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Higher School of Economics points to Russia’s new LGBTQ+ extremism law to justify ban on “feminitives”

Cover photo: Activist holds up poster reading “not decorations, but good professionals.”

Student leaders at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in St. Petersburg were recently warned that they could be prosecuted for spreading “LGBT propaganda” after a student group used a “feminitive” in one of its social media posts, writes the publication Groza.

Feminitives are personal nouns that designate women in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, and other Slavic languages.

Olena Zelenska’s NGO Barrier-Free offers an explanation of the term:

“Feminitives are feminine nouns denoting women, formed from monosyllabic masculine nouns denoting men, and are paired with them. If we were to roughly translate them into English, we would have gendered nouns such teacher and teacheress, author and authoress, historian and historianess, aviator and aviatoress, etc.”

The case at the Higher School of Economics involved the word kuratorka, which could be loosely translated as curatoress — a word denoting a female curator.

Alexander Ugryumov, head of the department for extracurricular and educational work at the Higher School of Economics, wrote in one of the university's internal groups that the use of feminitives in public discourse could be equated to taking part “in the international LGBT movement” — making it potentially a potentially prosecutable act inside the Russian Federation.

Social media posts containing feminitives “may cause reputational damage to the [...] Higher School of Economics” and threaten the students themselves, according to the official. Screenshots of Ugryumov's online appeal were made available to Groza by students of the university.

  • Alexander Ugryumov's appeal to HSE students in St. Petersburg (in Russian)
  • Alexander Ugryumov's appeal to HSE students in St. Petersburg (in Russian)

“I’m sure that the students had no intention to violate the law. But ignorance of the law does not exempt one from responsibility. Pay attention, follow the changes in legislation, don’t follow the 'hype' when it comes to hot topics,” the publication quoted Ugryumov as saying.

As the students of the St. Petersburg branch of the Higher School of Economics told the publication Vot Tak, the university's management zeroed in on a social media post dedicated to the annual “Mr. and Miss” (MiM) talent contest (it contained the word kuratorka, mentioned above; the message has since been deleted).

The contest is organized by mentors — senior students who help freshmen adapt to the university environment. Mixed- or same-sex couples from different faculties compete to win the contest. “Last year, a person from the university administration watched two guys kissing on stage and he was totally okay with it,” noted one female student.

As previously reported by The Insider, in November 2023, Russia's Supreme Court recognized the non-existent “international LGBT social movement” as extremist, effectively putting it on a par with ISIS and Al-Qaeda and banning it throughout the country. Multiple publications later circulated the wording of the Supreme Court’s decision. Of particular relevance to the HSE case, the text of the decision states that signs of participation in the “LGBT movement” include the use of feminitives.

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