Metro Weekly

Russia Convicts Trans Blogger for Sharing LGBTQ Content

Milana Petrova was found guilty of violating Russia's law prohibiting "gay propaganda" for sharing details of her life and transition.

Milana Petrova
Milana Petrova

A Russian court has convicted a transgender blogger for allegedly violating the country’s laws prohibiting the spread of “LGBTQ propaganda” and “discrediting” the Russian military.

Milana Petrova posted the alleged “objectionable” content, including details of her day-to-day life as a transgender woman and details about her transition, and criticisms of the Russian army, on her public Telegram channel, according to independent news outlet Novaya Gazeta.

The content of Petrova’s Telegram channel had been reported to Russia’s Center for Combating Extremism by Ekaterina Mizulina, the director of Russia’s Safe Internet League.

The Safe Internet League is a right-wing censorship organization that claims to combat the “distribution of dangerous content online,” such as information about drug use, suicide, or other social ills.

Since the expansion of Russia’s anti-LGBTQ “propaganda” law, it has turned into a moralizing crusader that appears to primarily rail against LGBTQ-themed websites.

The League has previously advised the Russian government on which LGBTQ websites to block and which bloggers to “criminally punish” for advertising “filth” online, reports Novaya Gazeta and the Russian Free Press.

Gloating and celebrating Petrova’s conviction, Mizulina wrote on Telegram that Moscow’s Tverskoy Court had fined the blogger 200,000 rubles (or about $2,061 U.S. dollars) for the prohibited LGBTQ content and 50,000 rubles (or about $515 U.S. dollars) for “discrediting the army,” under a law prohibiting any negative coverage of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Petrova now has 60 days to pay the fines or risk further punishment. 

Petrova wasn’t present when the court handed down its judgment. Over the weekend, a closed Telegram channel named “Lightning Moscow” reported that the blogger had been placed in a “special detention center” for 24 hours.

“Lightning Moscow” reportedly claimed to have included a photo of Petrova with visible injuries from beatings — which allegedly occurred while she was detained — and an audio message in which she said, “Everything is fine, relatively.”

Mizulina has denied these reports on her own Telegram post boasting about Petrova’s convictions, claiming that the blogger was spreading fake news about her detention in order to advertise her Telegram and YouTube channels, which Mizulina has demanded be blocked by Russian authorities for violating the law.

According to the blog tracking developments related to the anti-“propaganda” law, Petrova temporarily left Russia at the end of 2021 to avoid persecution due to her transgender identity, but prior to leaving, police summoned her to investigate alleged violations of the law.

In 2022, the blogger announced her gender transition and launched the Bad Russians YouTube show, where she discussed her life. Following the show’s first episode, she received threats from irate conservatives, who promised to report her to authorities.

The anti-“propaganda” law — which was first signed into effect by President Vladimir Putin in 2013 with the intent of preventing minors from being exposed to pro-LGBTQ content, and was later expanded last year to include all citizens — prohibits any “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships” or information dealing with transgender identity, gender transitions, or gender-affirming care. 

The law has primarily been used to crack down on LGBTQ organizations and stifle activists’ speech, punishing those who share information about sexual health and wellness, depictions of non-heterosexual identity, and advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ equality. Any content that portrays LGBTQ identity or people in a positive or even neutral light is deemed “propaganda” under the law, which has been praised by American evangelicals and conservative activists wishing to pass similar laws in the United States.

The law has been used to close down museums with LGBTQ content or displays, fine LGBTQ activists, deport a TikTok influencer who shared details of his life in a same-sex relationship, prosecute a German national for arranging a private, consensual sexual encounter with another man, and persecute same-sex couples, especially those raising children, leading some to flee the country for fear that they will be jailed and their children will be taken away.

The law has been condemned by civil liberties advocates, former U.S. President Barack Obama, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and human rights advocates, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The European Court of Human Rights previously found that the law was discriminatory and that its prohibitions on LGBTQ groups violated activists’ right to freedom of association, ordering the government to pay $41,000 in damages to three pro-LGBTQ organizations.

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