February 11, 2014

Gay rights in Russia and the former Soviet republics


The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi have brought attention to a recently enacted Russian law banning the distribution of gay “propaganda” to minors. The statute has been widely criticized by Western politicians, Olympic athletes, celebrities and others.

Among the 15 countries that used to comprise the Soviet Union, Russia is not the only state to restrict LGBT speech. Laws restricting “homosexual propaganda” also have been enacted in Lithuania and in parts of Moldova.

A number of former Soviet republics are generally more restrictive of LGBT rights. For instance, in the central Asian nations of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, sexual activity between men is banned and punishable by imprisonment. (The law does not address gay women.) And while Russia gives transgendered people the right to change their genders, sex changes are outlawed in six former Soviet republics.

At the same time, some former Soviet states offer more protections for LGBT citizens than Russia does. For instance, the three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) as well as Georgia and Moldova have some laws in place outlawing discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace and elsewhere.

In the run up to the Sochi Games, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that his country will welcome gay athletes to the Olympics. Putin’s statement came about six weeks before President Obama announced that he would not attend the Olympics and would send some openly gay athletes to represent the United States instead.

Topics: Gay Marriage and Homosexuality

  1. Photo of David Masci

    is a Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

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