Duolingo removes LGBTQ+ references from app in Russia

Duolingo has LGBTQ+ content from its Russian app after warnings from the government due to the country’s LGBTQ+ “extremism” law.

According to reporting by Reuters and other international news agencies, the language learning app was written to by Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, warning it against promoting “non-traditional sexual relations” and “propaganda”.

“The company Duolingo sent Roskomnadzor a letter in response, in which it confirmed that it had deleted materials promoting non-traditional sexual relations from its training app,” news publications in Russia quoted the communications regulator as saying.

The move comes following Russia’s Supreme Court outlawing the “international LGBT movement” – which is not an official organisation – towards the end of last year. 

The court’s vague language leaves LGBTQ+ people in the country at risk of lengthy prison sentences simply for being queer. 

PinkNews has reached out to Duolingo to ascertain which LGBTQ+ references which were removed by the app but has not yet had a reply.

Duolingo app on phone
Duolingo says the company supports LGBTQ+ rights (Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In February, it was reported that Duolingo was being investigated by Roskomnadzor for “distribution of information that promotes LGBT”.

The investigation was launched after Radetel, a group based in Novosibirsk in central Russia, filed a complaint with the media watchdog and argued children should not be allowed to use the app after uncovering exercises on it which refer to the LGBTQ+ community, news outlet Novaya Gazeta reported at the time.

Radetel, which claims on its Telegram page that it is on a mission to protect “public morality, culture, and traditional values” shared screenshots of Duolingo English exercises which mention the words “lesbian” and “gay”.

In response to the letter, a Duolingo spokesperson said the company supports “LGBTQ+ rights and believe in normalizing LGBTQ+ representation in our content”.

“Unfortunately, local laws prohibit us from including certain content in Russia,” they added. “Duolingo’s mission is to expand access to quality education around the world and we’re committed to maintaining access to our product everywhere that is legal to do so.”

Putin in drag on placard
LGBTQ+ references on Duolingo have been censored by the Russian state (Stefano Montesi/Corbis via Getty)

On its official website, Duolingo says it includes LGBTQ+ characters and “everyday depictions of LGBTQ+ life” in language lessons and exercises in order to “show queer people living their lives in an unsensatinalised and normal way”.

Since Russia’s new LGBTQ+ ‘extremism’ law came into force there have been a number of arrests and state actors have censored events and the association of queer people.

In March, bar staff at Pose, a venue in the city of Orenburg which is close to the border with Kazakhstan, were arrested during a police raid with footage showing people being detained by officers. Following this, the bar’s owner was arrested at Moscow airport with prosecutors are accusing him of conspiring with supporters of the “international LGBT movement”.

Alongside these arrests, police also raided a bar in Russia’s fourth-largest city Yekaterinburg, a My Little Pony convention was shut down for supposedly promoting queer propaganda, and anti-riot officers stormed what state media called an “anti-war LGBTQ+ party” meeting near St Petersburg. 

Please login or register to comment on this story.