Nikolai Gorbachov

Research study

The Production of Normativity in the Discourses on Prohibition of «Propaganda of Homosexualism»

/ Nikolai Gorbachov, European Humanities University; 2013

The research analyzes the social effects of the discourses on prohibition of «propaganda of homosexualism» in Russia. The first part of the research explores the mechanisms that are used for the (discursive) production of social normativity and control over sexuality. It is followed by the analysis of the «propaganda of homosexualism» concept and the study of the legal discourses on prohibition of «propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors», produced by Russian legislations and law enforcement. The research is conducted in social constructivist approach and operates the qualitative method of critical discourse analysis.


The concept of «propaganda of homosexualism» was not invented by the Russian legislators and was widely used before them. However, the reproduction of these mundane rhetorics on the governmental level and incorporation of it into the law reinforces the homophobic idea of homosexuality being the result of propaganda.

The discourse on prohibition of «propaganda of homosexualism» produces social normativity: it constructs heterosexuality as the only legitimate norm, stigmatizing homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender identities. It associates sexuality exclusively with procreation/reproduction to justify the «social disparity» of hetero- and homosexuality. The latter is constructed as failing to reproduce and therefore deviant and perverse. Some Russian regions prohibited the «propaganda of homosexualism» simultaneously with the prohibition of «propaganda of pedophilia». These actions associate homosexuality with pedophilia, reproducing the stereotype about the inclination of homosexuals to sexual assaults against minors.

The discourse on prohibition of «propaganda of homosexualism» is ideologically motivated. It entirely neglects the modern academic/scientific knowledge about (non-hetero)sexuality and (trans)gender identities. It misrepresents LGBT+ people/community, reproduces and promotes unfavorable stereotypes about non-heterosexuality.

The prohibition of «propaganda of homosexualism» is designed to exclude the information about homosexuality and LGBT+ community from the public discourse. This intention is justified by the «traditional values», although the sense and origin of those is never clarified. However, due to the opposition of the local LGBT+ and human right initiatives, international organizations and foreign governments the initiative actually has the opposite consequences: it leads to multiplication of the discourses and discussions about non-heterosexuality in Russia. Still, the law limits the public discourse about homosexuality to the homophobic rhetorics and information, intending to prevent any attempts to discursively normalize homosexuality. It also legally restricts possibilities to question and challenge the law itself, as well as the homophobic ideas that it (re)produces.

The prohibition of the «propaganda of homosexualism» is justified as a way to protect children and youth. The law claims to secure the right for self-identification for (all, including non-heterosexual) children. It is constructed as a way to prevent the extraneous influence on the sexual identification of a child. The courts contradict to themselves and each other in constructing/explaining the ways the sexuality (of children and youth) is produced/explored, appealing to both the constructivist and essentialist arguments. Anyway, their statements insist on the idea that any child is by default heterosexual. Homosexuality is constructed as the result of external influence — the «propaganda of homosexualism». Therefore the discourse constructs any child as inevitably heterosexual, securing the right for sexual identification only for heterosexual children. The needs and interests of LGBT+ youth are ignored in the law and discourse.

The Russian regions have been prohibiting the «propaganda of homosexualism» in different terms, using the concepts like «muzhelozhstvo» (the term that was used during the Soviet times to criminalize same-sex sexual relations among man), «transgenderism» and «bisexualism». The federal bill have introduced a new concept: it intended to prohibit the «propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations». This definition creates possibilities for even wider regulation of sexuality. It should be a matter of further research.


The research was conducted in 2013 as a graduate project for the Bachelor of communication and information degree at the European Humanities University (Vilnius, Lithuania) under the supervision of Alena Minchenia. It was presented at several academic conferences, but never published in English. You are welcome to inquire for the full version of the thesis manuscript in Russian.

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