For LGBTQ Russians, Too Much and Too Little Law

Gay rights activists march in Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg May 1, 2013, during their rally against a controversial law in the city that activists see as violating the rights of gays. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, Russian lawmakers yet again demonstrated their eagerness to legislate LGBTQ life. Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev signed road-safety rules that count transgenderism and transsexualism as “mental disorders,” thus rendering trans people unqualified to drive. International human rights and LGBTQ activists have condemned the move, which was ostensibly put into place because of the high number of motor vehicle deaths in Russia.

But in recent weeks, Russian authorities have also shown their unwillingness to enforce legislation when LGBTQ life is involved. Anti-gay activist Timur Isayev is alleged to have gotten 29 teachers fired for being gay by collecting and sending “evidence” to their employers. Teaching while gay is not explicitly illegal in Russia, provided the teacher is not openly gay (or promoting “gay propaganda”)—which these teachers clearly were not, since the termination came only after the schools received “evidence” of their orientation. Still, the teachers were fired. (Upstanding citizen Isayev has since been arrested, for unrelated crimes of embezzlement and petty theft.) A recent attack on gay nightclub Fantom (which has since denied that it is indeed a gay nightclub) in the town of Tolyatti left at least four injured, prompting activist Konstantin Golava of Gay Liberation Front to demand that something be done by way of justice. The attack follows reports of fear in the gay community as anti-LGBTQ violence increases.

What recent weeks have really shown is that there is both too much and too little law for LGBTQ citizens and residents of Russia. Their lives are legislated, but they are not protected. Russian officials put the gay community under a microscope while drafting discriminatory laws, but turn away from them when it comes to enforcing pre-existing ones that are intended to protect the lives of all Russians.

The driving ban is not only a red light for transgender drivers in Russia. It is also the latest in a series of green lights for those who would impose their homophobic views on society through extrajudicial means—that is, people who break the law—with impunity. Or, to put it another way, these discriminatory, repressive laws are creating an atmosphere in which people feel encouraged by some laws to break others. The legislature acts against LGBTQ lives, and random Russians follow suit, violating other laws without consequence in the process. “Gay propaganda” and transgender drivers aren’t disrupting the peace in Russia. When it comes to LGBTQ citizens, it’s Russian laws that are creating the country’s current culture of lawlessness.