The dissolution of the Charitable Foundation Sphere has sparked outrage within the LGBTQ+ community in Russia.
The court’s decision comes when LGBTQ activists in the country are already facing increased scrutiny and harassment from the authorities. In recent months, several LGBTQ activists have been listed as foreign agents and forced to leave the country.
The dissolution of the Charitable Foundation Sphere is likely to further embolden those who seek to persecute and marginalize the LGBTQ community in Russia.
In recent years, LGBTQ+ organizations in Russia have been under increasing pressure from the government. This first became more pronounced after the passage of the anti- “gay propaganda” law in 2013 that banned the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors, and effectively made it illegal to publicly advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. Then, the start of the WAR in Ukraine has only made things worse, as any organizations that would oppose the propaganda of Vladimir Putin’s totalitarian regime, whether LGBTQ+ or not, is immediately dissolved.
Recently, the Russian Ministry of Justice asked the St. Petersburg court to liquidate the LGBT+ Charitable Foundation Sphere, citing “legal violations.”
The Russian Ministry of Justice had launched an unscheduled audit of Sphere in late 2021. As part of this audit, the foundation had to hand over a massive amount of documents to the ministry, over 5000 pages.
In the statement, the Ministry said that it had reviewed Sphere’s documentation and concluded that all of its activities were aimed at supporting the LGBTQ movement in Russia. The ministry said that Sphere’s work was attempting to change both the legislation and the moral foundations of the country.
The Russian Ministry of Justice has accused Sphere of being a foreign agent and engaging in political activities rather than pursuing charitable goals, which are not allowed under federal law. It sued the foundation last February.
And a few days ago, the St. Petersburg court issued a verdict against Sphere. The court ordered the immediate dissolution of the organization.
For over a decade, the Charitable Foundation Sphere has been working to protect and support human rights and LGBTQ+ people living in Russia.
Sadly, discrimination, violence, and abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity are all too common for people who identify as LGBTQ+ in Russia. This is why an organization like Sphere is so important. It provides essential assistance to Russian LGBTQ+ people by providing legal and psychological support.
Whether it’s helping someone find housing, get medical care, apply for asylum, or simply fight depression and loneliness, Sphere is here to make sure no one is left behind.
Through its tireless efforts and unwavering commitment to diversity and equality, the organization has become a lifeline to countless members of the LGBTQ+ community - and an inspiration to us all.
Despite the verdict against it, a spokesperson for the foundation said it was committed to continuing its work.
“The decision to liquidate the foundation, especially on these grounds, is absolutely unreasonable and inconsistent with the norms of the law,” a Sphere spokesperson said.
“We consider it politically and ideologically motivated, separately noting the state’s desire to destroy the majority of civil and human rights organizations in the country.
“At the moment, our services continue to provide legal, psychological, and emergency assistance to the LGBT+ community, and we will do everything possible to ensure this work continues without interruption, regardless of the legal status of our team.
“We cannot leave the community without protection and support at such a difficult time. Our team has always seen it as a duty to help the community and unite it based on the principles of human rights and humanitarianism.”
Shere’s team is vowing to fight the court’s decision at every turn, and they are already planning to bring the case up to the European Court of Human Rights. They are determined to make their voices heard. But, even though they do not expect to see any justice at the national level, they hope it will gain visibility from the international community.
Sphere’s team is currently continuing its work from outside Russia. Many made the tough decision in recent weeks to flee the country because of safety concerns.
Sphere’s head of state, Dilya Gafurova, said she has learned of three LGBTQ+ activists who have been branded with a “foreign agent” classification in recent weeks. These “foreign agents” face special scrutiny from the government and are at risk of arrest, or worse.
Gafurova and her fellow activists are determined to continue their work, but it is clear that the situation in Russia is becoming increasingly dangerous for those who dare to speak out.