An LGBT flag map of Russia (via Wikimedia Commons)

Russia’s notorious “gay propaganda” law strikes again, this time targeting a youth festival in the country’s far eastern region of Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

Last week, Russian media reported that a theatre festival in the country’s far east was banned by authorities for promoting “hatred against men and non-traditional family relations” after being accused of staging a play and “attempting to illegally hold an LGBT event.”

Organizers of the festival, called Tsvet Shafrana (“The Color of Saffron”), said they were forced to cancel the event after a play called Blue and Pink drew the ire of city authorities. The play, one of four productions scheduled to take place at this year’s festival, is a youth production about gender stereotypes.

According to Russian media, the festival organizer, Yulia Tsvetkova, was questioned by a police anti-extremism unit last week, as were teenage actors in her amateur collective, aged 13-15.

Tsvetkova says authorities took issue with the words “blue” and “pink” in the play’s title, which in Russia are used to denote the LGBTQ community, a group which remains in contempt by the government of the socially conservative country.

The play, developed by a teenage activist troupe called Merak, caught the attention of local authorities in the region keen on curtailing the expression of LGBTQ identities. In a social media post, the director said local authors accused her of promoting “hatred against men and non-traditional family relations.”

Tsvetkova, a teacher and feminist activist, said that while being questioned by police last week she was presented with print-outs of her social media posts about sex education in schools, feminism, and homosexuality.

“Pink and blue are seen as typically ‘male’ and ‘female colors,’ that’s it,” she told local media. “That’s what the play is about, the name was suggested by one of the actors, an 11-year-old child.”

The censure of the play comes amidst protests by several international human rights groups who accuse Russia of using a notorious “anti-gay” law to restrict and criminalize the expression of LGBTQ identities. In particular, human rights groups point to an amendment to Article 12 of the Family Code, which stipulates any portrayal of so-called “non-traditional family relations” as akin to “propaganda of homosexuality to minors.” Critics of the law say it is often used as a pretext to criminalize homosexuality.

A 2014 demonstration in solidarity with LGBTQ Russians (via Hotlanta Voyeur/Flickr)

Passed in June 2013 by the National Parliament (State Duma) and unanimously adopted and signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the nationwide law forbids distributing materials promoting LBGTQ relationships among minors.

In response, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern that the law actually “encourages the stigmatization of and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, including children, and children from LGBTI families.”

Tsvetkova denies subjecting any minors to infractions against the law.

In a subsequent post made to VKontakte (VK), a Russian social-networking site, Tsvetkova accuses police of acting on three anonymous letters of complaint that she says were all written in a similar language echoing restrictions contained within Russia’s Family Code, notably, that of “propaganda of non-traditional family relations.”

“I haven’t eaten or slept in three days — I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” she wrote on VK last Wednesday. “I have only one question, why is someone so intent on sabotaging our small and peaceful youth festival. Can it be that youth activism so frightens our authorities?” During Tsvetkova’s investigation, she said she had also received multiple death threats.

In response, a number of other local directors expressed solidarity with Tsvetkova via an open letter circulated online. According to LGBT Life, citing the open letter published on VK last week, they wrote: “Our director Yulia is accused of living in Europe and bringing out corruption and propaganda from abroad.”

Despite the ban and repeated police pressure, organizers staged a small-scale version of Blue and Pink in a small classroom this past weekend.

“We will look for how to show our productions as widely as possible — in Russia and in the world,” the directors said defiantly in their open letter.

“We ask to spread information as widely as possible. Because Russia is the bottom, and the city of Komsomolsk is the bottom of the bottom — a place where people have not heard about human rights and where the names of colors are considered propaganda.”

Dorian Batycka is an independent curator, art critic, and DJ currently based Berlin. Previously, he was curator of contemporary art at Bait Muzna for Art Film (Muscat, Oman), assistant curator for the...