Meanwhile, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, school kids’ social media profiles are being screened for ‘LGBT+ propaganda’

Members of the Russia gay community

Teachers in Saint Petersburg, Russia, have been instructed by education officials to “monitor” their students’ social media profiles for so-called “LGBT+ symbols”, activists on the ground said.

This spring during the next academic term, teachers of grades five to 11 (ages 10 to 17) will comb the online profiles of thousands of 10 to 17-year-olds, according to emails by Nevsky District administrators seen by the LGBT Network, the country’s only inter-regional queer rights organisation.

“Reposting the rainbow flag” was one such example of an “LGBT+ symbol”, with teachers being ordered by education department officials to create “dossiers” of what each symbol is and means.

Addresses, among other personal details, of students who use or circulate such symbols, they said, will be sent to the ministry of internal affairs, the government department which commands public administration.

Activists slam surveilling students’ social media for ‘illegal’ LGBT+ symbols. 

This is no isolated case, LGBT Network members stressed. Indeed, last year, university officials nearly expelled a student after they scoured his social media and found he subscribed to an LGBT+ group.

Saint Petersburg has long been the setting of some of the country’s most brutal acts of anti-LGBT+ violence, which have doubled in the some seven years since Putin’s government swept its infamous “gay propaganda law”.

According to LGBT Network leader  Svetlana Zakharova, “The education department [was told to] immediately inform internal affairs bodies about minors against whom illegal acts have been committed, or who have committed an offence or antisocial actions.”

“It turns out that the administration considers only the fact of placing the rainbow flag by schoolchildren as an offence or antisocial act that should be punished.

“This is simply unacceptable.”

Russia has fuelled homophobia by driving a wedge between LGBT+ people and ‘family’.

“This is the second documented case when the administration of an educational institution takes over the functions of the morality police and monitors students’ social networks for propaganda,” Alexander Belik, a lawyer with the advocacy group, said.

Unsurprising, activists say. Putin’s populist campaigns often single out the LGBT+ community for the vitriol he so often seeks to stir up among his most loyal support blocs, the Russian Orthodox Church.

Moreover, with his brand of social conservativism and Soviet Russia nostalgia, Putin has left top LGBT+ rights groups outside of Russia alarmed in the ways he is, they said, imperilling queer young people.

Several planks of Putin’s campaign to sway citizens to vote in favour of a referendum that would instal him as president beyond the 2024 cut-off were potently anti-LGBT+, from effectively erasing trans people from existence to a constitutional ban on marriage equality.