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Russia: LGBT+ people erased from books with ‘gay propaganda’ law

Image: REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’, a bestselling children’s book featuring 100 stories of prominent women, was published in Russia this year – but with one story missing.

Liza Lazerson, a feminist blogger who owns a copy, said she was surprised to see that while the cover promised 100 stories, the book contained only 99, and one blank page – supposedly for the reader to add their own.

“But then a follower sent me a photo of Coy Mathis’s story from the French edition,” Lazerson, who is based in Moscow, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in written comments.

Mathis, an 11-year-old transgender girl from the United States, won a landmark victory in a 2013 case against her school, allowing her to use the girl’s bathroom.

Bombora, which printed the book in Russia, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Russian news site, Takie Dela, has quoted the publisher as saying that it excised the story due to Russia’s 2013 ban on the spreading “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations” to minors.

The law is seen by campaigners as an attempt by President Vladimir Putin to draw closer to his electorate, most of whom are Orthodox Christians.

Russia is one of Europe’s least gay-friendly countries, ranked 45th out of 49 nations by ILGA-Europe.

Francesca Cavallo, one of the authors of ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’, said she was “deeply saddened that Coy’s story has been left out”.

Homosexuality was deemed a criminal offence in Russia until 1993, and classed as a mental illness until 1999.

Hate crimes against LGBT+ people have surged in the wake of the gay propaganda law and courts have ordered that several LGBT+ websites be blocked, activists say.

The impact of the propaganda law on Russia’s 56 billion ruble* publishing industry is unclear.

US fantasy author, Victoria Schwab, said the publishing house, Rosman, last year edited an LGBT+ storyline out of the Russian edition of one of her Shades of Magic novels.

“They redacted the entire queer plot without permission,” she said on Twitter last year.

A spokeswoman for Rosman declined to comment on its editing of LGBT+ content.

The publisher previously told Echo of Moscow radio station that just one scene, rather the entire plot, was cut, and that Russian publishers “are often forced to resort to this kind of editing”.

Under the current laws, publishers can either remove LGBT+ content from books aimed at children and teenagers, or mark them as appropriate for audiences over 18. They are also obliged to seal all ’18+ books’ in plastic wrap.

“(This means), as a reader, I will not be able to flip through it and decide whether I need the book,” said Lena Klimova, founder of Deti-404, an online support group for LGBT+ teenagers, which has been accused of spreading gay propaganda.

Klimova has published two books – one about the struggles of LGBT+ teenagers in Russia, another a collection giving advice to young girls that also mentions issues of sexuality.

She used a self-publishing service, but marked both as 18+, as it was “the only possible option”.

She also uploaded the books online, which makes them available to audiences of all ages.

“It is very important for teenagers to see characters that are like them,” she said.

“This way they don’t feel alone (and realise that) ‘people like me exist. It’s all right to be me’.”

*(1 rouble = 0.013 euro)

-Daria Litvinova, Thomson Reuters Foundation

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