A leading British human rights activist and supporter of gay rights has accused Putin of demonizing the LGBT+ community in a bid to deflect attention from a crumbling economy and a failing war in Ukraine.
Peter Tatchell, a lifelong campaigner for gay rights and Ukraine supporter, said: “This has echoes of the way the Nazis vilified and scapegoated Jewish people as the enemy within.”
Tatchell runs a foundation which speaks out for human rights and denial of self-determination to suppressed peoples.
“Compared to Russia, Ukraine has progressive laws on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights. It permits LGBTs to serve in the military and it allows Pride Parades,” Tatchell said.
“Homophobic discrimination in the workplace is illegal. Hate speech in the media is also outlawed,” he added.
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell attending a Moscow Pride demonstration in 2007 where he was badly beaten
Photo by Peter Tatchell
Last December a new anti-LGBT law was passed by the Russian Parliament which bans “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” for all age groups.
The new law started its journey through the legislative process just after Putin’s so-called “special military operation” had begun. It was backed by Russian nationalists and Putin supporters, who cited pro-LGBT+ policies as justification for the invasion.
Tatchell, who was featured in a Netflix documentary last year called “Hating Peter Tatchell,” which chronicled his long career as a human rights activist, said: “They want to restore ‘moral order’ by imposing Russia’s anti-LGBT+ laws on an annexed Ukraine.”
Anyone breaking this new law can be fined up to 400,000 rubles, with journalists and organizations fined even larger sums.
Being openly gay himself, Tatchell has been to Russia to support LGBT activists five times. In 2007 he was invited to Moscow to take part in a gay pride parade. At the time, the parade was lawful under the Russian constitution, but was banned by the then Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov.
“I went there to stand in solidarity with these incredibly brave Russian activists. It was there that I was attacked,” he said. “I was targeted by neo-Nazis with police collusion and very badly beaten.”
Holding back his emotions, Tatchell, 71, and originally from Australia, said: “I was left with semi-permanent brain and eye injuries. It has damaged my concentration, memory, balance and coordination.
“It doesn’t stop me but I’m slower and it is more difficult. I used to be a really good typist, but now I find that it’s a real struggle to type. I get the letters jumbled up a lot.
“But in comparison to human rights defenders in Iran or Saudi Arabia, I got off lightly. I haven’t been imprisoned or tortured, I am not dead. So I count my blessings… carry on the fight.”
Tatchell returned to Russia in 2018 when it hosted the World Cup. He carried a banner supporting Chechens who had been attacked and tortured for being gay.
At that time Putin had signed a Russian propaganda decree, which effectively meant that anyone supporting homosexuals or taking part in gay rights rallies could be prosecuted.
Since the new law has come into effect, many gays have fled the country or gone underground. When Putin made a speech justifying the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions he turned on the West and its support for LGBT rights, calling it “pure Satanism.”
Since the law has been introduced there have been reports of books being withdrawn or censored and online cinemas having to delete LGBT-themed films.
On March 10, 2022, Peter Tatchell was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work as a human rights campaigner. Accepting the honor from the British Diversity Awards in London, he said: “Together, we’ve won extraordinary social changes, though more needs to be done.”
Speaking after the ceremony, he added: “I dedicate this award to the people of Ukraine who are heroically resisting Russian imperialist aggression. Their fight against Putin’s neo-fascism and warmongering is our fight.”