An LGBT flag map of Russia (via Wikimedia Commons)

Like many people around the world, Yulia Tsvetkova found community on social media. From the Russian Far East, the artist shared feminist and LGBTQ-friendly art to two social media pages. Now, the 26-year-old theater director faces six years in prison and was fined 50,000 rubles (roughly $780 in the States), put under two-months of house arrest, and charged with distributing “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors,” despite both of the pages she managed being designated for adults.

The messages Tsvetkova spread were ones of “female empowerment,” she told Radio Free Europe. Authorities also questioned her body-positive illustrations and the social campaign she launched, which affirms that women aren’t dolls and celebrated different body types. For the crime of drawing shapes that alluded to female genitalia, Tsvetkova faced the charge of “production and dissemination of pornographic materials.” ITI Action Committee for Artists Rights said Tsvetkova’s work related to Eve Ensler’s the Vagina Monologues.

“This sets a serious precedent for everyone involved in LGBT activism in any way,” she told Radio Free Europe. “Particularly, if one is lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to have any connection with children.”

This is not the first time Tsvetkova has dealt with Russian officials before. Earlier that year in March, authorities flagged a play she had produced with students that defied gender norms, like teaching boys it was okay to cry, according to the Advocate. Although none of the parents objected to the play, Tsvetkova was forced to leave the theater because officials investigated her over the show’s “homosexual propaganda.” Amnesty International said eventually the theater company, Merak, was forced to close.

Since 2013’s law forbidding the spread of “LGBTQ propaganda,” anti-LGBTQ violence in Russian doubled according to a 2017 study. In November 2019, the producers of the YouTube kid’s show Real Talk were facing 20 years in prison for featuring an LGBTQ person. In July, LGBTQ activist Yelena Grigoryeva was found dead after her name appeared on a site advocating for people to hunt LGBTQ individuals. Officials claimed she had been killed in a domestic dispute but offered few other details.

Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Director, said in a statement about Tsvetkova, “Yulia is the latest target of a long-running discriminatory and intensely homophobic campaign. She has suffered one blow after another, having been arbitrarily detained, interrogated and intimidated on multiple occasions. Her theatrical and creative initiatives have been stifled by law enforcement officers, and her drawings now judged as pornographic.”

Monica Castillo is a writer and critic based in New York City. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Village Voice,, Remezcla, the Guardian,...

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