YouTube has pulled a homophobic political ad that stirred up a storm ahead of the Russian national referendum.

The national vote scheduled for July 1, 2020 seeks to allow Vladmir Putin to continue as Russian president till 2036, and also asks for changes to be made to the Constitution to ban same sex marriages.

“This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s policy on hate speech. Learn more about combating hate speech in your country,” a YouTube message said, and provided a link to its Hate Speech Policy.

Moscow-based LGBTQI group Stimul was one of the first to flag the ad. Stimul which provides legal aid service to LGBTQI people in Moscow, said it had filed a complaint with the law enforcement agencies against the ad makers for inciting hatred and violence.

“We are convinced that this video incites hatred and hostility to a group of people on the basis of belonging to the LGBT social group, degrades the dignity of a person and is frankly discriminatory in nature,” Stimul said in a post widely shared on Facebook.

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 The organisation also asked YouTube and Google to take down the ad. “We consider it unacceptable that xenophobic, homophobic rhetoric is used by state-sponsored media to call for amendments to the Constitution, Article 19 of which guarantees the equality of human rights and freedoms and prohibits any form of restricting citizens’ rights on the grounds of social affiliation.”

The video credited to the Russian Federal News Agency (FAN) and the Patriot Media group, shows a young boy coming out of an orphanage to greet his new adoptive parents. He asks his adoptive father, where his mother is. The father points to another male actor  – portrayed in a flamboyant and caricaturish manner – and says “There’s your mother!

The ad ends with a voiceover saying: “Is this the Russia you want? Decide the future of the country. Vote for the amendments to the Constitution!”

Among the changes to the Constitution that are proposed is one that seeks to define marriage “as a union between a man and a woman.” The proposed addition to Article 72 of the Russian Constitution says: “Protection of the family, motherhood, fatherhood and childhood; defending the institution of marriage as a union of a man and a woman; creation of conditions for decent upbringing of children in the family, as well as for adult children to take care of their parents. ”

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 In February 2020, Putin had said that Russia would not legalise same sex marriages as long as he was President.

“As far as ‘parent number 1’ and ‘parent number 2’ goes, I’ve already spoken publicly about this and I’ll repeat it again: As long as I’m President this will not happen. There will be dad and mum,” Putin had declared.

Alexander Filimonenko, the actor who portrayed the gay character, apologised for his role in the ad on Instagram. “I would like to express regret over the current situation with the video where I was filming. I am very sorry that I was involved in politics. By no means did I want to offend anyone,”said Filimonenko.

However, Nikolay Stolyarchuk, head of the Patriot Media group defended the ad and its contents saying it was in line with the Constitution and the proposed amendments.

“I agree that the topic is ambiguous, but the meaning of this video is not in campaigning against homosexuals, as some representatives of the opposition are trying to show. The main point is not the fight against the LGBT community, but the defense of the family institution as a union of a man and a woman. I also am of the opinion that it is not possible to adopt children to same-sex parents.”

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 Last month ILGA Europe released its Rainbow Rankings and Russia is right down at the bottom at number 46 out of the 49 countries ranked in the list.

Despite international; condemnation Russia continues to enforce its anti-propoganda law that bans information of non-traditional sexual relations to minors. Pride parades have been banned and attacked by far right groups, LGBTQI activists have been arrested and imprisoned. Yelena Grigoryeva, a well-known LGBTQI activist in St. Petersburg was stabbed to death in July 2019.

“Hate crimes against LGBTQI people, including murder, physical violence and extortion were committed again in 2019. The authorities failed to classify them as anti-LGBTI hate crimes,”  ILGA explained in its reasons for the low scores.

A survey carried out in February 2020 by Levada Centre revealed that one in five Russians wanted LGBTQI community to be eliminated. Attitudes may however be softening the Centre said with a slight increase in the number of people wanting to help LGBTQI people (9%) and others who wanted the community to be left alone (32%).

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