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Brittney Griner lawyers say Russia is transferring her to penal colony

WNBA star’s lawyers say whereabouts are unknown

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A Brittney Griner mural in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

MOSCOW — Lawyers for WNBA star Brittney Griner on Wednesday said Russian authorities are transferring her to a penal colony.

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

A Russian court on Aug. 4 convicted Brittney Griner of smuggling drugs into the country and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. An appellate court on Oct. 25 denied Brittney Griner’s appeal.

The Washington Post reported lawyers currently don’t know where Brittney Griner is.

American officials have publicly acknowledged their willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia after his conviction for spying.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday acknowledged the U.S. has “made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens.”

“In the subsequent weeks, despite a lack of good faith negotiation by the Russians, the U.S. government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels,” said Jean-Pierre. “The U.S. government is unwavering in its commitment to its work on behalf of Brittney and other Americans detained in Russia — including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan.”

“Every minute that Brittney Griner must endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long,” she added. “As the administration continues to work tirelessly to secure her release, the president has directed the administration to prevail on her Russian captors to improve her treatment and the conditions she may be forced to endure in a penal colony.” 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his own statement echoed Jean-Pierre.

“Following a sham trial and the unjust sentencing of Brittney Griner, Moscow is transferring her from a prison in Moscow to a remote penal colony,” said Blinken. “It is another injustice layered on her ongoing unjust and wrongful detention.”

“As we work to secure Brittney Griner’s release, we expect Russian authorities to provide our embassy officials with regular access to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia, including Brittney, as is their obligation. Ensuring the health and welfare of U.S. citizen detainees in Russia is a priority, and we will continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for them all,” he added. “Our hearts are with Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, as well as their family, friends, and supporters, who all continue to suffer from Russia’s decision to wrongfully detain U.S. citizens. We continue to work relentlessly to bring them home. I am focused on doing so, as are so many others in the department. We will not relent until they are reunited with their loved ones.”

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Russia

Ban on transition therapy & surgery signed by Russian President

LGBTQ+ activists said that this law will lead to an increase in attempted suicides among trans youth unable to access medical care

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Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Kremlin meeting, July 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of Russian President/Russian Government)

MOSCOW, Russia – Legislation that will effectively ban the existence of transgender Russians was signed on Monday as expected by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The new law, which takes effective immediately, was passed earlier this month by the State Duma, the lower House of the Russian parliament and then last week by the Federal Council or upper body.

The law now bans Russians from changing their gender on official government identity documents including internal and external passports, driver’s licenses, and birth certificates, although gender marker changes had been legal for 26 years since 1997.

Medical healthcare providers are now banned from “performing medical interventions designed to change the sex of a person,” including surgery and prescribing hormone therapy.

The law which human rights organizations have labeled draconian and barbaric also bans individuals who have undergone gender reassignment from adopting children and annuls marriages in which one of the partners is transgender. 

LGBTQ+ activists have warned that the law will lead to a further increase in already high rates of suicide and suicide attempts among transgender Russians. Worse say sympathetic physicians and transgender rights advocates, it will foment an underground market for surgeries and medications, which are dangerous as unproven drugs or outright fake drugs may cause irreparable harm.

LGBTQ+ activists also said that this law will lead to an increase in attempted suicides among trans youth unable to access medical care.

“The way how these people see their future is collapsing,” Yan Dvorkin, the head of Center-T, a group that helps transgender and non-binary people in Russia, said in an interview with The Moscow Times earlier this month. 

During debate over the law, Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, [Parliament] Pytor Tolstoy, a co-sponsor of the legislation, pointed out that banning the “practise of transgenderism” was in the interest of national security.

The diagnosis of “transsexualism,” he added, refers to gender identity disorders and is the basis for recognizing a citizen as unfit for military service. In addition, “we must not forget that by changing the sex of one of the partners, a homosexual couple gets the right to adopt a child. Unfortunately, there are already such cases in Russia,” he said.

LGBTQ+ and human rights organization ILGA-Europe issued a statement condemning the actions of the Russian Duma and offered support and solidarity with the Russian transgender and queer communities.

We firmly assert that such legislation flagrantly violates fundamental human rights standards and principles.

ILGA-Europe firmly believe in the inherent dignity and equal rights of all individuals, regardless of their gender identity or expression. International human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, emphasize that everyone has the right to self-determination, privacy, and the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Denying trans and gender diverse individuals access to trans-specific healthcare and legal gender recognition blatantly disregards the international human rights framework,” ILGA-Europe wrote.

A young woman who only identified herself to Russian freelance journalist Sergei Dimitrov by the name Elena, told him in an interview in St. Petersburg earlier this month:

“There is no safety anymore, soon they will openly hunt us like swine, we no right to exist they say,” she said.

The young woman also said that since the latest passage of laws including expansion of the Russia’s “gay propaganda” law to include adults last December, coupled with the crackdown by the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, on any websites and on popular phone apps that cater to LGBTQ+ people, she has now begun efforts in earnest to leave the country.

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Trans & gender diverse rights in Russia deteriorating rapidly

Healthcare providers would be banned from performing medical interventions including surgery & prescribing hormone therapy

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Russian President Vladimir Putin signs legislation this past Spring. (Photo Credit: Office of the President/Russian government)

SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia – In a scene eerily reminiscent of a 1960’s cold war era novel, the young woman sat nervously at the outside table of the café not far from the museum district and main railroad station in St. Petersburg, chain smoking French Gitanes and toying with the food on her plate in front of her. She kept nervously glancing around as if she expected to suddenly be swept up in a secret police raid.

The primary cause of her anxiety and discomfiture she explained to the journalist sitting across the table from her, was that as a trans woman, she felt threatened and afraid. Unable to continue to live in her native region in the Sverdlovsk Oblast, [region] in the Ural mountains she had moved first to the capital city of the Russian Federation, Moscow, then as tensions rose over the treatment of LGBTQ+ Russians she fled to St. Petersburg.

“There is no safety anymore, soon they will openly hunt us like swine, we no right to exist they say,” she told Russian freelance journalist Sergei Dimitrov.

The young woman who only identified herself to Dimitrov by the name Elena, said that since the latest passage of laws including expansion of the Russia’s “gay propaganda” law to include adults last December, coupled with the crackdown by the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, on any websites and on popular phone apps that cater to LGBTQ+ people, she has now begun efforts in earnest to leave the country.

Last week the lower house of the Russian Parliament, colloquially referred to as the State Duma, passed on its final reading a bill that would outlaw gender transitioning procedures in the Russian Federation. The measure now heads to the Federation Council, or upper House where it is expected to pass in the scheduled vote on July 19 and then transmitted to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his approval and signature which is expected.

Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, [Parliament] Pytor Tolstoy, a co-sponsor of the legislation, pointed out that banning the “practise of transgenderism” was in the interest of national security.

The diagnosis of “transsexualism,” he added, refers to gender identity disorders and is the basis for recognizing a citizen as unfit for military service. In addition, “we must not forget that by changing the sex of one of the partners, a homosexual couple gets the right to adopt a child. Unfortunately, there are already such cases in Russia,” he said.

The proposed law would bar Russians from changing their gender on official government identity documents including internal and external passports, driver’s licenses, and birth certificates, although gender marker changes had been legal for 26 years since 1997.

Medical healthcare providers would be banned from “performing medical interventions designed to change the sex of a person,” including surgery and prescribing hormone therapy.

In a floor speech prior to the vote last month after the measure’s first reading, Tolstoy blamed the West for what he deemed a profitable medical industry:

“The Western transgender industry is trying in this way to seep into our country, to break through a window for its multi-billion dollar business,” Tolstoy said. Then he claimed there is already a developed network of clinics in Russia, “it includes trans-friendly doctors and psychologists, and all this operates with the active support of LGBT organizations. However, in the past six months they have changed their names to more, perhaps harmless ones,” he said inferring that the recent expansion of the country’s law banning LGBT propaganda was somehow responsible for those changes.

Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, (Parliament) Pytor Tolstoy speaking during a session of the Duma.
(Photo Credit: Government of Russia/Duma)

According to Tolstoy, gender reassignment surgery is “a very profitable area of ​​medical services. And it’s understandable why a number of doctors defend this area so fiercely, hiding behind academic knowledge, including those obtained abroad while studying in the United States and other countries,” he said, “running into” Western medical education.

Provisions to the bill in its second reading, approved on Thursday, also ban trans people from adopting or fostering children, and force them to annul their marriages if one of the couple subsequently changes gender.

LGBTQ+ and human rights organization ILGA-Europe issued a statement condemning the actions of the Russian Duma and offered support and solidarity with the Russian transgender and queer communities.

We firmly assert that such legislation flagrantly violates fundamental human rights standards and principles.

ILGA-Europe firmly believe in the inherent dignity and equal rights of all individuals, regardless of their gender identity or expression. International human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, emphasize that everyone has the right to self-determination, privacy, and the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Denying trans and gender diverse individuals access to trans-specific healthcare and legal gender recognition blatantly disregards the international human rights framework,” ILGA-Europe wrote.

Sympathetic physicians and transgender rights advocates have warned that the ban is poised to create a black market for hormone substitutes, some of which likely will be dangerous and lead to an increase in attempted suicides among trans youth unable to access medical care.

ILGA-Europe’s statement also warned: “Furthermore, the bill invalidates all certificates of legal gender recognition for individuals who have undergone transition-related surgery but not yet changed the gender marker in their passport. This is a violation of their right to privacy, places trans people in legal limbo, and creates unnecessary burdens on trans people, forcing them to disclose their private and medical history and exposing them to discrimination, harassment and violence.”

According to journalist Sergei Dimitrov, that particular provision of the legislation is specifically applicable to Elena, who while having completed transition-related surgery has been unable to get the gender marker changed on her documents, which with the current war in Ukraine has further complicated her life.

She told Dimitrov that demands for her to present herself for required military service, under her former name and gender, was yet another reason she had fled. Now she says, she is trapped and unable to legally leave, entertaining the option of illegally entering the European Union and asking for asylum, most likely to neighboring Latvia, or Estonia.

Independent news outlet Mediazona reported in February 2023 that the number of passports issued due to “gender change” has more than doubled in 2022 compared with two years earlier -– from 428 in 2020 to 936 last year, according to Russia’s Interior Ministry.

In justifying the provision, lawmakers cited concerns that men are using the relatively simple procedure of changing gender in official documents to dodge the military draft.

Another point was raised by a lawmaker who asked what to do with the 3 thousand people plus trans people who have already managed to change their gender and documents. Tolstoy responded noted that the law does not have retroactive effect.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the State Duma, called gender transitioning “pure satanism.”

Speaker of the Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, standing at the podium calls for the first vote on the proposed law to ban gender-affirming surgeries in the Russian Federation.
(Photo Credit: Government of Russia/Duma)

Akram Kubanychbekov, a Senior Advocacy Officer for ILGA-Europe this past week sent out a ‘dear colleagues’ request for assistance detailing specific needs and actions that will be crucial to assisting trans and gender diverse Russians.

Kubanychbekov wrote:

Discrimination, violence, and the enactment of oppressive laws have made it increasingly unsafe for trans people to live their lives authentically and without fear. In light of these circumstances, we have reached out local trans organizations to ask them of support trans community need at the moment.

To address the urgent needs of trans people who wish to leave Russia, there is a need in facilitating support for broadening the criteria for humanitarian visas. By expanding the eligibility criteria, we can ensure that those facing persecution and threats to their safety have a viable pathway to seek refuge in other countries. It is crucial to work together to advocate for this change with governments at the national level to extend our support to trans people seeking a safer environment in safer countries.

In addition to humanitarian visas, trans organizations [inside the Russian Federation] asked to assist in securing multi-entry, long-term (preferably Schengen) visas for activists, who will continue their important work within Russia but may need to swiftly leave in case of escalating danger. By facilitating the necessary visa support, activists are enabled to carry out their vital work with the knowledge that they have an emergency exit if required.

We would like to encourage you to stand in solidarity with the local trans organizations in Russia and support their requests.”

Political fallout

Yulia Alyoshina, the country’s first transgender politician, had made plans this past year to run for governor of Russia’s Altay region, an area bordering the former Soviet Republic and now independent nation of Kazakhstan.

Yulia Alyoshina (Photo courtesy of Yulia Alyoshina)

Alyoshina, who had been the head of the regional Civic Initiative party, resigned her post after Putin signed the expanded anti-LGBTQ+ law last December. With gubernatorial elections set for this September in the Altay region, party officials had urged her to consider running.

Alyoshina says she didn’t expect anyone in the Civic Initiative party to suggest that she run in the gubernatorial elections. But she figured “well, why not” and agreed. “I’m sure that the fact that I was born in a different body is not as important to voters as my honesty, integrity, and sincere desire to make my native land better,” she told Russian media outlet Novaya Gazeta Europe.

On the topic of Russian society’s relationship to transgender people, Alyoshina told Novaya Gazeta Europe the current political climate is quite bad. She described losing supporters after the Duma passed and Putin signed the anti-LGBTQ+ laws last December. She thinks people have been influenced by the authorities’ rhetoric on “LGBT propaganda.”

In another interview with Russian language media outlet, Meduza, which the Putin government banned in January 2023, Alyoshina reflected on the effects of the bill. She told Meduza that her medical transition took about a year and a half. There were no private clinics in her region where should could go for gender care services, so she was seen at a state psychiatric hospital. It took another year and a half after she was first seen to get a certificate for changing gender markers [on legal documents].

In a phone interview with the Moscow Times just prior to the Duma’s impending vote, Alyoshina confirmed the post she had made on her Telegram channel that she had abandoned her effort to campaign as a gubernatorial candidate.

“I was told by municipal deputies and village heads that the [gender reassignment ban] bill was being considered and that they couldn’t give me their signatures,” Alyoshina told The Moscow Times.

“They told me: ’How can we publicly support a transgender person if the State Duma prohibits transgender people in Russia?” she said.

“By putting our signatures in your support, we will go against the country’s policy, and we have families and children, we don’t want to fall under repression,” Alyoshina quoted the deputies as telling her.

Alyoshina said she was weighing “various options” for her future, but said she would wait for the passing of the gender reassignment law.

“I’m not ready to dive into [my future plans] until the legislation is passed,” she said.

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Russia poised to enact full ban on gender-affirming care

The legislation will need to have three more readings before it can be passed and sent on to Russian President Putin for his signature

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Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, (Parliament) Pytor Tolstoy speaking during a session of the Duma. (Photo Credit: Government of Russia/Duma)

MOSCOW –  A bill that would outlaw gender transitioning procedures in the Russian Federation passed through its first legislative procedure Wednesday with 400 lawmakers in the Lower House voting in favor and zero votes against.

Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, [Parliament] Pytor Tolstoy, a co-sponsor of the legislation, echoed the sentiments expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin during political rallies last Fall to bolster public support for his war in Ukraine, referring to transgender people in a highly transphobic way.

“Do we really want, here, in our country, in Russia, instead of ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, to have ‘parent No. 1’, ‘parent No. 2’, ‘No. 3’? Have they gone completely insane? Do we really want … it drilled into children in our schools … that there are supposedly genders besides women and men, and [children to be] offered the chance to undergo sex change operations? … We have a different future, our own future,” Putin said.

Tolstoy pointed out that banning the “practise of transgenderism” was in the interest of national security. The diagnosis of “transsexualism,” he added, refers to gender identity disorders and is the basis for recognizing a citizen as unfit for military service. In addition, “we must not forget that by changing the sex of one of the partners, a homosexual couple gets the right to adopt a child. Unfortunately, there are already such cases in Russia,” he said.

Tolstoy stressed that the legislation, originally introduced in April, was to “protect Russia with its cultural and family values and traditions and to stop the infiltration of the Western anti-family ideology.”

In his floor speech prior to the vote Tolstoy blamed the West for what he deemed a profitable medical industry:

“The Western transgender industry is trying in this way to seep into our country, to break through a window for its multi-billion dollar business,” Tolstoy said. Then he claimed there is already a developed network of clinics in Russia, “it includes trans-friendly doctors and psychologists, and all this operates with the active support of LGBT organizations. However, in the past six months they have changed their names to more, perhaps harmless ones,” he said inferring that the recent expansion of the country’s law banning LGBT propaganda was somehow responsible for those changes.

According to Tolstoy, gender reassignment surgery is “a very profitable area of ​​medical services. And it’s understandable why a number of doctors defend this area so fiercely, hiding behind academic knowledge, including those obtained abroad while studying in the United States and other countries,” he said, “running into” Western medical education.

Minister of Health Mikhail Murashko (Photo Credit: Government of Russia/Duma)

The Minister of Health, Mikhail Murashko, argued that while the ministry generally supports the inadmissibility of gender reassignment only on the basis of the patient’s desire, he cautioned that toughening of decision-making on surgical or hormonal treatment should be based “only on the basis of high-level consultations with qualified physicians, and federal health agencies should be involved in this.”

When pressed for medical exclusions as laid out in the parameters of the legislation, Murashko noted: “There are disorders that are associated specifically with the formation of sex – congenital, hereditary and endocrine diseases. This frequency occurs 1 in 4 thousand newborns, therefore, within this framework, you need to move. For this category of patients, the medical solution regarding endocrine disorders, genetic, is what is prescribed in the legislation- in the proposed bill and is supported, ” he said.

Tolstoy argued the only exceptions should be on corrective surgery for minors n the cases of intersex births. “We are talking about something else. If we leave at least one loophole for an adult, crowds of those homosexuals who want to adopt children, avoid military service and so on will go into this loophole. Therefore, either a complete ban for adults and the ability to correct anomalies for children, or nothing!”

The Associated Press noted that independent news outlet Mediazona reported in February that the number of passports issued due to “gender change” has more than doubled in 2022 compared with two years earlier -– from 428 in 2020 to 936 last year, according to Russia’s Interior Ministry.

In justifying the new bill, lawmakers cited concerns that men are using the relatively simple procedure of changing gender in official documents to dodge the military draft.

Another point was raised by a lawmaker who asked what to do with the 3 thousand people plus trans people who have already managed to change their gender and documents. Tolstoy responded noted that the law does not have retroactive effect.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the State Duma, called gender transitioning “pure satanism.”

“Look at what is happening now in the United States of America, where all these new pseudo-values ​​are being propagated,” Volodin said then added: “The proportion of transgender people in the United States among adolescents is already 3 times higher than among the adult population. This is the result of propaganda. The number of children receiving hormone therapy has more than doubled in five years. Moreover, they start pumping hormones into children from the age of 8! In five years, from 2017 to 2021, more than 2,000 gender reassignment surgeries have been performed. It is operations in children aged 13 to 17 years. We do not want this to happen in our country. Let the diabolical policy be carried out in the USA.”

Speaker of the Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, calls for the first vote on the proposed law to ban gender-affirming surgeries in the Russian Federation.
(Photo Credit: Government of Russia/Duma)

The legislation will need to have three more readings along with accompanying public debates in the lower House and then sent to the Upper House before it can be passed and sent on to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his signature to become law.

The only option for those seeking to transition through medical care or changing their gender in documents would be to leave the country human rights lawyer Max Olenichev, who works with the Russian LGBTQ+ community said in an interview with the Associated Press. “Neither medical, nor legal transitioning will be possible without changing the country of residence.”

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Gay TikTok couple arrested in Russia, one to be deported

The couple was arrested after running afoul of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law for their videos on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube

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Haoyang Xu and Gela Gogishvili, gay couple and TikTok stars in the Russian Federation (Screenshot/YouTube)

KAZAN, Republic of Tatarstan, Russia – A young gay couple has been arrested with one facing deportation back to his native China after running afoul of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin last December, for their videos on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.

Gela Gogishvili, 23, a Russian national and his boyfriend Chinese national Haoyang Xu, 21, live in Kazan, the fifth-largest city in Russia located on the banks of the Volga and Kazanka rivers in southwest Russia. The young couple had been documenting their everyday lives with their 740,000 followers on TikTok and 64,900 subscribers on YouTube.

The couple was arrested this past Thursday and although Gogishvili was released, Xu remains being held in a Russian detention center for migrants before being deported in seven days.

In an interview with Newsweek’s Shannon Power “We were very scared … it became a living hell because the impossible happened,” Gogishvili said.

According to Moscow-based LGBTQ group, DELO LGBT+ a local citizen tipped off police to Gogishvili and Xu’s social media content.

“The ‘gay propaganda’ law falls under the Administrative Code, but the Kazan police’s criminal investigation department has been looking for these guys … and they are treated like they are dangerous criminal offenders,” Vladimir Komov, senior partner and a spokesperson for the organization said.

In a court hearing Friday, Xu who had moved to Russia to study Russian at university, was found guilty of violating the enhanced “gay propaganda” law and sentenced to a week in the detention center for migrants before being deported. The couple’s attorneys are appealing that decision.

Gogishvili comforts Xu outside the courtroom and after the hearing Xu being escorted to a detention center before his extradition to China.
(Photo Credit: Gela Gogishvili)

According to Newsweek: Police stopped the couple in the street after they had attended a museum with friends and demanded Xu present his papers, such as passport and student visa, but he couldn’t because he did not carry them on him. The officers then escorted them to get his documentation and took them in a police car to the Yapeyeva police station.

But once they got there, police informed the men they were being charged under Article 6.21 of Russia’s Administrative Offenses Code, otherwise known as the “gay propaganda” law.

“The policeman told us that it’s not that Haoyang didn’t have his papers on him but we will be prosecuted for ‘gay propaganda’ and … Haoyang could be deported,” Gogishvili said.

DELO LGBT+‘s Komov said that he could not understand why the couple had been arrested because they were “quite popular” on their social media platforms and their content was “not erotic” by any standard.

“They do TikToks about their everyday life as a gay couple, how they do chores, how they wash the dishes, how they communicate and only share a few romantic moments such as kissing … and some cuddling,” Komov said.

“How did the police informer and the Kazan police deem there was LGBT+ ‘propaganda’ on their social media? These guys just posted videos in which they kiss, hug and show their favorite sleeping poses.

“All this was considered an inappropriate demonstration of ‘homosexual intimacy’.”

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin had issued a decree last December that directs the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, to ban any websites that contain information about LGBTQ+ identities without a court order.

As a part of the stepped up enhancements of the law, “Information propagating non-traditional sexual relations and (or) preferences” now serves as grounds for blacklisting any website in Russia and more recently used as a tool by Russian police and prosecutors against those posting prohibited material on their personal social media platforms.

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Russian government expands anti-LGBTQ law to include websites

In addition to blocking those websites from being viewed in Russia websites that promote “Propaganda of pedophilia & sex change” also listed

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Russian President Vladimir Putin with Head of the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) Andrei Lipov (Photo Credit: Office of the President of the Russian Federation)

MOSCOW – Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin issued a decree Christmas Eve expanding and amending Russia’s “gay propaganda” law signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin two weeks ago.

The decree directs the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, to ban any websites that contain information about LGBTQ+ identities without a court order.

“Information propagating non-traditional sexual relations and (or) preferences” now serves as grounds for blacklisting any website in Russia, alongside those containing child pornography, information about suicide methods, and illegal narcotic production.

In addition to blocking those types of websites from being viewed in the Russian Federation, websites that promote “Propaganda of pedophilia and sex change” are also listed in the government decree signed by the Prime Minister.

The Riga, Latvia, based Russian and English news outlet Meduza reported in early December that in the Russian capitol an anonymous source said library staff in Moscow’s Central Administrative Districts received orders to “pull from the shelves, at our discretion, books with pictures showing ‘LGBT propaganda’”. They were also ordered to remove books critical of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. 

Roskomnadzor also targeted some video games according to multiple reports. Apex Legends, Overwatch, The Last of Us, Life is Strange, The Sims and RimWorld were included in the list of video games targeted.

The English-language newspaper The Moscow Times reported lawmakers have drafted a bill that allows for the jailing of those who have already been fined under Putin’s earlier anti-LGBT law, which banned aiming “LGBT propaganda” at minors. Under the draft legislation, repeat offenders could be sentenced to up to five years in jail.

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Russia releases WNBA star Brittney Griner

Olympic Gold medalist detained in Moscow in February

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(Bigstock photo)

MOSCOW — Russian authorities have released WNBA star Brittney Griner.

Griner was released in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S. The exchange took place in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Griner had been serving a nine-year prison sentence after a Russian court convicted her on the importation of illegal drugs after Russian customs officials found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

American officials had previously acknowledged their willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a deal to secure Griner’s release. A senior administration official on Thursday told reporters during a conference call that Russian authorities earlier this week moved Griner from the penal colony where she had been serving her sentence to Moscow.

The official said Griner flew to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens greeted Griner once she landed.

“She is now in the air,” said the official.

President Biden spoke with Griner before she left the United Arab Emirates. The White House tweeted a picture of Biden in the Oval Office with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“She is safe,” tweeted Biden. “She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

Cherelle Griner was standing alongside Biden, Harris and Blinken at the White House when the president spoke about Brittney Griner’s release.

“It’s just a happy day for me and my family,” said Cherelle Griner.

Cherelle Griner added she and her wife remain “committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul” Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for spying.

A senior administration official on Thursday said the White House proposed “multiple different options” that included Whelan’s release. The official added the Biden administration remains “committed” to his release.

The Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement acknowledged “a Russian citizen (Bout) has been returned to his homeland.”

Blinken issued a lengthy statement after Griner’s release.

“This morning, I joined President Biden, Vice President Harris, National Security Advisor Sullivan and Cherelle Griner in the Oval Office as Cherelle spoke to her wife Brittney, who is now on her way back to the United States and to her wife’s loving embrace,” said Blinken. “I am grateful to the State Department team and to our colleagues across the government who worked tirelessly to secure her release. I especially commend Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, who is accompanying Brittney back to the United States, as well as his entire team. We also extend deep appreciation to our many partners who helped achieve this outcome, including our Emirati friends, who assisted in the transfer today.”

“While we celebrate Brittney’s release, Paul Whelan and his family continue to suffer needlessly,” added Blinken. “Despite our ceaseless efforts, the Russian Government has not yet been willing to bring a long overdue end to his wrongful detention. I wholeheartedly wish we could have brought Paul home today on the same plane with Brittney. Nevertheless, we will not relent in our efforts to bring Paul and all other U.S. nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad home to their loved ones where they belong.”  

LGBTQ rights groups applauded Brittney Griner’s release.

“Britney Griner’s long awaited release is a relief for her wife, teammates, fans and all in the LGBTQ community who recognized the extreme danger she faced as an out gay Black woman detained in Putin’s Russia,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. “Britney’s wife Cherelle never gave up fighting for her safe return, and President Biden and the State Department never wavered in their commitment to the Griners and the LGBTQ community on Britney’s behalf. We can’t wait to welcome Britney home.”

“The wait is over. Brittney Griner is coming home, and not a moment too soon,” added Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson. “Brittney is so much more than a WNBA superstar and Olympian, she is an American hero who had undergone unfathomable hardship. After being wrongfully held for 294 days away from her home, her friends, and most importantly her family, we celebrate her release. The HRC family is grateful for the State Department’s efforts to free her — and to any member of our community facing hate and extremism — your community will never stop fighting for you, just like we never stopped fighting for Brittney.”

National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson in their statement noted “number 42 has been hanging on my wall as a daily reminder of the violence and discrimination Black people, LGBTQ folks and women regularly endure in this country and around the world.”

“After being held for months in a Russian prison on drug charges, we are overjoyed and relieved she has been released today in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout,” said Johnson. “We thank President Biden and all those who relentlessly negotiated and advocated for her release and return to her family. Now her jersey will be a celebration and reminder of the resilience of our people and the power of our community.”

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Russian Duma sends new anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law to Putin

With Putin’s signature, Russian LGBTQ+ people “will cease to be publicly known” effectively driving them underground

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (Screenshot from Russian State Media)

UPDATED Monday December 5 from the Associated Press:

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a law that significantly expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBT rights in the country.

MOSCOW – The Upper Chamber of the Russian State Duma (Parliament) voted Wednesday approving legislation banning LGBTQ+ propaganda as well as materials that promote discussion of gender reassignment and mention of LGBTQ+ to minors, which is categorized as promotion of paedophilia. Violation of the ban will result in fines of up to 10 million rubles.

The legislation now heads to Russian President Vladimir Putin who is expected to sign it within the next few days. Russian State Media outlet RIA News (РИА Новости) reported the new ban on LGBTQ+ propaganda, gender reassignment and paedophilia will apply to films, books, commercials, media publications and computer games.

The legislation broadens the scope of the existing “Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values,” statute signed into law by Putin on June 30, 2013.

That statute amended the country’s child protection law and the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses, to prohibit the distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors.

The definition includes materials that “raises interest in” such relationships, cause minors to “form non-traditional sexual predispositions”, or “[present] distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships.”

Businesses and organizations can also be forced to temporarily cease operations if convicted under the law, and foreigners may be arrested and detained for up to 15 days then deported, or fined up to 5,000 rubles and deported.

The new law will  extend “responsibility for propaganda of LGBTQ+ people among adults,” in addition to the earlier law regarding minors.

The language of the bill also introduces a ban on issuing a rental certificate to a film if it contains materials that promote non-traditional sexual relations and preferences is established. The document also provides for the introduction of a mechanism that restricts children’s access to listening to or viewing LGBTQ+ information on paid services. 

The newly expanded law provides for the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, to be vested with the right to determine the procedure for conducting monitoring on the Internet to identify information, access to which should be restricted in accordance with the federal law on information.

A requirement is also set on paid services to enter codes or perform other actions to confirm the age of the user. At the same time, access to LGBTQ+ information is prohibited for citizens under 18 years of age.

In addition, it provides for a ban on the sale of goods, including imported goods, containing information, the dissemination of which provides for administrative or criminal liability. 

Also, the law “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” is supplemented by an article on the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations, pedophilia and information that can make children want to change their sex.

The latter language pointedly inserted as transgender people have been a frequent target of attacks by the Russian president in speeches recently blaming the West for a global decay in moral values that run counter to what Putin describes as “Russia’s strong morals.”

Human Rights Watch noted that given the already deeply hostile climate for LGBTQ+ people in Russia, there will be uptick in often-gruesome vigilante violence against LGBTQ+ people in Russia—frequently carried out in the name of protecting Russian values and Russia’s children.

Legal scholars say the vagueness of the bill’s language gives room for government enforcers to interpret the language as broadly as they desire, leaving members of the Russian LGBTQ+ community and their allies in a state of even greater fear and stress filled uncertainty.

The English language Moscow Times newspaper and webzine, which publishes outside of the Russian Federation to avoid censorship, ran an article Friday reporting on St. Petersburg LGBTQ activist Pyotr Voskresensky, who in an act of defiance opened up a small “LGBTQ museum” in his apartment prior to Putin’s signing the measure into law.

“The museum is a political act,” said Voskresensky. “As this era is coming to an end, I felt I wanted to say one last word.”

Voskresensky — who has spent years acquiring Russian-made statues, jewelry, vases, books and other art objects that tell stories about the country’s LGBTQ+ subculture — decided this was his last opportunity to share his collection with ordinary people he told the Times.

For safety reasons, the museum’s location has not been made public: hopeful visitors must contact Voskresensky via Facebook to receive the address.  

On a recent tour, the first thing visible to visitors at the entrance was a portrait of composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, one of the most famous gay men in pre-revolutionary Russia. 

At the end of the exhibition, there were a few contemporary art pieces, including a satirical model depicting Russian parliamentary deputy Vitaly Milonov, a prominent supporter of the anti-gay legislation, wearing a bridal veil. 

Anti-LGBTQ+ lawmaker and parliamentarian Vitaly Milonov
(Courtesy of Pyotr Voskresensky via The Moscow Times)

In a phone call with the Blade on Saturday, a young Russian LGBTQ+ activist, who asked to not be identified for fear of Russian government reprisals, and who has communicated with the Blade previously from their Helsinki, Finland safe space, reiterated:

“These [Russian obscenity] politicians want to so-called “non-traditional” LGBTQ+ lifestyles erased out of public life. They and their so called colluders in church are ignorant of truth that LGBTQ+ people will exist no matter what. It is scientific fact not their religious fairytales and fictions.”

The activist also noted that with Putin’s signature, Russian LGBTQ+ people “will cease to be publicly known” effectively driving them underground. “Those bastards have tried to make us erased- they stupidly think we no longer [will] exist” The activist angrily vowed; “we are not disappeared- never. We are human and we are natural and they will not defeat our humanity.”

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Russian Duma’s lower House passes anti-LGBTQ propaganda law

The legislation still needs the approval of the upper House and President Putin- introduces an expanded “all ages” anti-LGBTQ propaganda ban

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Russian State Duma (Госуда́рственная ду́ма) parliament building Moscow (Photo Credit: Russian Government)

MOSCOW – A new law which expands Russia’s “gay propaganda” law signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin in June 2013 passed the lower House of the State Duma (parliament) on Thursday.

The legislation, which still needs the approval of the upper House of the Duma and President Putin, introduces an expanded “all ages” ban on “propaganda of non-traditional relations,” paedophilia, as well as a ban on the dissemination of information about LGBTQ people in the media, the Internet, advertising, literature and cinema. 

The language of the bill, according to the official Russian state news agency TASS, also introduces a ban on issuing a rental certificate to a film if it contains materials that promote non-traditional sexual relations and preferences is established. The document also provides for the introduction of a mechanism that restricts children’s access to listening to or viewing LGBTQ+ information on paid services. 

The newly expanded law provides for the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, to be vested with the right to determine the procedure for conducting monitoring on the Internet to identify information, access to which should be restricted in accordance with the federal law on information.

A requirement is also set on paid services to enter codes or perform other actions to confirm the age of the user. At the same time, access to LGBTQ+ information is prohibited for citizens under 18 years of age.

In addition, it provides for a ban on the sale of goods, including imported goods, containing information, the dissemination of which provides for administrative or criminal liability. 

Also, the law “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” is supplemented by an article on the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations, pedophilia and information that can make children want to change their sex.

The latter language pointedly inserted as transgender people have been a frequent target of attacks by the Russian president in speeches recently blaming the West for a global decay in moral values that run counter to what Putin describes as “Russia’s strong morals.”

In an October speech announcing the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories, Putin attacked the Western nations on the issue of gay and transgender rights.

“Do we want children from elementary school to be imposed with things that lead to degradation and extinction?” he asked. “Do we want them to be taught that instead of men and women, there are supposedly some other genders and to be offered sex-change surgeries?”

It’s not just the Russian leader. Patriarch Kirill, head of the powerful and influential Russian Orthodox Church, portrayed the war with Ukraine as a struggle seeking to reject Western values and LGBTQ+ pride parades.

Vyacheslav Viktorovich Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma and a former aide to Putin, is one of the bill’s sponsors. Volodin told TASS that the bill is “adopted exclusively in the interests of all Russians.”

“We have a different path, our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers chose it. We have traditions, we have a conscience, we have an understanding that we need to think about children, families, the country, to preserve what we handed over by the parents,” Volodin said.

A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch told the Blade this expansion of the 2013 “gay propaganda” law “is a classic example of political homophobia. It targets vulnerable sexual and gender minorities for political gain.”

A young Russian LGBTQ+ activist, who asked to not be identified for fear of Russian government reprisals, spoke to the Blade from Helsinki, Finland, regarding this latest effort by the so-called conservative “family values” politicians in the Duma.

“This is a distraction to avoid the real news of dead young Russian males killed in his illegal war in Ukraine,” they said. “These [Russian obscenity] politicians want to so-called “non-traditional” LGBTQ+ lifestyles practised by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people out of public life- make us erased. They and their so called colluders in church are ignorant of truth that LGBTQ+ people will exist no matter what. It is scientific fact not their religious fairytales and fictions.”

The activist also told the Blade they had fled to avoiding the Russian military draft enacted by Russia to replenish the levels of combat troops fighting in Putin’s illegal war, in the face of mounting casualties and wounded soldiers.

HRW noted that given the already deeply hostile climate for LGBTQ+ people in Russia, the organization warned there will be uptick in often-gruesome vigilante violence against LGBTQ+ people in Russia—frequently carried out in the name of protecting Russian values and Russia’s children.

Legal scholars say the vagueness of the bill’s language gives room for government enforcers to interpret the language as broadly as they desire, leaving members of the Russian LGBTQ+ community and their allies in a state of even greater fear and stress filled uncertainty.

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Report: Brittney Griner transferred to penal colony

Reuters noted WNBA star in country’s Mordovia region

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A Brittney Griner mural in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

YAVAS, Russia — Reuters on Thursday reported WNBA star Brittney Griner is now in a penal colony in Russia’s Mordovia region.

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

A Russian court on Aug. 4 convicted Brittney Griner of smuggling drugs into the country and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. An appellate court on Oct. 25 denied Brittney Griner’s appeal.

American officials have publicly acknowledged their willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia after his conviction for spying.

Brittney Griner’s lawyers earlier this month said authorities were transferring her to a penal colony. 

Her whereabouts had not been known for nearly two weeks. 

Reuters reported Brittney Griner is now at a female penal colony in Yavas, a city in Russia’s Mordovia region that is roughly 300 miles southeast of Moscow. Reuters noted Whelan is at a penal colony in the same area.

“We are aware of reports of her location, and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “However, the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest. The embassy has continued to press for more information about her transfer and current location.”

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White House Press Sec says U.S. officials met with Brittney Griner

“The U.S. government made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable & wrongful detentions of American citizens”

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Closed circuit video screen capture from Russian Court during Griner appeal hearing (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Speaking with reporters traveling with President Joe Biden aboard the presidential aircraft enroute to a campaign event Thursday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said U.S. Embassy officials in the Russian capital city have met with imprisoned WNBA star Brittney Griner.

“We are told she is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” Jean-Pierre said.

In a separate tweet, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “They saw firsthand her tenacity and perseverance despite her present circumstances. We continue to press for the immediate release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and fair treatment for every detained American.”

“As we have said before, the U.S. government made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan,” Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One.

“In the subsequent weeks, despite a lack of good-faith negotiations by the Russians, [the] U.S. government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels,” she added.

The United States considers both Americans wrongfully detained State Department spokesperson Price and the White House Press Secretary have previously stated.

Griner is serving a nine-year prison sentence after a Russian court convicted her on the importation of illegal drugs after Russian customs officials found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Sheremetyevo International Airport.  Whelan is serving a 16-year prison sentence for espionage. 

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