School teachers in Russia have been instructed to comb through the social media profiles of their students, reporting the appearance of any LGBTQ+ symbols to the ministry in charge of the country’s internal police. The non-profit Russian LGBT Network is reporting that administrators in the Nevsky district of St. Petersburg directed teachers to spy on students in grades 5 though 11 and create dossiers on those they suspect might be LGBTQ+ or allies, claiming their posts and actions might violate the country’s propaganda laws and a UN convention protecting the rights of children.
“It turns out that the administration considers only the fact of placing the rainbow flag by schoolchildren as an offense or antisocial act that should be punished,” Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network said in a statement. “This is simply unacceptable.”
The Russian LGBT Network learned last spring of the directive ordering teachers to identify students with LGBTQ+ symbols and posts on their social media. The information they found was to be transferred to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, a large umbrella department that includes the country’s drug and internal law enforcement agencies, akin to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Agency.
When Russian LGBT Network Chairman Mikhail Tumasov contacted the authorities responsible for the snooping, he learned they did not deny the directive. Instead, he was told the educators were only looking for violations of the country’s propaganda and child protection laws as well as the UN. Convention on the Rights of the Child. When he asked for clarification on the monitoring, administrators claimed “the education department immediately informs the internal affairs bodies about minors against whom illegal acts have been committed, or who have committed an offense or antisocial acts.”
“Such monitoring is illegal,” Alexander Belik, a lawyer for the Russian LGBT Network, said. “Educational organizations do not have the authority to collect materials on cases of administrative offenses, and teachers in their job descriptions do not have a duty to monitor social networks.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin won reelection to a third term in office in July, and immediately made good on campaign promises to crack down on the LGBTQ+ community through a series of legislation and amendments that ban marriage equality, adoption by transgender persons, and recognition of same-sex unions registered abroad. Voters had earlier approved a series of amendments to the country’s constitution, including one defining marriage as only between a man and woman. One of amendments also reset the start of term limits for Putin, meaning he can serve an additional two terms as president. The vote was largely symbolic as the proposals had already been approved by the Russian legislature.