The Kremlin has many labels for its real and invented enemies. Some, they call Nazis. Others, they refer to as shadowy ‘global elites’. Occasionally they rail against Brussels bureaucrats. Often, pro-Kremlin disinformation pundits go below the belt in order to demonise their adversaries. The Kremlin makes it quite clear. If you don’t support Putin’s vision for Russia, then you are very likely a proudly decadent supporter of the LGBTIQ+ community. And in the Kremlin’s twisted worldview, LGBTIQ+ is almost always synonymous with moral degradation.
Slandering LGBTIQ+ persons for political posturing is perfectly in character with Kremlin disinformation. Putin has long styled himself as a defender of ‘traditional values’ across the world. In the past, he has also, with easy and frightening ignorance, equated homosexuality with paedophilia. In addition, exploiting disenfranchised or minority groups is an oft-used tactic in the Kremlin playbook. For example, pro-Kremlin propagandists have routinely both vilified migrants and accused others of mistreating them, depending on the context and Russian goals.
There are multiple ways that pro-Kremlin outlets and pundits instrumentalise fear, hate, and ignorance to push harmful stereotypes about the LGBTIQ+ community. Below we examine three of the most prominent ones. A warning: some examples are quite extreme.
Accusing the West of pushing the ‘LGBTIQ+ agenda’
The most prominent anti-LGBTIQ+ disinformation narrative asserts that the West is trying to destroy everything that is good, normal, and moral by actively pushing ‘the LGBTIQ+ agenda’. The ‘Western villains’ pushing this alleged agenda or ‘(gender/ LGBTIQ+) ideology’ include EU officials, EU institutions, Western culture, the United Nations, McDonald’s, George Soros, feminists, and Barbie, among others
Yet pro-Kremlin commentators never give a clear definition of what that agenda or ideology is. Most often, invoking the ‘agenda’ is nothing more than an attempt to make a crude association with paedophilia. The vagueness is purposeful. Keeping the terms undefined pushes prejudiced readers to conjure their own dark imaginings.
The underlying notion is that by seeking to protect the LGBTIQ+ community from persecution, the EU is somehow destroying the ‘traditional values’ that the EU is supposedly founded on. Some pro-Kremlin outlets allege that the EU wants to ‘dismantle Christianity’, equating any efforts to fight Islamophobia, racism, homophobia, and antisemitism with an anti-Christian policy – an allegation that would offend many Christians. And sometimes, the LGBTIQ+ community is conflated with criminality and drug use.
In addition, pro-Kremlin outlets often presented non-Western countries – particularly in Africa – as heroically defending themselves from the Western rainbow assault. For the Kremlin, supporting equal rights for the LGBTIQ+ community somehow constitutes the neo-colonialism of ‘Gayropa’, a form of colonisation by the morally corrupt West.
This accusation of ‘neo-colonialism’ often takes shape as accusations that Western nations want Africa to ‘copy’ the West regarding ‘gay rights’ – a gross mischaracterisation of the basic idea that LGBTIQ+ rights are a question of human rights. Pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets are also more than ready to amplify any voices echoing homophobic tones under the guise of protecting ‘traditional values’, and to sling unfounded accusations and conspiracy theories against any Western entity, including NATO.
Capitalising on ‘culture war’ issues
Some pro-Kremlin outlets also openly demonise LGBTIQ+ people as degenerate threats to traditional societies, their religious values, and their children, among other things. Others, particularly those enjoying some international recognition like the notorious propaganda outlet RT, tend to avoid pushing this narrative outright, perhaps out of fear of alienating more sophisticated audiences.
Another line of attack is to claim that recognition of transgender people and ‘LGBTIQ+/gender ideology’ will lead to the destruction of the family. For example, a pro-Kremlin outlet targeting Italian audiences went on a rant alleging that ‘parent no.1’ and ‘parent no.2’ have replaced moms and dads, with the intent of destroying the traditional family. This is essentially parroting a top-line pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative about the LGBTIQ+ community delivered by Putin himself months prior.
The “culture war” issues are also mimicked by pro-Kremlin outlets targeting domestic audiences, often in a much cruder manner. A useful rule of thumb is that the closer one moves towards the Kremlin, the more overt anti-LGBTIQ+ hatred becomes. Consider this example by ‘Arguments and Facts’ (Аргументы и факты), a tabloid owned by the government of Moscow, which claimed that children in Canada are forced to change their sex and ‘cut off everything that hangs’. Such crude language hits two birds with one stone. It demonises the LBGTIQ+ community and helps to paint a picture of the West’s savage ‘perversion’.
Presenting Russia as the bastion of traditions and heterosexuality
Pro-Kremlin commentators rarely miss a chance to present Russia and Putin as the defenders of traditional morality. Russian state-controlled outlets widely covered Putin’s signing of a bill banning sex-reassignment surgery, and routinely praise the Russian state for purifying the Russian society from the ‘LBGTIQ+ agenda’.
Pro-Kremlin outlets also like to reinforce the image of Russia as the protector of ‘traditional values’ by claiming that fed-up Westerners are moving to Russia in order to escape the LGBTIQ+ onslaught in the West. Some even conflate LGBTIQ+ with totalitarianism to claim that Russia is now fighting against ‘world totalitarianism’ as expressed through LGBTIQ+-friendly policies.
From moral battle to actual war
Increasingly, pro-Kremlin commentators see this moral battle as part of an actual war – Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In this dark and paranoid worldview, Nazis and LGBTIQ+ people have become one and the same, as when Belarusian propaganda referred to regime opposition figures as ‘homo-fascist scum’. Going even further, some pro-Kremlin outlets claimed that the war is between those who proudly support masculinity (read: Russians), and those who want a morally corrupt genderless mass of LGBTIQ+ persons to rule the world (read: Ukraine and its supporters).
Pro-Kremlin outlets targeting Ukraine never tire of mocking a transgender Ukrainian soldier, denigrating them on social media as a ‘freak sodomite’ and a ‘symbol of Ukraine’. Disinformation peddlers also assert that 50,000 LGBTIQ+ persons fight in Ukraine’s army, allegedly demonstrating ‘the degradation of Ukrainian society’.
None of these slurs has anything to do with reality. They are, instead, a reflection of the Kremlin’s own ‘values’ and the kind of conspiratorial thinking that projects the worst imaginable offenses upon one’s adversaries. The result is a prison of the mind whose bars are stronger because the prisoners themselves make them.
To better understand the narratives used by the Kremlin and other threat actors against the LGBTIQ+ community, read our recent report: Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference (FIMI) targeting LGBTIQ+ people: Well-informed analysis to protect human rights and diversity. The report is the first such document focused on the topic of FIMI targeting solely LGBTIQ+ persons, and it includes specific FIMI cases from around the world. The aim is to help the defender community understand the nature of FIMI as well as the Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) used to target the LGBTIQ+ community and respond to it adequately.