Homophobia as a Science

June 10 | 2024

From “non-traditional relationship propaganda” to “LGBT extremism”

Dmitry Dubrovsky


Photo: Even before February 2022, homophobia was becoming increasingly widespread in Russian academia. Photo by Stainless Images on Unsplash


Homophobia has long been a component of the conservative swing that occurred in Russia after the annexation of Crimea, and it has had a direct impact on higher education and the sciences. Academic freedoms and rights have suffered enormous blows.


Gender studies. On a practical level, the victim in this battle for “traditional values” in universities was gender studies. Teaching these subjects has become not just difficult, but impossible: they are declared to be a “Western ideology” that contradicts “common sense.”

LGBT+ community. Representatives of the LGBT+ community, especially activists and those who are already out, have visibly suffered in Russian academia. As a rule, this has quickly led either to great difficulties in their daily work or to dismissal/expulsion. Simply appearing in “gender-unconventional” makeup can provoke a scandal.

Indeed, even publicly supporting LGBT people can lead to the persecution of teachers. This happened to Anna Alimpieva, who was accused of “endorsing LGBT values and non-systemic opposition” in her lectures.

Scientific publications. Homophobia is most clearly manifested in texts that should formally be considered “scientific works”—various kinds of “scientific publications.” Through the use of scientific language, the persecution of the LGBT community as a political practice is legitimized, and everyday and political homophobia is presented as a “normal reaction.”


Normalizing Homophobia

The “normalization of homophobia” primarily occurs through medical education, namely medical arguments encouraging others to view homosexuality as a deviation.

Here, the same problem constantly rears its head: homosexuality was removed from the ICD (WHO International Classification of Diseases) list back in 1990. Transgender people ceased to be associated with mental illness with the 11th edition of the ICD, published in 2022.

Nonetheless, to this day, educational courses and textbooks at Russian universities primarily describe homosexuality as a mental illness. Of course, the issue is not limited to medical discussions.


“Scientific” Arguments

The conservative Russian scientific community, primarily in the field of humanitarian and social sciences, constantly reinforces officially propagated homophobia with “scientific arguments,” including references to dubious Western publications by the same homophobes. Such publications are common in Russian sociology, political science, and psychology journals.

And so sociological studies in the media proclaim the need to protect Russian youth from the threat of “the formation of a negative attitude among the youth toward traditional national and universal values ​​through the broadcasting of so-called European or American LGBT values, which are aimed at reducing the population.”

Well-known Russian nationalist and RAS academic Sergei Glazyev has explicitly called the LGBT+ community a bearer of “post-Christian, and even post-humanistic values” that are allegedly being imposed on the Russian and Ukrainian people by the “West.”


Legal Arguments

Legal arguments are also employed in this battle.

In particular, it is argued that “propaganda” contradicts internationally recognized standards for the protection of children, as well as “the rights of parents to raise children within the framework of traditional values.” In the spirit of such “scientific whataboutism*,” a report was even prepared on how the LGBT community violates the rights of…heterosexuals.

* A tactic based on thesis substitution—responding to an argument by changing the subject of discussion in order to focus attention on what the other side is doing wrong.

Prominent conservative lawyer I.V. Ponkin and co-authors published a piece under the lengthy title “On the Right to Critically Evaluate Homosexuality and On the Legal Restrictions on the Imposition of Homosexuality.” Therein, they discuss the “aggressive character of homosexual ideology,” the “cruel and inhumane infliction of bodily harm among gay men,” as well as the “myth of mass discrimination,” “manipulated figures,” “violation of human rights and insults to human dignity during gay pride parades,” and, finally, “the norms of foreign legislation based on the state’s recognition of the ‘social harmfulness’ of homosexuality.”

It is telling that the homophobic lawyers who authored this piece are simply lying when they state in this “scientific report” that various European Court of Human Rights decisions supposedly recognize “homosexuality, bestiality and masturbation as indecent” and that “their public display allegedly violates human rights and freedoms.” The decisions cited do not contain these opinions.


Attempts to Resist

It cannot be said, however, that the professional community has made no attempt to fight homophobia.

A significant number of professionals have entered into dialogue with the conservatives, exclusively using scientific arguments—primarily supported by verified data—to refute homophobic publications. According to an expert who knows the field of higher education well, they were able to create a large network of teachers in Russia who taught courses and programs in gender sociology, anthropology, and psychology in a modern way.

Unfortunately, as further political homophobia unfolded, this became more difficult—and more administrative resources ended up in the hands of “scientific homophobes.”

The situation took a major turn for the worse after the announcement of “traditional values” policies, which included the denial of homosexuality as “inconsistent with folk traditions.”


Political Homophobia

In 2013, there began to spread political homophobia that associates LGBT activists with “Western machinations” and “the fight for traditional values.” Anti-“LGBT propaganda” came to be understood as “protecting children” from “deviant behavior”—a narrative that was and is still actively disseminated by homophobes.

In Russian scientific publications, articles written by sociologists or political scientists began to appear more and more often, legitimizing the “fight against propaganda.” These scientists even propose that the term “homophobia” itself is “erroneous” or “non-empirical.”


Expert Forensic Reports

Psychologists, sociologists, and even linguists have begun to provide expert reports in cases of “LGBT propaganda.” These documents clearly show how scientists normalize homophobia through various types of “scientific methods.”

These “expert investigations” often employ academics, primarily those who share the homophobic attitudes of the “anti-propaganda” law, which, according to the ECtHR, is discriminatory.

In fact, the task of the expert in such cases is to prove the presence of “propaganda,” often in slogans or human rights demonstrations within the LGBT community.

For example, at the request of the investigators, an expert from Sochi, candidate of philological sciences N.E. Edneralova, evaluated the slogans “Sexual orientation is normal” and “We demand an investigation into the crimes against LGBT people in Chechnya.”

Discussing the abbreviation LGBT, the expert states that “…the slogan attracts attention precisely with the abbreviation ‘LGBT.’ In her opinion, this abbreviation can “attract interest.” And if this interest “…is supported by the internal needs of the individual, then the activity of creating knowledge in the direction indicated by the abbreviation will continue, deepen, and, in the end, such a person can move from theoretical research to the practical application of new acquired sexual knowledge.”

The expert outright states that if the abbreviation piques your interest, you may yourself become LGBT. And this statement is accepted as “scientific.”


“By Public Request”

Sometimes experts write an expert report at the “request of the public.” Such was the case with the previously quoted report by Doctor of Law and Professor I.V. Ponkin in collaboration with Doctor of Psychology, Professor, and Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Education V.I. Slobodchikov, and Candidate of Legal Sciences V.G. Elizarov, which looked at the book Summer in a Red Scarf by Katerina Silvanova and Elena Malisova.

The authors of the report found “a reduction of freedom…to the possibility of open, demonstrative public manifestation of homosexual relations and a focus on instilling attitudes in readers about the attractiveness of non-traditional sexual relationships.”

The main characters’ experiences of homosexuality are interpreted by experts as “realistic, accentuated descriptions of the bodily sensations and sensory experiences of these two homosexuals.” Thus, the experts find evidence of the presence in the book of “inclinations toward the formation of non-traditional relationships.”

Overall, the authors describe the book as “imposing homosexuality” on Russian culture and “forming distorted ideas about socially accepted models of family relationships that do not correspond to generally accepted moral values ​​in Russian society.”


Before and After February 2022

Thus, even before February 2022, homophobia was becoming increasingly widespread in Russian academia. This influenced both the content of teaching—by significantly censoring a number of courses—and the quality of work and life of representatives of the LGBT+ community working in Russian academia.

The outbreak of the war corresponded with an upswing in homophobic policies advanced by the Russian regime. Teachers and students who are in one way or another connected with LGBT+ people—either as members of the community or as researchers and teachers—are emigrating internally or leaving.


* * *

The recognition of the “International LGBT Organization” as extremist and the ban on transgender transition—both events that occurred in 2023—mean that “scientific” examinations of “LGBT extremism” will soon appear in Russian law enforcement practice.


Dmitry Dubrovsky holds a PhD in History and is a researcher in the social sciences department at Charles University (Prague), a research fellow at the Center for Independent Sociological Research in the USA (CISRus), a professor at the Free University (Latvia), and an associate member of the Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg.


School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Almaty Management University

Almaty, 31 October 2 November 2024


Academic freedom is a cornerstone of scholarly and research activities worldwide. The globalization of higher education and science necessitates a shared understanding of academic freedom principles globally, particularly in Eurasian countries. Despite the universality of academic freedom, the commitment to its protection and promotion varies and is shaped by the intricate interplay of legal, socio-political, and cultural contexts. A country’s legal regulations and policy frameworks significantly impact how the protection and promotion of academic freedom are understood and implemented.

The quality of democracy and freedom protection in a country also affects the level of academic freedom there. This effect is evident in the rapid challenges all political systems face, such as managerialism and consumerism in higher education. It is even more pronounced in undemocratic regimes with breaches of institutional autonomy and ideologization of higher education.

Equally striking is how the global academy interprets academic freedom when it encounters local traditions that are not universally democratic. In this regard, the operation of campuses of leading universities in authoritarian countries and the debates about the principles and conditions of their operation deserve additional interest.

These observable diversities raise the question of whether global academic freedom can be discussed as a universal concept and how to distinguish the diversity of academic freedom manifestations from aberrations. It also raises the question of how to protect and promote academic freedom as a principle while considering the legal, socio-economic, and cultural contexts in which it is practiced.

For a conference exploring the complexities of academic freedom in a global context, with a particular focus on Eurasian countries, here are some potential topics that could be addressed:

  • The cultural and social context of academic freedom in practice, the contextualization of academic freedom, its cultural and political interpretations, and the universality of academic freedom.
  • Academic freedom in democratic vs. authoritarian regimes, the balance between the social-economic dimension of academic freedom and political rights’ dimension,
  • Legal framework of academic freedom, comparative analyses of legislation, the impact of legal tradition on the application of academic freedom in different countries,
  • Globalization and academic freedom, including academic freedom on international campuses, academic exchange, and academic freedom strategies for maintaining academic standards and freedom in diverse political landscapes.
  • Managerialism and academic freedom, balance between financial sustainability and scholarly independence. Academic integrity and academic freedom
  • Effect of the social and political crises for the academic freedom, academic freedom for persecuted scholars: issues and supports of the scholars in exile
  • Ethnic and moral considerations in upholding academic freedom, including ethical dilemmas scholars faced due to the conflict between national and international academic standards.

The conference is organized by CISRus (Center for Independent Social Research) with generous support of Almaty Management University (AlmaU) and in information partnership with Ghent University.

The conference will be conducted in English. We welcome applications for individual contributions, which should include the title, a brief description (up to 200 words), and a short academic biography of the presenter (approximately 100 words). Presentations will be organized in either thematic panels or roundtable discussions. The organizing committee reserves the right to determine the presentation format (panel or round table) for each selected participant.

Please send your applications to the email: freeacademia.conference@gmail.com


Application Deadline: July 25, 2024

The Conference Committee is ready to provide accommodation for all participants for the days of the conference and has some capacity to contribute to the ticket costs as well. Please indicate your need for accommodation and travel expenses with your application.


The conference committee:

Dmitry Dubrovsky (Research Scholar, Department of Social Science, Charles University; Professor, Free University)

 Aleksandr Vileikis (Professor, School of entrepreneurship and innovation, AlmaU)

Elizaveta Potapova (Senior Researcher, Public Policy and Management Institute, Lithuania)

Irina Olimpieva (Director CISRus, Research Professor at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, George Washington University)


About AlmaU:

Almaty Management University – is a world-class, entrepreneurial, socially responsible university. More than 35 years in the education market, the oldest private university in the country, the 1st business school of the Republic of Kazakhstan, a pioneer of business education in the CIS.

The School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (SEI) is a leading and internationally accredited (BGA&AMBA) entrepreneurship school with a commitment to excellence, innovation, and global perspective. SEI AlmaU offers a range of cutting-edge entrepreneurship programs designed to prepare students for successful careers in diverse fields.


Information for traveling:

Kazakhstan has adopted a policy allowing dozens of countries to enter without a visa. Please contact your local Kazakhstani embassy for further details. For guests who may require a visa, AlmaU will issue a letter of invitation confirming their participation in the conference. Participants will also receive information about housing and traveling to Almaty.


Біз сіздермен Алматыда кездесуді асыға күтеміз !

We are looking forward to meeting you in Almaty!

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