Russian human rights activists and fellow athletes have described the decision to come out as gay by the country’s highest-ranked female tennis player, Daria Kasatkina, as a monumental and symbolic moment for the rights of LGBTQ+ people in the country.
“When I heard the news about Kasatkina, I couldn’t believe it, I was so proud,” said Nadya Karpova, a footballer, who became the first openly gay Russian national team athlete when she came out last month. “I was ecstatic, jumping around like crazy in my flat.”
Kasatkina said in an interview on Monday with the Russian blogger Vitya Kravchenko that Karpova had served as an inspiration in her decision to come out.
“It is so important for younger people to have role models who are like them. For them to see that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them,” Karpova added. “The timing is so symbolic as well, with all the fucked-up things happening in Russia.”
Just hours before Kasatkina’s interview, six Duma deputies introduced a new bill that would ban public discussion of LGBTQ+ relationships in a positive or neutral light, and any LGBTQ+ content in cinemas.
The new law would expand on the country’s so-called “gay propaganda” bill passed in 2013, which banned the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors and has been used to stop gay pride marches and arrest gay rights activists.
Under the proposed changes, any event or act regarded as an attempt to promote homosexuality could result in a fine.
The bill came after the influential parliamentary speaker Vyacheslav Volodin earlier this month said that since Russia had left the Council of Europe human rights watchdog, it would now be able to ban the promotion of “non-traditional values”.
“Demands to legalise same-sex marriages in Russia are a thing of the past,” Volodin said. “Attempts to impose alien values on our society have failed.”
The bill was introduced as the Kremlin appears to adopt an increasingly conservative line following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, positioning itself as a global bastion of “family values”.
Besides Moscow’s stated goals to “denazify” and “demilitarise” Ukraine, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has also framed the invasion as a definitive battle against “western values”, a notion that has been eagerly picked up by the country’s conservative segments – including the Orthodox church, with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in a sermon blaming gay pride parades for the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Given the current climate, Igor Kochetkov of the LGBT Network, a prominent Russian group defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, described Kasatkina’s coming out as “monumental”.
“This is the first time in our history that an undisputed sports star of Kasatkina’s stature has come out. And in Putin’s Russia sport is always political,” Kochetkov said.
Putin has held rallies with the country’s top athletes to galvanise support for Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
In the interview on Monday, Kasatkina called for the war in Ukraine to end, describing the conflict as a “complete nightmare”.
Kasatkina’s interview was first picked up by Sports.ru, a popular Russian sports website, where it has received mostly positive reactions from readers.
“Well done for saying what you said. If it is important for her to do it openly – that is her absolute right. In the civilised world, no one should be condemned for this,” said one of the many encouraging comments that were upvoted by other readers.
Pointing to those reactions, Kochetkov argued that Russian attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community had changed since 2013, when the government launched its attack.
Recent polls have shown that Russian society has become more polarised over the matter, with the number of people who hold views of LGBTQ+ people as “normal” growing from 23% to 32% over the last eight years, and to 68% among Russians under 18.
“The Kremlin strives for complete unity in society during the war. If they see that an attack on sexual minorities is going to stir heated discussion and debate, they will think twice before launching one,” Kochetkov said.
“That’s why Kasatkina’s coming out has the actual power to prevent new homophobic campaigns.”