For most people, 20 years seems like plenty of time to come to terms with not getting your way. Not so for Vsevolod Chaplin.
Last week Chaplin, a priest and unofficial spokesperson for the Russian Orthodox Church, proposed a referendum that would turn back the clock to 1993 by re-criminalizing homosexuality. The idea, which originated when defrocked priest and actor Ivan Okhlobystin submitted a letter via Twitter to Russia President Vladimir Putin, calls for a return to the era of when thousands upon thousands of gay men were arrested and sent to prison colonies. Okhlobystin is the same actor who recently appeared on Russian television calling for burning LGBT people alive in ovens.
Homosexuality was criminalized in the Soviet Union in 1933 under Joseph Stalin’s Article 121 of the Criminal Code, which stated “sexual relations between men are punishable by prison terms of up to five years.” For 60 years Russian gay men lived in fear of being exposed and sentenced to hard labor in distant labor camps.
While homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993, in recent years Russian authorities have begun systematically chipping away at the rights of the LGBT community. In June of last year the Russian Duma unanimously passed what is known as the anti-gay ”propaganda” law, effectively taking away LGBT persons’ freedom of assembly and expression. Others in the Russian government aim to expand on that law, proposing bills that would equate homosexuality with drug addiction and sexual abuse, and giving courts the ability to strip parental rights away from LGBT mothers and fathers.
Couching his proposal in calls for moral decency and democratic principle, Chaplin referred to public polls that show the majority public support for the recent decisions of lawmakers — Evidence that demonstrates how President Putin and his regime are doing all they can to push public opinion on these issues by scapegoating and demonizing LGBT people.
Whether Chaplin’s proposal would proceed from publicity stunt to policy remains to be seen, but the fact that such a proposal has gained any momentum at all is indicative of the environment in which Russia’s LGBT community lives.
The upcoming Sochi Olympic Games are the perfect opportunity for President Putin to truly rehabilitate his international image, by repealing the odious law banning so-called “homosexual propaganda” and allowing the LGBT community to partner with their supporters in the West to champion equality and individual freedoms.