1/24/2024

As Putin Cracks Down on LGBTQ+ Communities Philanthropy Needs to Step Up

By: Raisa Borshchigova

Urgent Action Fund for Feminist Activism

As Russia braces for upcoming presidential elections amidst military setbacks, a disturbing yet familiar political tactic unfolds. President Vladimir Putin’s regime, in a desperate bid to rally national support, has zeroed in on a next target: the LGBTQ+ community. This isn’t just a domestic issue; it’s a chilling echo of a growing global trend where the far-right, under the guise of defending “traditional values,” is making significant inroads on both sides of the Atlantic.

Russia’s Supreme Court has declared LGBTQ+ activists as “extremists,” intensifying fears among the queer community of potential arrests and prosecutions. The court’s decision labels “the international LGBTQ public movement and its subdivisions” as extremist and bans their activities in Russia. This ruling represents the most severe action in a decade-long crackdown on LGBTQ rights under President Vladimir Putin, who emphasizes “traditional family values” in his governance.

The specifics of the ruling, including the impact on individual activists or organizations, have yet to be detailed. The decision was made effective immediately in December 2023 and the legal consequences for LGBTQ+ activists are dire. Vaguely defined anti-extremist laws leave the door wide open for abuse. Beginning in January 2024, LGBTQ+ organization leaders could face actual jail sentences, a clear violation of human rights intended to silence dissent. This development is part of a broader series of restrictive measures in Russia, including limiting women’s access to abortion and requiring foreigners to sign a ‘loyalty agreement.’

The Kremlin’s designation of the fictitious “International LGBTQ+ Movement” as extremist extends beyond marginalizing a group; it reflects a broader pattern of politicizing ‘otherness’. This aligns Russia with global far-right forces against diverse values. Past strategies saw the Kremlin use scapegoating for diversion, such as during the Chechen wars under the guise of counterterrorism and, later, instigating xenophobia against Central Asian migrants. Currently, Putin, undeterred by his isolation over Ukraine, is courting Western far-right parties gaining traction, seeing them as potential allies to reforge his Western ties. 

The Role of Funders

In this dire landscape, it is crucial for those in philanthropy to step up to support Russian activists under threat. Here at Urgent Action Fund for Feminist Activism we have actively supported gender rights movements in Russia for over two decades, providing grants to organizations focusing on gender, sexuality, human rights, ableism, and peace. As we continue to provide resources to activists on the frontlines, more money is needed to challenge the recent ruling and protect the rights of LGBTQ+ activists. 

We recently made a grant to an organization that aims to raise awareness about the new ruling and the implications for LGBTQ+ activists. Using funds from Urgent Action Fund, the group will draft articles on the topic of restrictions on LGBTQ+ and women’s rights in Russia, conduct a series of interviews with local activists on how restrictions and bans affect their lives and activities, and provide digital security instructions for activists. 

This is just one example of the activist efforts, protections, and awareness raising we’re supporting through our grants. Now we’re asking others in the philanthropic community to step up.

The invasion of Ukraine and the adoption of oppressive laws have exacerbated threats and risks in the region, leading to a significant influx of Russian activists relocating and increased oppression towards human rights activists, including those in the queer community. And now more resources are needed than ever before to ensure their security and support their efforts to protect their rights. 

Today, there is a pressing need for the international philanthropic community to unite and take comprehensive action. Funders can help by providing grants to help activists:

  • Spread awareness of the new ruling and impact on activists
  • Allow activists to engage with global stakeholders to build a strong international network for advocacy, support, and collaboration. 
  • Enhance digital security for activists, offering them the tools and training necessary to protect themselves and their work in an increasingly surveilled and hostile digital landscape.

Equally important is the need for the philanthropic community to adapt their grantmaking approaches. As the situation in Russia evolves, especially for activists who choose to remain and continue their work amidst increasing challenges, donors must reconsider their grant criteria to make them more accessible to these activists. Adapting grantmaking strategies to understand and meet the unique constraints and needs of activists operating within Russia is crucial. Ensuring that support reaches these individuals effectively and safely is critical to maintaining the spirit of activism and the ongoing fight for human rights in even the most repressive environments.

This crisis poses a threat to thousands and serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for global solidarity in promoting peace, tolerance, and respect for human rights.

Photo Credit: Alessandro Biascioli

 

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Chinyere Ezie

Pronouns

Role

Chinyere Ezie is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where she advocates for racial justice, gender justice, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) rights, and challenges governmental abuses of power. Chinyere previously worked at the Southern Poverty Law Center where she brought cases defending the rights of LGBTQI+ Southerners. She also served as a Trial Attorney at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she litigated employment discrimination cases and secured a $5.1 million jury verdict on behalf of workers subjected to unlawful treatment. Chinyere is a William J. Fulbright Scholar, a White House Fellows Program Regional Panelist, and a cum laude graduate of Yale University. She also received a Juris Doctorate from Columbia Law School, where she was an Alexander Hamilton Scholar and served as Editor in Chief of the Journal of Gender and Law. Chinyere serves on the Board of Directors of the Transgender Law Center and the feminist grant-making organization the Urgent Action Fund. She was also a Founding Board Member of the National Trans Bar Association.In 2018, she was named one of the nation’s Best LGBTQI+ Lawyers Under 40.