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Russian festival changes name to avoid breaking anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law

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The Rainbow Festival — an annual international theatre festival held in St. Petersburg, Russia — has changed its name to “The International Theater Festival” in order to avoid violating Russia’s recently-expanded law banning LGBTQ+ propaganda.

The festival, held in May at the St. Petersburg Bryantsev Theatre for Young Spectators, has run since 2000 and has hosted young performance groups from the U.S. and Europe.

Explaining the festival’s name change, the theater’s director, Svetlana Lavretsova, said, “When the law passed banning LGBT propaganda, we immediately started thinking, ‘We don’t want to look like we’re making LGBT propaganda.’ So we gathered our team to decide whether to change the name ahead of time or temporarily drop it. On the one hand, we’re aware of the insanity this all leads to in the surrounding reality. On the other hand, it’s our brand.”

Despite this, the festival’s URL still contains the word “rainbowfest,” and its website has rainbow colors on it.

State Duma deputy Alexander Khinshtein responded to the festival’s renaming, writing via Telegram, “No one put forward such demands to the festival… I want to reassure dear Svetlana Vasilievna. Our laws in no way prohibit or abolish the rainbow on one condition: if it is the classic 7-color rainbow that is depicted, and not the ‘castrated’ LGBT symbol, where there is no blue color.”

It’s unclear what Khinshtein’s talking about as most rainbow Pride flags have a blue stripe. He also said that other companies and products that have “rainbow” in their names won’t need to change their names.

Noting Vasilievna’s use of the word “insanity,” Khinshtein wrote, “Failure to implement our laws comes ‘to insanity.'” He also said that the renaming of the theatre festival was also a form of “insanity.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin first signed a law banning so-called “gay propaganda” in Russia in June 2013. The law ostensibly sought to “protect children” from any “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships,” as stated in the law’s text. The new law extends the restrictions to not just children but Russians of all ages.

The law has mostly been used to silence LGBTQ+ activist organizations, events, websites, and media, as well as to break up families and harass teachers. It has also been roundly condemned by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as civil rights activists around the world.

Last December, Putin signed a law expanding the country’s prohibition on LGBTQ+ “propaganda.”

The newly signed law effectively outlaws any public expression of LGBTQ+ life in Russia by banning “any action or the spreading of any information that is considered an attempt to promote homosexuality in public, online, or in films, books or advertising,” Reuters reported.

Critics say the updated law will further endanger the lives of Russia’s LGBTQ+ population, which has already suffered increased harassment, violence, and hostility in recent years.

Anti-LGBTQ+ religious leaders and right-wing political figures in the U.S. have praised Putin for his law. Indeed, Republican legislators, so-called “parents’ rights groups,” and right-wing pundits have increasingly moved to ban kids from accessing any LGBTQ+ content, gender-affirming healthcare, or drag shows over misleading claims that these “sexualize” and “groom” children.

In 2013, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) President Austin Ruse said Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws were a “good thing” that “most of the people in the United States” would support. In 2014, anti-LGBTQ+ evangelical leader Franklin Graham also defended the law.

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