IKEA’s recent announcement that it was shutting down its online lifestyle magazine in Russia out of concern that the content would contravene the country’s notorious “gay propaganda” law should set alarms ringing. What will be the reach of the state’s odious restriction on the dissemination of information about “non-traditional sexual relationships” to children?
The latest impact, which IKEA says was not driven by any direct intervention from the authorities, belies more than ever the real goal behind such laws: to force lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons into hiding, pretending that they don’t exist and don’t have a right to be out.
The preemptive move begs the question: how many other companies have taken similar moves without being as public about it as IKEA has been? How many have quietly erased that gay couple or lesbian mother from their marketing materials, or without comment modified their public relations information so as not to reveal that they welcome customers of all sexual orientations and gender identities?
The climate is dangerous. In January 2015, Elena Klimova was found liable under the “propaganda” law and ordered to pay a fine. The reason? She is administrator of a social network group Deti-404 (Children-404), which offers a safe online space for LGBT children to discuss harassment and violence they face and receive much needed psychological support.
Three other activists have been convicted for carrying placards in support of LGBT rights with messages as innocuous as: “There is no such thing as gay propaganda,” and “Being gay and loving gays is normal.” Last year a court fined the editor of a newspaper Molodoi Dalnevostochnik, simply for publishing an interview with a teacher who was forced to resign for being gay.
But the real impact of the law is an insidious one. Armed with a vague and ill-defined law and a handful of convictions, the Russian government can leave it up to individuals and companies to censor themselves.
When a magazine that, in IKEA’s own words, “shows different aspects of people’s lives at home, regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, nationality and region,” contravenes national laws, there is something seriously wrong with those laws. IKEA’s move is a reminder of how pervasive and outrageous this discriminatory and abusive law is.