Proposed “anti-gay propaganda” legislation in Russia

Published on: 21 Jan 2014

The CHA opposes the new “anti-gay propaganda” legislation in Russia instituted in 2013

Below is the official open letter from the CHA to President Vladimir Putin expressing the Association’s deep concern regarding Russia’s “anti-gay propaganda” legislation. The letter was released on 21 January 2014.

One might wonder why, beyond being driven by a simple humanity, the Canadian Historical Association would take specific issue with the suppression of the rights and liberties of the LGBT community in Russia. It bears reminding that the first stated Core Value in the CHA’s “Statement on Research Ethics” is “our commitment to free and open inquiry, adhering to the ideal of academic freedom.” A more direct commitment to advocating for the rights of historians both in and outside of Canada was formalized by the CHA Council in 2006, when it unanimously adopted a policy for making “Representations to different levels of government or other institutions relating to the human rights of professional historians, including such issues as academic freedom, the right to practice history free from intimidation or harassment, and equality rights of all professional historians or students of history to engage in all aspects of their discipline without discrimination....” Clearly, Russia’s anti-gay legislation will have serious negative implications for researching LGBT history in Russia, not only by Russian historians, but also by historians from other countries, including Canada, who may wish to research that history. It is in this context that the CHA decided to act.

Moreover, the CHA has acted in the past on several occasions to express concern over perceived threats to free and open historical inquiry, both in Canada and abroad, including: protesting against the imprisonment of dissident historian Bronislaw Geremek by the Polish government in 1983; writing Canada’s Solicitor General to ensure the protection of a criminally convicted historian to pursue scholarly research in 1983; condemning Holocaust denial in 1985; protesting against the federal government’s imposition of a tariff on certain books in 1986; protesting against cuts to government history directorates in the 1990s; writing a letter of concern in 2009 over the potential unforeseen implications of the European Union’s decision to call for criminal penalties against publishers of works deemed xenophobic by administrative tribunals; and several more initiatives since then (available on the Advocacy page of the CHA website, at:

In addition to the letter of protest, the CHA has seen fit to organize a panel at this year’s Congress to further explore the implications of what has been going on in Russia. The panel is entitled “Sochi and Beyond: Russia's Anti-Gay Legislation, Human Rights and the Practice of History,” and includes Michael Dawson, Lyle Dick, Erica Fraser and Dominique Marshall as speakers. It will be held Sunday evening, 25 May 2014, at the CHA Annual Conference at Brock.

Martin Luther King, Jr. explained that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As members of the Canadian community of historians, we also bear a certain responsibility to the international community of historians. It is this responsibility that the CHA seeks to uphold by protesting against the suppression of free and open historical inquiry in Russia.

Ottawa, January 15, 2014
Mr. Vladimir Putin
President of Russia
23, Ilyinka Street,
Moscow, 103132, Russia

Dear President Putin:

We are contacting you on behalf of the Canadian Historical Association, the leading association of professional historians in Canada.  Founded in 1922, it is a bilingual not-for-profit and charitable association devoted to fostering the scholarly study and communication of history in Canada. With more than 1,100 members, it is the largest of its kind in the country. The Association seeks to encourage the integration of historical knowledge and perspectives in both the scholarly and public spheres, to ensure the accessibility of historical resources, and to defend the rights and freedoms of professional and emerging historians in the pursuit of historical inquiry. As such, it is committed to uphold the standards of the historical profession and to defend the human rights of historians, including the right to carry out inquiries into the past without fear of interference or intimidation.  We write to you to express our deep concern regarding the “anti-gay propaganda” legislation in Russia in 2013 (Article 6.21 of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses) and its potentially chilling effects upon historical enquiry in Russia.

As we interpret the text of the legislation, it will potentially outlaw any publications, including scholarly texts, deemed by Russian authorities to constitute “homosexual propaganda.” We categorically reject the notion that publications addressing the status, rights, experience, and history of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) people constitute “homosexual propaganda” and condemn any efforts to curtail the civil liberties or human rights of LGBT people and other citizens through such laws, whether in Russia or any country.

In August and December 2013 Canada’s Foreign Minister the Honourable John Baird expressed concerns to your government about this law, which he has characterized as “hateful.” The CHA agrees with Minister Baird`s position and is very concerned about the potential negative impact of the anti-gay laws on members of Russia’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered communities.  

Of particular concern is the legislation’s anticipated impact on scholarship in history, the humanities and social sciences. A systematic analysis of the legislation`s impacts, published in 2013 by the human rights organization Article 19, pointed out that the legislation tends to “perpetuate discriminatory practices and attitudes and silence those advocating for equality and LGBT rights while privileging their opponents.`` A recent decision by the Russian Constitutional Court in 2010 limiting the scope of “homosexual propaganda” gives further grounds for concern. As well, the restrictions on speech regarding “non-traditional relationships” have been interpreted by scholars to potentially place at risk any persons publishing books or articles on same-sex relationships or history. 

In this regard, the Canadian Historical Association rejects the notion of appealing to ‘traditional values’ as a justification for legislation denying the human rights of a minority. In this case, ’tradition’ appears to represent a historically inaccurate construction of human relationships as exclusively heterosexual. This assertion denies the actual diversity of present and past human experience. If state-sponsored homophobia is a tradition, then it is a tradition at odds with well-documented historical facts and human rights as prescribed by international law.

We urge you to ask the Russian Parliament to reconsider its anti-gay propaganda legislation and to repeal it as soon as possible as a first step in reaffirming the human rights of all LGBT people in Russia, and also to recognize the right of scholars of history to study the past in Russia free from political restrictions and from fear of coercion or intimidation.


Dominique Marshall

Lyle Dick

Yves Frenette
Advocacy Chair

cc: The Honourable John Baird
      Minister of Foreign Affairs
      Government of Canada

January 15th, 2014 Letter

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