Russia wants to ban Netflix from streaming queer content

A minister has declared that LGBTQ+ content violates the country’s controversial 2013 “propaganda” law

Russian police are allegedly investigating Netflix after a government official issued a complaint against the streaming platform for promoting “gay propaganda.”

According to Olga Baranets, Russia’s public commissioner for the protection of the family, Netflix is in violation of Russia’s notorious 2013 law that bans the dissemination of “propaganda on non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. In the complaint, Baranets claims that the company is presenting LGBTQ+ content with a 16+ label, thereby promoting it to viewers under the age of 18 years old.

The complaint is being investigated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs within the Kremlin, according to Reuters. The streaming service could potentially face suspension of services or a fine of up to 1 million rubles (equivalent to nearly $17,000 CAD). 

Netflix has reportedly declined to comment on the investigation, but a source close to the company informed the Russian newspaper Vedomosti that the company had checked its LGBTQ+ streaming offerings and found none with 16+ labels. While the complaint did not directly reference any specific content, shows with LGBTQ+ characters such as Steven Universe and the 2018 Queer Eye reboot are currently among Netflix’s offerings in Russia, according to the Unofficial Netflix Online Global Search.

Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law drew international attention when it first passed in 2013 and it has been condemned by human rights groups and other international bodies, including Human Rights Watch and the United Nations. Since its passage, the ban has been used to punish LGBTQ+ activists as young as 16 years old for doing everything from drawing vaginas and running online support groups to hosting Pride parades and rallies.  

The law has also led to a noted increase in homophobic violence: rates of hate crimes targeting LGBTQ+ Russians doubled following the passing of the law according to 2017 research from the Centre for Independent Social Research.

“The move is part of a number of recent attempts to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ Russians.”

Russia’s “propaganda” ban has also prompted legal action on an international level. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the law was in violation of European treaty rules, saying that it was “incompatible with the values of a democratic society” and that it restricted freedom of speech. 

The case in question concerned three gay Russian activists who had been fined for holding up signs proclaiming that homosexuality was normal. By sanctioning the activists, the ECHR ruled that Russian authorities had “reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia” and ordered the government to compensate the activists with 50,000 euros (over $72,000 CAD) in total damages. 

 

The Kremlin called the ruling unjust and said it planned to appeal the decision, although it seems the court challenge was never taken up. 

The current investigation is not the only campaign Russia has launched against Netflix, as Russian newspaper Vedimosti reports. Echoing the language of the “propaganda” ban, Russian officials are reportedly weighing whether to ban streaming services from airing content that depicts “non-traditional sexual relationships and sexual deviations,” such as the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and the TV show Billions. (The latter features a non-binary character played by Asia Kate Dillon.)

The move is part of a number of recent attempts to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ Russians and freedom of expression more generally. In a series of constitutional amendments passed in July 2020, Russian lawmakers banned same-sex marriage and barred trans people from adopting children. Officials have also proposed preventing trans people from correcting their legal gender marker.

Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ crackdown has inspired similar legislative efforts in nearby Hungary, where a “propaganda” ban passed in June.

Oliver Haug

Contributing editor Oliver Haug (they/them) is a freelance writer based in the Bay Area, California. Their work focuses on LGBTQ2S+ issues and sexual politics, and has appeared in Bitch, them, Ms and elsewhere.

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TV & Film, Power, Culture, News, Hate Watch, Europe

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