Women’s Month Profile: Anastasia Smirnova
By Jess Ballance
This week, Human Rights First will profile just a few of the millions of women worldwide who are fighting discrimination and gender-based violence, who work tirelessly to make universal human rights for women a reality. On March 8, International Women’s Day, thousands of events will be held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements; the United States designates the whole month of March as Women’s History Month. At Human Rights First, whether we’re helping female refugees or partnering with activists working on the frontlines, we make women’s human rights a priority.
Today, Human Rights First celebrates Anastasia Smirnova, who coordinates a coalition of LGBT organizations working on an Olympics-focused advocacy campaign to stop Russia’s crackdown on the LGBT community. Their work took on even more importance after Russian lawmakers passed their infamous anti-propaganda law, a statute signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. Along with discriminatory laws at the local level, this national bill creates a permissive environment for violent hate crime against sexual minorities in Russia.
On February 5, Human Rights First met with Anastasia and other LGBT leaders in St. Petersburg to discuss their work and what support they need from the United States. She said that “the most alarming thing is despite the international attention, the authorities are bringing more charges under the [anti-propaganda] law. The law is being applied on a larger scale; we have to be prepared for a crackdown against media and social media.”
The day after Anastasia met with Human Rights First, she and three other LGBT activists were detained by Russian police for holding posters calling for Russia and the Sochi Olympic Games to uphold Principle 6, the nondiscrimination clause in the Olympic Charter. Anastasia was later released, but continues to face charges and possible fines for speaking out.
While increased international attention during the Olympic Games helped to change the Russian government’s narrative about its crackdown, Anastasia and other Russian activists expect that prosecutions for violations of the anti-propaganda will rapidly increase now that the Olympic Games are over. That is why Anastasia continues her work with the Russian LGBT Network, an interregional, non-governmental human rights organization that promotes equal rights and respect for human dignity, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The coalition develops regional initiatives, advocacy strategies, at both the national and international levels, and provides social and legal services.
Human Rights First salutes the important role Anastasia has played in drawing attention to Russia’s LGBT crackdown, working for change, and stressing that LGBT rights are human rights. We look forward to working with her and other Russia activists to keep the spotlight on these issues.