RUSA LGBTQ+ blasts Russian Supreme Court ruling outlawing ‘LGBTQ movement’

Russian Supreme Court judge Oleg Nefedov leads a hearing in the Russian Supreme Court in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023.
Russian Supreme Court judge Oleg Nefedov leads a hearing in the Russian Supreme Court in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023.
AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

A New York-based group of Russian-speaking queer individuals slammed the Russian Supreme Court after justices on Nov. 30 declared the “international LGBTQ movement” as extremist and imposed broader penalties on LGBTQ activism.

“The criminal regime in Russia wants to outlaw the LGBTQ+ community by declaring our very existence extremist,” RUSA LGBTQ+ said in a written statement ahead of the landmark ruling, which was already anticipated well in advance. RUSA LGBTQ+ is planning to hold a protest in New York in response to the ruling, though details are not yet finalized.

The ruling came in response to a request from the Russian government’s Ministry of Justice, which claimed to identify “signs and manifestations of an extremist nature” in the LGBTQ movement, including “incitement of social and religious discord, according to the Associated Press.

The ruling was widely criticized for being overly broad, which many say was intentional so authorities have greater freedom to punish individuals or groups under the new policy. The Associated Press reported that the ruling was issued after a private four-hour hearing, which only featured Justice Ministry representatives. Reporters were only allowed to be in the courtroom when the verdict was read.

The move came as little surprise to members of the LGBTQ community in Russia, which witnessed a significant escalation of anti-LGBTQ hostility a decade ago when the government pressed forward with legislation criminalizing queer rights under the false premise of protecting youth. Since then, the Kremlin has continued to target LGBTQ people in different areas of life — including earlier this year when doctors were banned from providing gender-affirming surgeries.

Members of RUSA LGBTQ+ are sounding the alarm and expressing concern that such extreme anti-LGBTQ sentiment can reach every corner of the globe.

“Let this be a stark warning, as DeSantis wants to expand his ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law into the workplace,” the group said in a Nov. 30 Facebook following the ruling. “Stand with us as we stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ siblings and expect the number of those fleeing Russia to continue increasing.”

RUSA LGBTQ+ co-founder Yelena Goltsman at Brighton Beach Pride in 2022.
RUSA LGBTQ+ co-founder Yelena Goltsman at Brighton Beach Pride in 2022.Matt Tracy

The Russian government’s attacks on the LGBTQ community have only intensified over the course of nearly two years of war in Ukraine, during which time Putin has falsely described homosexuality as a western-based threat to Russia’s way of life. The coordinated front against the queer community in Russia has become so predictable that members of RUSA LGBTQ+ easily foreshadowed the court’s decision ahead of time, saying they had “no doubt that Putin’s tamed Supreme Court will do whatever it is asked of.”

“The Kremlin would love to see LGBTQIA people erased if it were in their power,” the group continued. “Fortunately, it is not in their power: The ‘international LGBT movement’ is not an organization, a place, or a business. It is a conviction that we are all equal and deserve dignity and safety in the world when being authentically ourselves.”

The group also acknowledged that the ruling came just days after out lesbian activist Sasha Skochilenko was hit with a seven-year sentence for allegedly tampering with grocery price tags to include anti-war statements.

RUSA LGBTQ+ has maintained a steady presence in southern Brooklyn since hosting the first Brighton Beach Pride March in 2017. The organization — which includes individuals from other Russian-speaking countries and parts of the former Soviet Union — has sought to bring queer visibility to a neighborhood with a significant Russian-speaking population.

Notably, a key shift emerged at Brighton Beach Pride events following Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine. Russian Flags were largely replaced by Ukrainian Flags as the group’s members focused on denouncing the war and standing in solidarity with Ukrainian people who have been under attack for two years. At the same time, they have underscored the importance of supporting queer people who are stuck in Russia.

“It was tough to be an LGBTQ person in Russia before, but now it’s suicidal to be there,” Yelena Goltsman, the co-founder of RUSA LGBTQ+, told Gay City News at Brighton Beach Pride earlier this year. “People are just running for their lives.”