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Banning “Homosexual Propaganda”: Belonging and Visibility in Contemporary Russian Media


This article investigates Russian mainstream media’s coverage of the 2013 legislation banning “propaganda for non-traditional sexuality”. Inspired by theories on belonging, media and visibility, it reconstructs a dominant narrative representing non-heterosexuals as threatening the future survival of the nation, as imposing the sex-radical norms of a minority onto the majority, or as connected to an imperialistic West which aims to destroy Russia. This story, it is argued, functions as a hegemonic grammar regulating how non-heterosexuality is seen and heard in the public sphere. However, it is argued that sometimes the linearity and cohesiveness of the narrative breaks down, when things appear that do not fit this model of interpretation. The analysis illustrates how contestations of belonging in contemporary media are increasingly structured according to the logic of visibility: dominant actors attempt to regulate what can be seen and heard in the public sphere whereas oppositional actors attempt to establish their own visibility in the mediated space of appearance, putting forward alternative constructions of the nation and who belongs to it.

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  1. 1.

    On 11 June 2013, the lower house of the Duma adopted the law with 436 votes for, none against and one abstaining. Later during the same month, the upper house passed the legislation and president Putin signed it into law.

  2. 2.

    The extensive media analysis was helped by the media monitoring of LBGT issues in Russian media, which is published daily on the LGBT website

  3. 3.

    This development has accelerated during Putin’s third term, as illustrated by the 2014 closing of federal new agency RIA Novosti, replaced by a new network called Russia Today, headed by journalist Dmitrii Kiselev, famous for his anti-gay and nationalist rhetoric.

  4. 4.

    The St Petersburg law of 2012, which inspired the national law, covered “propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism, and pedophilia to minors” (Human Rights Watch 2012).

  5. 5.

    Interestingly, the idea that LGBT rights are intrinsic to Western modernity, commonly expressed in Russian media, mirrors and is reaffirmed by “homonationalist” rhetoric employed by activists and politicians in Western Europe and the US (cf. Puar 2007).


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The author expresses his gratitude to Elena Zdravomyslova, Maud Eduards, Susan Jackson and Monika Edgren, as well as to four anonymous reviewers, for their constructive suggestions of how to improve this article.

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The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Emil Persson.

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Persson, E. Banning “Homosexual Propaganda”: Belonging and Visibility in Contemporary Russian Media. Sexuality & Culture 19, 256–274 (2015).

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  • Homosexuality
  • Russia
  • Media
  • Belonging
  • Visibility
  • LGBT