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Majority of Russians believe gays conspiring to destroy country's values, poll finds

Sixty-three percent of Russians surveyed said they believe a secret organization is trying to "destroy" the country's "spiritual values" through gay propaganda.
Image: A rainbow-colored ribbon tied to a crucifix is seen next to a Russian flag
A rainbow-colored ribbon tied to a crucifix is seen next to a Russian flag fluttering atop the State Hermitage Museum during the LGBTQ rally in central St. Petersburg, Russia, on Aug. 4, 2018.Sergey Konkov / Reuters

Nearly two-thirds of Russians believe gays are conspiring to subvert the country’s traditional values, according to a recent survey conducted by the state-run Russian Public Opinion Research Center.

“Most of our fellow citizens (63 percent) believe in the existence of an organization that seeks to destroy the spiritual values generated by Russians, through the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” a translated version of the poll results states.

Less than a quarter of respondents (24 percent) found that “people who advocate for the rights of members of sexual minorities in Russia do not pursue destructive goals.” When broken down by age, however, nearly half (48 percent) of those aged 18-24 said gay advocates don't pursue "destructive goals."

The survey of 2,000 Russian citizens was conducted in late May, and the results were unveiled on Aug. 20. Given the current climate for LGBTQ people in Russia, activists said they were not surprised by the findings.

“Such results reflect in many ways the official policies of the Russian authorities,” Svetlana Zakharova, communications manager for the Russian LGBT Network, told NBC News in an email. “Unfortunately, it is exactly the rhetoric promoted through the biggest mass media, which are mostly state controlled.”

Zakharova said these attitudes have led to the steadily growing number of hate crimes against LGBTQ-identifying people in the country.

“[The Russian LGBT Network’s] monitoring reports show that this amount grows steadily since the adoption of the so-called [gay] propaganda law adopted in 2013,” she explained.

Image: A demonstrator is detained by police during the LGBT rally in central St. Petersburg
A demonstrator is detained by police during the LGBT rally in central St. Petersburg, Russia, on Aug. 4, 2018.Sergey Konkov / Reuters

Oleg Chernozub, the leading pollster at the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, told the Moscow Times that the survey’s results indicate Russians are becoming aware of the “quite obvious” efforts to undermine the country’s traditional values.

Alexander Kondakov, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki who has researched LGBTQ rights and law in Russia, said he is skeptical of the poll’s accuracy. Many Russians, he explained, may answer what would be expected of them. However, he said the anti-gay attitudes found in the survey are probably not far off the mark.

“In the current circumstances it makes sense,” Kondakov told NBC News. “The answers come as no surprise.”

History, he added, is scattered with examples of countries using LGBTQ people as threats to nationalist ideologies.

“This myth of gay people being imported from somewhere and from dark forces outside is prevalent, and it’s been there for a long time,” Kondakov said.

He mentioned that in the mid-20th Century in the U.S., LGBTQ people were labeled communists. The Lavender Scare, as it came to be called, resulted in firings of men and women in the thousands from government jobs from the 1940s to the 1960s.

About the same time, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany were also targeting LGBTQ people. “In the ‘30s, the [Soviet] government was trying to convince people for short periods of time that gay people, specifically gay men, were somehow imported from the Nazis,” Kondakov said. The same was happening in Germany during the Holocaust, where many gays were sent to concentration camps.

As human rights groups report increasing homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination in Russia, this myth appears to have already taken off.

“It keeps being reinterpreted,” Kondakov explained. “It shows one particular thing, and that is that the homosexual body, the gay body, is foreign to the nation in question.”

Russia’s “gay propaganda law” has been repeatedly criticized by human rights groups and has been found in violation of international human rights norms. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights found that Russia’s adoption of the law “had reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia, which was incompatible with the values of a democratic society.”

Recent events have put the law back into the international spotlight. In early August, Russian authorities in St. Petersburg detained more than two dozen LGBTQ activists were for protesting against the city’s refusal to approve a parade. Soon after, Maxim Neverov, 16, of Biysk was found guilty under the propaganda law for posting photos to an album on a social media site. Neverov is the first minor to be found in violation of the law. He has appealed the decision.