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SOCIETY

A sexuality like any other: How gay-tolerant medieval Rus borrowed homophobia from the West and stuck with it for good

In December, Russia imposed a total ban on the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships”, justifying it by the protection of “traditional values”. The Insider studied Russia’s history of anti-homosexual legislation and found that in the days of traditional society, Russia was far from homophobic. Thus, in the 12th century, lesbian sex between two unmarried girls could be considered a lesser sin than premarital heterosexual sex. Up until the 19th century, homosexual relations were acceptable both formally and in practice, and even in the 20th century, Soviet courts occasionally recognized same-sex marriages. All homophobic laws in the country's history have been introduced under Western influence and were justified by the desire to modernize society and fight tradition, not preserve it.

Content
  • Same-sex relationships in pre-Petrine Russia

  • Homosexual attraction in Revolutionary Russia

  • Sodomy re-criminalized

  • Moving toward de-criminalization

  • Defending “traditional values”

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Same-sex relationships in pre-Petrine Russia

Perhaps the Mujik hath
a gay and gallant wife:
To serve his beastly lust yet he
will lead a bowgards life.
The monster more desires
a boy within his bed
Then any wench, such filthy sin

ensues a drunken head.

This is how English poet and diplomat George Turberville described his impressions of his journey to Russia in a 1568 letter to a friend. He was not the only foreigner to be struck by the licentiousness of manners in Russia. Swedish diplomat Peer Peersson of Erlesunda (who wrote under the pen name Petrus Petreius) also resented it. As he wrote in Historien und Bericht Von dem Großfürstenthumb Muschkow, his work on the history of Russia during the Time of Troubles and Ivan the Terrible,

“They, especially the great boyars and nobles, engage in more debauchery, sodomy, men with men, and not even secretly but often in front of many people, considering it an honor and doing it without reserve and publicly.” (Translated from the Russian translation of Petreius’ work.)

In 1551, the Italian historian Paolo Giovio published a series of books in which he described the mores of the Muscovy during the time of Tsar Vasily III, citing Russian ambassadors and merchants:

«In the manner of the Greeks, Muscovite customs permit to love young men, for the noblest of them and all the ranks of chivalry are in the habit of accepting the children of honorable citizens in their service and instructing them in the art of war.”

Unsurprisingly, most travelers were taken aback by the relaxed attitude toward sodomy in the Russian tsardom. At the time, “sodomy” was an umbrella term for all types of sexual intercourse not aimed at conceiving a child within marriage, but a homosexual relationship between two men was considered to be the most severe transgression. In most Western European countries, it was punishable by death.

However, such rigor did not appear characteristic of either Slavs or the Russian Orthodox. Throughout its independence, the Rzeczpospolita had no laws punishing same-sex relationships. On paper, the Byzantine Empire punished both gay sex and adultery by death, but historians could not confirm any precedents of its application. Instead, in most sentences passed for homosexual relations, penalties were limited to corporal punishment or fines.

The Russian Orthodox Church was generally more lenient toward same-sex relationships than the Catholics. Sodomy was an even broader concept: unlike their Western counterparts, high-ranking Orthodox clergymen were less concerned about sexual relations that did not lead to legitimate offspring than about gender norm violations. The latter included, for example, situations where a woman took a dominant position during sex. Same-sex anal intercourse was punished in the same way as heterosexual adultery, while mutual masturbation or fellatio was considered a minor transgression. Interestingly, Bishop Niphont of Novgorod, who lived in the 12th century, considered lesbian sex between two unmarried girls a lesser sin than premarital heterosexual sex.

Subsequent criminalization of homosexuality occurred during Nicholas I's reign under the influence of German laws. Frightened by the French Revolution, which led to the decriminalization of homosexuality in France, and the Decembrist revolt of 1825 in Russia, the emperor decided to strengthen the alliance with the Germans and adopt their customs, which had implied a punitive approach to same-sex relationships since pre-Christian times. The Digest of Laws of the Russian Empire, published in 1832, criminalized sodomy for the entire population of the country. Under the new law, those found guilty of sodomy had to repent, lose their titles and fortune, and go into exile in Siberia.

However, this legislation was also applied with great reluctance. Sodomy had no legal definition of sodomy, and the law was not followed up by any specialized literature because lawyers were afraid of turning the criminal code into a pornographic magazine. Their caution complicated law enforcement, as was noted by Vladimir Nabokov, a leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party and the father of the famous writer. With a gay brother and son, Nabokov had personal motives to advocate the decriminalization of homosexuality in the Russian Empire.

The police kept an eye on homosexuals, as evidenced, for example, by a memo with dozens of names of gay men in St. Petersburg, but they only initiated arrests in response to complaints from citizens or if a case attracted public attention. There were also no forensic guidelines for detecting anal sex when Russia adopted the 1832 Digest of Laws, and doctors were reluctant to testify against homosexuals because they mostly considered homosexuality to be a congenital trait. Finally, the application of the law was hindered by the fact that the nobility usually avoided punishment. Loud scandals among aristocrats were extinguished at the emperor's behest, and people whose homosexual proclivities were the talk of the town continued to occupy the highest posts.

Another Kadet deputy, Victor Obninsky, wrote about the Nicholas II era:

“Many St. Petersburg celebrities, actors, writers, musicians, and grand dukes also indulged in this shameful vice. Their names were on everyone's lips, and many flaunted their lifestyle. ... Curiously, not all of the Guard regiments were prone to the vice. While almost everyone in the Preobrazhensky regiment, including its commander, was indulging in it, the Hussar Life Guards were more natural in their affections.”

The list of widely-known homosexuals included the Grand Dukes Sergei Alexandrovich and Konstantin Konstantinovich, the conservative literary figure Viktor Meshchersky, the composer Peter Tchaikovsky, and the author of the triad “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality” Sergei Uvarov. However, this notoriety did not affect their lives in any way. It took a high-profile scandal to punish a nobleman for sodomy. An example of such a scandal was the controversy around the poet Alexander Shenin when he (allegedly) released an erotic, homosexual poem, A Cadet's Escapades (1843). Even then, the penalties we limited to dismissal from service and exile from St. Petersburg.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that the number of convictions only declined over time. According to statistics cited by historian Dan Healey, it was already lower than the average for all crimes combined. Of the 1,066 cases between 1874 and 1904, 440 cases, or 41.28%, ended in guilty verdicts, compared with 66.25% for all other cases. Of these, 80% were homosexual rapes, and only 20% dealt with consensual intercourse. Artists, doctors, writers, teachers, priests, servants, and craftsmen were punished most often.

After the Russian Revolution of 1905, the number of sodomy cases and convictions spiked. From 1905 to 1913, 911 cases were opened, of which 504 ended in verdicts – which is almost as many as in the previous thirty years in a decade. Notably, only eight sentences were handed down in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where the majority of cases had been initiated. The North Caucasus and the Islamic fringes of the empire accounted for most of the growth, while the number of convictions against ethnic Slavs continued to fall. This happened because Muslim peoples of the empire had practices such as bacha bazi, a tradition in which young adolescent males or boys performed erotic dances and had sex with adult men for money or patronage. Frightened by the failed revolution, the government sought to Westernize these societies, to ensure their stronger integration with the empire, and approached homosexual relations in these communities as the result of “savage customs” that had to be eradicated.

Homosexual attraction in Revolutionary Russia

After the Revolution of 1917, Russia abolished the article on sodomy. In 1919, Bishop Palladius of Zvenigorod was sentenced to five years in a case of “pederasty” for having an affair with a 14-year-old cell attendant. Palladius could have been persecuted because of his close friendship with Patriarch Tikhon: the latter had tasked the bishop with preventing the nationalization of the New Jerusalem Monastery. Nevertheless, a year later the bishop was amnestied, and the final version of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR in 1922 did not include an article on sodomy. This may have stemmed from the Soviet trend for the secularization of Russian law and society.

In the early 1920s, representatives of the People's Commissariat for Health, including personally the People's Commissar Nikolai Semashko, who laid the foundations of the Soviet healthcare system, were in active contact with colleagues in Germany, where sexology was rapidly developing. At conferences of the Magnus Hirschfeld Institute for Sexual Science, they stated that the decriminalization of homosexuals in the USSR was a deliberate measure.

Soviet courts even recognized same-sex marriages in some cases. Historian Dan Healey cites the case of one Evgenia Feodorovna M., described by two psychiatrists. They recount how a woman arranged a marriage with her unnamed companion, posing as a man. Upon finding this, public prosecutors attempted to annul the decision of the registry office, but the Commissariat of Justice declared the marriage legal.

Soviet courts even recognized same-sex marriages in some cases

Admittedly, only the Slavic republics of the Soviet Union abolished laws on sodomy. The Islamic fringes of the young state preserved such legislation, following the same logic of fighting local “barbaric traditions” in the name of modernization and progress, rather than for the sake of protecting traditional values, as is the case today.

Despite being decriminalized in the central, mostly Slavic regions, homosexuality continued to attract police attention throughout the 1920s and was largely perceived as a stain on one's reputation, with allegations of homosexuality used as a means of discrediting. Thus, in addition to the trial of Bishop Palladius in 1919, the anti-clerical campaign included show trials of Father Vasily in Vologda (1922), Deacon Hranovsky and two subdeacons, Fedorov and Babaev, in Okhta (1927), and Deacon Tkachenko in Vladikavkaz (1927). All of them were charged with corruption of minors, except Tkachenko, whose prosecution focused on inadvertent infection with a venereal disease. During the trials, attended by crowds of peasants, the details of their same-sex relationships were explored in great detail. In these proceedings, religious norms backfired on the church itself. However, Archbishop Alexander tried to use the authority of science to defend Father Vasily and brought in a doctor to prove that the defendant was a sick man in need of professional help. Yet the prosecution insisted on the social nature of his homosexuality due to the monastic arrangement, which implies a mono-gender environment.

In 1921, the police raided a 95-person travesty party in St. Petersburg. The security forces learned about the party from sailor Afanasy Shaur, who was one of its organizers. The informant promised a gathering of counter-revolutionaries, but the police only found men disguised as women. The judge and the investigator found no counterrevolutionary activity, and all detainees were eventually released. As a result, Shaur, who had presumably counted on a reward, fell under suspicion himself and fled to Tbilisi. Psychiatrist Vladimir Bekhterev, who counseled many homosexuals at the time and was therefore brought in by the police as an expert wrote: “I had to give an opinion on a case, and, of course, I spoke in favor of dropping the case because neither seduction nor the promotion of homosexuality could be established in this case.”

Sodomy re-criminalized

In the early 1930s, the world was plunging into an economic crisis. The Soviet Union was ruled by Stalin, who concentrated power in his hands and began actively suppressing any possible dissent, which could also stem from economic hardship. To leave no stone unturned in search of potential enemies and traitors, the regime began to weed out major urban subcultures, which were branded “asocial elements”. Thus, sex workers, homeless people, and beggars began to be sent to labor camps for “re-education”. This was followed by larger-scale manifestations of Soviet cannibalism: the Holodomor in Ukraine, Asharshylyk in Kazakhstan, and national purges as part of the Great Terror throughout the USSR.

Homosexuals did not interest the intelligence services at first. In August 1933, however, a travesty party was once again busted in one of the regular OGPU raids aimed at eliminating brothels. The chekists interrogated the detainees to find out about other places where similar parties were held, including in other cities, and raided them afterward. On September 15, 1933, the head of the OGPU, Genrikh Yagoda, wrote a note to Stalin in which, playing on the Secretary General's paranoia, he asserted that “the pederast activists, taking advantage of the caste-based insularity of pederast circles”, had infiltrated all strata of society, from soldiers and workers to writers and diplomats, to create anti-revolutionary spy cells.

Stalin replied that “the scoundrels deserve the most severe punishment and the legislation must be amended accordingly”. Within a year, the Soviet Union adopted another law criminalizing homosexuality.

Within a year, the Soviet Union adopted another law criminalizing homosexuality

It appears that Russian Communists borrowed the perceived connection between homophobia and spycraft from the Germans too. In the summer of 1933, shortly before the OGPU’s anti-homosexual raids, European anti-fascists organized a “counter-trial” in London, in parallel with Marinus van der Lubbe's trial in Germany. Lubbe was a Dutch communist who had gone to Germany to fight the National Socialists in power. The Nazis accused him of setting fire to the Reichstag and used his trial as a pretext for repression against communists and the introduction of emergency measures that put a dent in German citizens’ rights and freedoms. Meanwhile, communists claimed, at the London counter-trial and the related Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror, that van der Lubbe was a drug addict and lover of the head of the Nazi Storm Troopers, Ernst Röhm.

When the Social Democratic newspaper Münchener Post published Röhm's love letters a couple of years earlier, the Communists accused the NSDAP of hypocrisy. Homophobia was part of Nazi ideology, while the left advocated the decriminalization of homosexuality in Germany; yet one of the key figures in the Nazi party was a homosexual, and Hitler did nothing about it. The Nazis linked homosexuality to Marxism and Judaism and saw all three as a path to the degradation and extinction of the Aryan race. This is why the leftists in Münchener Post articles accused the Nazis of corrupting the German youth in their party.

Leftists around the world, including in the Soviet Union, picked up the Brown Book version of events and used it in their propaganda. Therefore, it is not surprising that Maxim Gorky writes, in his article “Proletarian Humanism”, where he contrasts German fascism and Soviet communism:

“Not dozens but hundreds of facts testify to the destructive, corrupting influence of fascism on Europe's youth. It is disgusting to list the facts, and my memory refuses to be loaded with the filth that the bourgeoisie is fabricating more and more assiduously and abundantly. I will point out, however, that in a country where the proletariat operates courageously and successfully, homosexuality, which corrupts the youth, is recognized as socially criminal and punishable, whereas a “cultured” country of great philosophers, scientists, and musicians allows it to spread freely and with impunity. There is already a sarcastic saying: ‘Destroy the homosexuals, and fascism will disappear.’”

Upon coming to power, the Nazis began a campaign to persecute homosexuals. They closed down all gay bars and gay meeting places, banned publications on homosexuality, looted and partially destroyed Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science, and burned all of his literature in city squares. All of this happened some six months before the OGPU raids, Yagoda's note, and Gorky's article.

Apart from a single paragraph in Gorky's article, even though it was published in two major Soviet newspapers, Pravda and Izvestia, there was no information campaign against sodomy in the USSR. Moving to the Soviet Union in 1932 largely because it had decriminalized sodomy, Scottish journalist Harry Whyte tried to find information about the state's attitude toward homosexuality after Ivan, an engineer with whom he had started a relationship, was arrested in 1933. However, both the psychiatrist he went to and the Great Soviet Encyclopedia claimed that homosexuality was not punishable in the USSR. Only courts of law and special services were privy to the legislative innovation.

As Soviet history scholar Sheila Fitzpatrick notes, Stalin preferred secrecy and ambiguity in matters of state policy, usually giving the nation hints about what to expect in his speeches or show trials rather than issuing clear directives. In FItzpatrick's opinion, this allowed him to strengthen his power by taking essentially arbitrary decisions.

The article on sodomy was regularly used as a tool of political struggle. Some of the first victims were the employees of the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. This department had long been run by Georgy Chicherin, Trotsky's former deputy and known homosexual. Shortly before the law was passed, he retired due to ill health. As he complained to his successor, the Soviet leadership undermined relations within the Comintern with its speeches, and the GPU constantly provoked international scandals by arresting and sometimes even executing foreigners without warning.

The article on sodomy was regularly used as a tool for political struggle

Yagoda's letter to Stalin already included attacks on Chicherin's department, but the only alleged espionage connections established by homosexuals were the diplomats' connections with the ambassadors of Germany, Norway, and Finland. Since he had already retired, Chicherin himself walked away scot-free. However, the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, where Chicherin had installed many of his homosexual friends, underwent a purge.

In 1934, the poet Nikolai Klyuev was arrested – according to one of the versions, for his homosexual love lyrics. Since he was tried before the law was passed, he was eventually charged with counter-revolutionary agitation at the request of Ivan Gronsky, the editor of Novy Mir, and Yagoda himself. Notably, Gronsky had seen Klyuev's anti-Soviet poems before, but they had not enraged him as much as his homosexual poetry. Boleslaw Przybyszewski, a music scholar and the director of the Moscow Conservatory, was expelled from the Communist Party in one of the purges in 1933 and was convicted of sodomy in 1934. “Sodomy” was one of the charges brought against Yagoda's successor Nikolai Yezhov in 1939. Eventually, despite his confession (apparently coerced through torture), it was omitted from his sentence, but during interrogations, Yezhov had given up the names of other homosexuals, whom the NKVD most likely used for espionage under the threat of persecution for their orientation. In 1944, Vadim Kozin, a singer and public favorite who had been giving concerts at the front throughout WWII, was convicted of sodomy after a quarrel with Lavrentiy Beria, who had replaced Yezhov as head of the NKVD. In 1948, film director Sergei Parajanov, who openly criticized Soviet cultural policy and spoke out against censorship and judicial reprisals against the Ukrainian intelligentsia, was also prosecuted on homosexuality charges.

By contrast, known homosexuals from among the loyalists were not repressed. Thus, Kozin's sexuality was no secret to anyone before 1944 but no one batted an eye before his quarrel with Beria. Such known homosexuals as the actor Yuri Yuryev and later ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev were not prosecuted either.

Yezhov was not homosexual at all; like his predecessor Yagoda and his successor Beria, he fell victim to repression and was accused of both concocting a coup and sexual offenses. Claims about the homosexuality of archaeologist Leo Klejn, who was convicted of sodomy in 1981, were also unsubstantiated. When asked about his sexuality, Klejn always replied: “Proving that I am not homosexual is as ugly as proving that I am not Jewish or Chechen.”

Moving toward de-criminalization

Under such circumstances, it is of little surprise that Soviet doctors and lawyers were not always gunning for the criminalization of sodomy. In his recently published book on the life of homosexuals in the Soviet Union, The Closeted, historian Rustem Alexander cites, for one, the story of psychiatrist Igor Sumbaev from Irkutsk. Like many other relevant professionals, Sumbaev learned that Stalin had outlawed same-sex relationships only a few years after the fact. However, he still viewed homosexuality as a treatable disorder and continued to see homosexual patients, only now with more caution. Subsequently, he was assisted by his students, Aron Belkin and Nikolai Ivanov, who eventually became renowned sexologists.

In 1959, a subcommittee of the RSFSR Legal Commission considered changes to the article on sodomy at the suggestion of Chairman Boris Nikiforov. Nikiforov knew that its application was complicated in cases of voluntary contacts because the grounds for the case were unclear and expert examination was absurd. Any man without erectile dysfunction could be found guilty of sodomy as an active partner. Similarly, if no physical features were found to prevent sexual penetration, a man could be accused of passive sodomy.

The article on sodomy was difficult to apply in cases of voluntary contact because the grounds for the case were unclear and the expert examination was absurd

Nevertheless, Nikiforov realized that a proposal to repeal the entire law could cost him his career, so he only offered to mitigate the punishment. To his surprise, the proposal met no objections. The RSFSR Legal Commission also supported the amendment and even voiced a proposal to abolish the punishment altogether. However, the initiative found no reflection in the new version of Soviet Russia's Criminal Code. According to Alexei Gertsenzon, the chair of the Legal Commission, an unnamed party member rejected the decision at the last minute.

Academia supported the trend: Alexei Ignatov, a Faculty of Law graduate at Moscow State University, Pavel Osipov, a Leningrad University graduate, and Yakov Yakovlev, a jurist from the Tajik SSR, advocated the decriminalization of sodomy in their articles and theses. Interestingly, criminologist Boris Danielbek of Azerbaijan State University, who opposed them in his thesis and advocated the criminalization of lesbian relationships as well, encountered resistance from the commission. Distinguished Lawyer of the RSFSR and Professor Mark Yakubovich noted:

“It appears that the defender of the thesis has failed to refute statements by several authors about the lack of grounds for the introduction of punishment for voluntary sodomy into our legislation with sufficient conviction. The lack of punishment for voluntary homosexuality will undoubtedly allow homosexuals to fearlessly seek medical treatment for their perversion, which cannot be ignored.”

Homophobic sentiments in the USSR reached their peak in the 1980s, against the backdrop of the first HIV epidemic worldwide. The Soviet government ignored the problem at first, waving it off as something that only concerned prostitutes, gays, and drug addicts (which was an American idea), while the USSR had laws that supposedly secured the country against them. The KGB even launched an international disinformation campaign accusing the U.S. of creating HIV in Pentagon-controlled bio-labs. As evidence, Soviet newspapers cited supposedly independent foreign sources like the Indian newspaper Patriot, which the KGB itself had founded in 1967. The real but unnamed source of this theory was the American queer magazine New York Native. It arose because American gay journalists did not trust the authorities, who refused to fight the “gay plague”, and speculated extensively about the origins of the disease.

The wave of homophobia did not recede until a mass infection of infants occurred in a hospital in Elista, Kalmyk SSR, due to the negligence of medics, who had repeatedly used non-sterile needles. Soviet citizens finally became aware of alternative ways of infection, so the abysmal state of the Soviet healthcare system caused more concern than the morals of fellow citizens.

However, even though society was almost ready to favor the decriminalization of homosexuality, the change, just like its earlier criminalization, did not require citizen participation. In 1993, Boris Yeltsin abolished the article on sodomy without any explanation, under pressure from the Council of Europe.

Defending “traditional values”

In 2013, the State Duma passed a law banning the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors. Unlike all previous homophobic laws passed in Russia, the rationale behind this law centered on protecting certain “traditional” or “family” values instead of facilitating a transition to a more progressive society. In Russia, these values normally imply quashing LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, and abortion and supporting the church.

Interestingly, this particular set of values is hard to link to any particular era in Russian history. In pre-Petrine times, when the church was strong and enjoyed independence from the state, the law did not provide for the prosecution of homosexuals. As part of his Westernization effort, Peter I subordinated the church to secular power and introduced the first laws against sodomy. The most brutal persecution of same-sex relationships in Russia coincided with the persecution of the church.

This set of values, along with the phrase “traditional/family values”, emerged in the discourse of American Christian right-wing conservatives at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, as a reaction to the sexual revolution, the spread of feminism, and the formation of the LGBT movement, which is why the struggle for “traditional values” focuses exclusively on combating these phenomena. Moreover, the American right blamed the spread of these phenomena on communists, who had supposedly infiltrated American society to destroy it, and their modern-day followers continue to see “cultural Marxism” as the root of all evil. The defense of “traditional values” was among the priorities of Republican Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s. And ever since the 1990s, conservatives have accused every liberal presidential candidate in the U.S. of attacking these values.

The most brutal persecution of same-sex relationships in Russia coincided with the persecution of the church

One such conservative was Allan Carlson, an American historian and president of the conservative Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, who wrote the book Family Questions: Reflections on the American Social Crisis. He argued that the postwar feminist and sexual revolutions had caused a demographic decline in America. Anatoly Antonov and Viktor Medvedkov, sociology professors at MSU concerned about Russia’s falling birthrate, were very enthusiastic about his work. They translated them into Russian and invited him to Moscow in 1995. In 1997, they co-founded the World Congress of Families (WCF) to peddle “traditional values” around the world.

The WCF was not one-of-a-kind, of course. In the 1990s, the American right took to promoting conservatism abroad. Thus, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), founded by TV preacher Pat Robertson, deployed a lobbying network to promote homophobia in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Human Life International and Family Watch International are doing the same in Central Africa.

Playing on the xenophobia of local dictators like Robert Mugabe, they carefully pushed them to link it with homophobia, and gradually this strategy began to pay off. In 2006, homosexuality was criminalized in Zimbabwe. Before that, such laws existed only in the UK (from 1988 to 2003) and some US states (Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, and Florida). In the early 2010s, bans on “homopropaganda” were proposed in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, and Ukraine.

However, attempts to combat the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” were successful only in Russia, where the WCF had forged ties with the authorities. For example, in 2010 its representative Lawrence Jacobs participated in the Sanctity of Motherhood, a conference organized by the wife of the former CEO of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin. Senator Elena Mizulina met with Jacobs at least three times. Between 2010 and 2014, American evangelicals held at least five major events broadcasting their views to Russian audiences. Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov handled the relations between the WCF and the Russian Orthodox Church. Yakunin and “Orthodox oligarch” Konstantin Malofeyev funded the 2014 WCF conference in Moscow, which took place despite the annexation of Crimea and related sanctions, although many participants refused to come. Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage (US) and co-organizer of the WCF conference in Moscow, met with Mizulina two days before the “gay propaganda law” was passed.

Unable to fit into the world order during Vladimir Putin's third presidential term, Russia tried to ride the international conservative wave fueled by American conservatives. But the war with Ukraine has largely undermined these efforts, alienating many potential allies from Russia. As 19th-century philosopher Pyotr Chaadayev aptly put it, Russia once again showed the world how a nation should not live and what it should not do, greatly contributing to the LGBTQ+ rights movement beyond its borders.

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