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Apparently Russian officials pressured Duolingo to remove LGBTQ+ references

Popular language-learning app Duolingo has removed LGBTQ+ content in the Russian version of its software in compliance with government regulations, Russian media reports. The removal comes three years after Duolingo added three queer characters to its roster.

According to Meduza, Duolingo came under scrutiny when activist group Radetel in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk filed a complaint. Roskomnadzor (RKN), Russia’s federal media regulator, subsequently launched an investigation and ordered the company to remove any content that violates Russia’s ban on so-called “LGBT propaganda.”

In 2013, Russia passed the anti-LGBT propaganda law, which prohibits “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors. What constitutes “propaganda” is loosely defined, but content that acknowledges the existence of LGBTQ+ people and presents queer relationships as normal are common targets. In 2022, President Vladimir Putin expanded the scope of the law beyond minors to adults, effectively outlawing all public expressions of LGBTQ+ culture.

In consequence, Duolingo would have faced a hefty fine or permanent ban from the country. On Tuesday, Russian state media reported that Duolingo had complied and removed the flagged content from its app. ​​“The Duolingo company sent a response letter to Roskomnadzor, in which it confirmed that it had removed materials promoting non-traditional sexual relationships from the educational application,” RKN announced to the Russian press.

Duolingo has previously made efforts toward LGBTQ+ inclusion. In 2021, the company celebrated Pride month by announcing three new queer characters: Lin, Bea and Oscar. “Since the beginning, our Stories have included everyday depictions of LGBTQ life, even before we created Lin, Bea, and Oscar,” the company wrote. “From ‘The Honeymoon’ to ‘The Song,’ it’s been important for us to show queer people living their lives in an unsensationalized and normal way.

“Allowing an LGBTQ character to exist without specifically drawing attention to that identity — this is something we believe should be a best practice in storytelling. In order to normalize something, you simply present it as normal, which means you don’t draw attention to it when depicting it.”

In recent years, all forms of LGBTQ+ advocacy have grown increasingly dangerous in Russia. In addition to the “propaganda” law, Russia’s Supreme Court issued a ruling last year against the so-called “international civic LGBT movement,” which was not a defendant but a generalized group. The court subsequently classified the “movement” as “extremist,” which opens the door for prosecution against anyone associated with the “movement.”

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