Moves by some Russian legislators to adopt a bill against 'gay propaganda', may be shocking, but they're not unexpected.
Having recently passed its first reading in the State Duma- and with just two more to go before becoming law- plans to establish a nationwide ban on what's deemed gay propaganda have moved from threats to threatening.
The next crucial reading is penned for next month, taking Russia one step further to a nation where holding hands in public, or indeed anything seen to promote a homosexual lifestyle- around children- could be made illegal. It's a move that would send Russia crashing back to its pre-1993 days, before homosexuality was finally legalised.
The fact that such a bill exists and is being considered, is a reflection of a Russian political class well versed in playing any card they can get their hands on, to woo voters. Suffering from a lack of genuine leaders, immigration and 'foreign agitators' join homosexuals as the popular scapegoats many choose to decry. Whilst they do, the real Russian evils of crippling corruption, a largely two-tier wealth system and a demographic crisis, go unchecked.
But the fact that denouncing gay rights and threatening freedoms can be such a rallying cry for mainstream politicians in modern Russia, says more about the country as a whole than the national parliament.
As abhorrent as the views expressed by some of the pioneers of this bill are, they're still largely representative.
A Lavada centre opinion poll last month had 85% of Russians against same-sex marriage. A further 87% of those surveyed want gay pride marches banned.
Both Yuri Luzkhov and Sergei Sobyanin, the last two mayors to run Moscow, have continually banned such parades to the outcry of campaigners and international audiences, with a 100-year abolition currently in place. To do so they often cited tenuous links to keeping public order, but the biggest hammer blow is that it's an issue few people will publicly defend. Having met and interviewed some of those who do campaign against homophobia, its clear just how isolated and embattled they are.
In a deeply religious country with a powerful church, its wholehearted endorsement of this bill goes some way to explaining why such insidious viewpoints prevail.
Exposure- or lack thereof- is likely another problem. Aside from a few major cities, homosexuality isn't something as openly displayed as in national capitals to Moscow's west. As with many types of discrimination a root cause is often people fearing the unknown.
All in all with race, sex, and homosexuality, Russia is still struggling to shake off its Soviet era shackles. Geography may play its part, with swaths of sparsely populated land lacking Moscow's- and other cities- thriving metropolis, here new ideas don't easily disseminate.
The Sticks and Stones
From leaders people should expect a degree of maturity, an ability to direct and most importantly refrain from such exploitive politics. But as shown by the recent case of Artem Kalinin- a LGBT rights activist attacked in front of reporters in north-east Russia - though politicians may be exploiting such sentiment, they can hardly be accused of creating it. Examples such as his are numerous.
Unfortunately this means that even if this latest damaging bill fails to pass on a national level, true equality will take much longer to achieve and won't be brought about be any piece of paper, or lack of it.
In short, in asking why these opinions and policies are present in today's Russia, people must look further than a few bigoted politicians, to the 85%.