Metro Weekly

Gay TikToker to Be Deported for Violating Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law

Haoyang Xu may be deported to China after he and his boyfriend filmed multiple videos documenting their daily lives as a couple.

Gay couple Haoyang Xu (left) and Gela Gogishvili – Photo: YouTube Screenshot

Haoyang Xu, a Chinese national, is being deported from Russia after being found guilty of violating the country’s law prohibiting dissemination of “gay propaganda.” The 21-year-old posted videos of his life with his Russian-born boyfriend on social media.

Xu has been taken to a detention center for migrants where he is expected to be deported on Thursday for positively portraying “non-traditional sexual relationships to minors.” 

Under the “gay propaganda” law, passed in 2013, people are prohibited from distributing any material that condones homosexuality, portrays it as “normal,” or presents it in a positive or value-neutral light. The law is to ostensibly protect minors from being exposed to information that might undermine “traditional family values.”

Websites and online sources that contain information about the LGBTQ community can be blocked under the law, and there are no exceptions for art, scientific studies, sexual health information, or educational research.

An enhanced version of the law that passed last year imposes fines against individuals, entities, and even corporations that provide information about LGBTQ identity or present homosexuality as a valid “lifestyle.” The law compares providing information about LGBTQ people, as well as depictions of the LGBTQ Pride flag, to the dissemination of pedophilia.

Xu and his boyfriend, Gela Gogishvili, 23, met on a dating app and moved in together two years ago, after which they began sharing daily videos about their lives as a couple in the city of Kazan.

They amassed 740,000 followers on TikTok and 64,900 subscribers on YouTube.

Vladimir Komov, a senior partner of a Moscow-based LGBTQ group, DELO LGBT+, which is legally supporting Xu and Gogishvili, told Newsweek that a local citizen tipped off police to the couple’s social media channels a few months ago.

That prompted a search for the couple, with local police visiting pharmacies across the city with a picture of Gogishvili — a pharmacist by trade — to track down the couple.

“The ‘gay propaganda’ law falls under the Administrative Code, but the Kazan police’s criminal investigation department has been looking for these guys … and they are treated like they are dangerous criminal offenders,” Komov said.

According to The Advocate, the couple said they were messaged by police through WhatsApp, and told they were being charged under the anti-propaganda law, but also told they only needed to sign some legal papers and pay a fine. They were given the option of visiting the police station in person, or having an unarmed officer come to their home. The couple told police they’d think about their decision. 

But last Wednesday, local police detained the couple outside of a museum and demanded that Xu present his papers, including his passport and student visa.

Xu wasn’t carrying them on his person, so the officers escorted him to retrieve his papers and then arrested the couple, charging them with violating the “gay propaganda” law. 

Last Thursday, one day after his arrest, Xu was found guilty of disseminating positive depictions of homosexuality and same-sex relationships.

His lawyer had tried to argue that the couple’s YouTube and TikTok content did not violate the law, as they have no way of knowing the age of people who may try to watch their videos — or whether any minors, in fact, viewed their content.

Xu was subsequently placed in a detention center for seven days to await deportation to China. His phone has been confiscated, making it impossible for his partner or other interested parties to contact him.

Gogishvilli, who has since been released from custody, potentially faces fines that are equivalent to between $1,200 and $2,500 for violating the law.

He told Newsweek that they are currently trying to have Xu’s sentence appealed.

Komoy, of DELO LGBT+, denounced the arrest and pushed back against assertions that the couple had done anything wrong. He said he did not understand why they were arrested, particularly since the content of their videos was “not erotic” or racy.

“They do TikToks about their everyday life as a gay couple, how they do chores, how they wash the dishes, how they communicate and only share a few romantic moments such as kissing … and some cuddling,” Komov said.

“How did the police informer and the Kazan police deem there was LGBT+ ‘propaganda’ on their social media? These guys just posted videos in which they kiss, hug, and show their favorite sleeping poses. All this was considered an inappropriate demonstration of ‘homosexual intimacy.'”

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