A Russian advertisement leading up to regional elections has caused a stir on the country’s social media for implying that people who do not vote are “gay.” The video, which shows two men discussing voting while walking around a city, ends with them undressing each other saying “we have more important things to do” than vote.
Throughout the one-minute video, the men complain that elections are just “an illusion of democracy,” while going about their day in the city of Samara.
At the end of the video, the men complain about politicians and officials by saying “they’re amoral” and “they think they can fool the people.”
As the scene gets more and more steamy, one of the men, who has just taken the pants off of the other one, says “Let the others go and vote. We have more important things to do.”
The man closes the door and the video turns black before the election date of September 9 appears on-screen.
The implication is clear: If you do not vote, you are gay.
Not exactly the best description in a country with a less-than-stellar record on LGBTQ rights. Only last week police detained 25 protesters in St. Petersburg at an unauthorized rally.
The ad follows another homophobic one that made the social media rounds before the presidential elections in March 2018. In that video, an alternate reality is shown where single gay people are given to families.
A man is shown mocking his wife one night for setting her alarm for the next morning in order to go vote. In a dream, he is told that he has to join the army because of a law that the person he voted for made. Upon waking, he goes to see his wife only to also be greeted by a tattooed gay man in his kitchen with her.
In this new reality, gay people stay with families until the family finds them someone new to be with. If they don’t, the husband “will have to be with him instead.”
The gay man says, “The law is the law,” while eating a banana. After some more dramatic shots, the man wakes up and runs to vote.
At the time, the Russian election committee denied it was involved with the video, according to The Guardian.
The latest video’s origins are unknown, according to The Moscow Times, though there are rumors that the video came from a local governor of Samara.
Wherever the videos came from, they are opening up conversations surrounding sexuality, masculinity, and citizenship.
“You could interpret it as the latest trend toward a macho heterosexual Russian: You have to vote,” says Kevin Moss, a professor of Russian Language and Literature at Middlebury College.
He claims that some LGBTQ-identifying Russians have, on social media, even somewhat supported the depiction.
“Besides the homophobic comments there are others that say ‘Well, at least they don’t show gay men as stereotypical but that normal guys can be gay,’ which means straight-acting,” he explains.
The surprising thing about the video may be just how strongly the comments made in the video resonate with average Russians.
“They address in the clip what everybody really thinks about voting in that it’s totally useless because the results [in Russia] are preordained,” Moss tells INTO.
Alexander Kondakov, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki who has studied the relationship between queer lives and law in Russia, agrees: “It’s an interesting comment on current Russia.”
“I didn’t understand the point they were trying to say,” says Kondakov, since the video and the couple depicted in it do express sentiments that many Russians share about the economic situation in the country and other issues.
“[The latest video] is an expression of homophobia and an attempt to use homophobic sentiments of many Russian people to gain political legitimacy,” he says. “They want to normalize homophobia and not same-sex relationships, but I don’t think it works like that.”
Kondakov tells INTO that the video now lives on in its own right, meaning that interpretations could be limitless. But regardless of how you interpret it, the video has started a new conversation on same-sex relationships. “I think it could work more on normalization of same-sex relationships,” he says, instead of painting LGBTQ people negatively.
Some online comments have ironically wondered if the election ad can be considered as gay propaganda.
“Why not?” Kondakov says. The law on so-called gay propaganda that was passed in 2013 by the Russian legislature states that any media showing such relationships can be considered propaganda, he explains.
The law specifically states that it is to prevent minors from seeing representations of queer people and being influenced to “become queer.” However, it comes down to how the judges and the prosecutor interpret the law. “The [propaganda] law doesn’t make sense,” Kondakov says. “Anything can be it.”
It has not only brought fines and jail to LGBTQ activists and people, but an increase in danger to LGBTQ Russians.
There has also been an increase in violence against LGBTQ people in Russia since the gay propaganda law began, according to Kondakov’s research.
“The number of violent incidents against LGBTQ people across Russia rises every year,” he tells INTO.