Earlier this week, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal agency responsible for overseeing online and media content, took steps to shutter ParniPlus, a website raising awareness about the exploding HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men.
The shuttering of ParniPlus marks at least the eighth case of outright censorship under Russia’s 2013 federal “gay propaganda” law that effectively prohibits any positive information about “non-traditional sexual relations” from public discussion.
Children-404, an online group that offers psychological support, advice, and a safe community for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children, has repeatedly been censored and subject to attempts by the government to shut the group down since 2013.
“You can easily imagine a young guy somewhere in a Siberian town for which closed sites [such as] ‘Children 404,’ which have been repeatedly subjected to judicial and other pressure, have become invaluable evidence that he is not a monster and should not be afraid,” ParniPlus administrators wrote.
The purported rationale behind Russia’s “gay propaganda” ban is that portraying same-sex relations as socially acceptable supposedly threatens the intellectual, moral, and mental well-being of children. The law has rightly been condemned by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the European Court of Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Council of Europe.
And, ParniPlus leaders point out, their site does more than promote awareness about sexual orientation, gender identity, and human rights; for the past decade, it has “vividly explained about the growing HIV epidemic in Russia every month and tells readers about the need for HIV prevention.”
The head of Moscow’s Federal AIDS Center has called Russia’s HIV epidemic a “national catastrophe,” and prevalence rates among men who have sex with men have increased dramatically in recent years – a trend some leading epidemiologists link closely with the anti-gay propaganda law’s stifling of sexual health information.
Cases like these clearly demonstrate that Russia’s “gay propaganda” law is just a flimsy excuse to discriminate against LGBT people and is abjectly harmful to public health in the process. Factual, positive, and affirming information about sexuality and health is essential for adults and children, including for HIV prevention.