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Russia is trying to ban queer content on TikTok- here’s what that means for teens

by Judy Bokao

IMAGE CREDIT: Shutterstock

A Russian Court, earlier this week fined ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, a penalty of $51,000 over a video shared on the platform. The Court fined the Chinese company for not deleting a video on the platform which Russian regulators claim is promoting LGBTQ+ propaganda and a distorted representation of traditional sexual values. Russia considers homosexuality a crime and classified it as a mental illness in 1999.

Russia has been taking a harder stance on LGBTQ+ related content and is currently considering enforcing stricter regulations on their existing anti-LGBTQ+ laws. In 2013, the country passed a law banning any person or entity from promoting homosexual relationships to children.

Russian lawmakers are pushing for the laws to be expanded to include banning promotion of homosexual relationships to adults as well and enforcing higher fines for exposing children to “distorted representation of traditional sexual values.’’ This is the main reason why their schools have no sex education in their curriculum.

The proposed ban would prohibit any public discussion of queer relationships and issues whether positive or negative. Any event or act seen as promotion of homosexuality will lead to a hefty fine. This means that the Russian LGBTQ+ community is not allowed to hold any Pride events or activities. The proposed bill will also affect film and TV content . By the time the bill was proposed major international studios and networks had already begun withdrawing operations in Russia.

The fine on TikTok is just the latest Russian legal on-slaught on Big Tech companies. So far, other companies such as Tinder and Spotify have been hit with heavy fines over their content. Russia has been demanding control over data storage and in some cases they have banned companies from operating in their countries.

Russia claims that the content is influencing the morality of its citizens and promoting western “liberal” values. Russia is currently one of the most homophobic country in the world. Human Rights Watch is concerned that the ban is meant to further harass and alienate the LGBTQ + community in Russia.

The LGBTQ+ community in Russia has long been oppressed by the government and society’s attitude and misconception. The community has no legal protection and continues to be hate crime targets across the country.

The situation is not getting better any time soon given that their government has made no effort to protect the queer Russian community and safeguard their human rights. It is highly likely that the LGBTQ+ community in Russia will continue to suffer persecution and intimidation from the government.

Early this year in February, the Russian government tried to close down one of the largest and influential LGBTQ+ rights groups in the country. Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a lawsuit in Court accusing the Russian LGBT Network of promoting “LGBTQ+ views “ and doing acts that are against “traditional values.” The Justice ministry wanted the Court to “liquidate” the foundation that runs the group. The court sidelined the suit but Russian officials are pushing for the Court to reconsider the case.

At the time, Tanya Lokshina, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division described the suit as an effort to throttle independent voices in Russia. She warned of future intimidation tactics and other attempts to stifle LGBTQ+ activism in the country.

The latest fine on TikTok seems to send a clear message that Russia is hell-bent on making sure queer voices are silenced and this is alarming. By banning LGBTQ+ content on all platforms, it is also taking away resources and creating more misconceptions about LGBTQ+ relationships.

LGBTQ+ Russians- especially the youth who are just coming to terms with sexuality- will have no means to help them figure it out. They will have a hard time understanding and learning about their orientation. It can be dangerous for them to confide in anyone given the heightened homophobia and in some cases it might lead to internalized homophobia. Russia is already one of the countries in the world with high numbers of suicide among teenagers. This will only serve to worsen the situation.

I wish there was more the world could do for the Russian LGBTQ+ community. The sanctions and boycotts are sadly not enough. As the days pass by, the queer community in the country will continue to be silenced.

About the Author:

Judy Bokao was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.

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