple references


*Some information provided in whole or in part by