The picture book fighting back against Russia’s LGBT+ propaganda law

A story for children about families with same-sex parents has been published in Russia as part of a campaign to have the country’s ‘gay propaganda’ law repealed

Bedtime Not Playtime by Lawrence Schimel and illustrated by Elina Brasliņa. Bedtime Not Playtime by Lawrence Schimel, illustrated by Elina Brasliņa. Photograph: Lawrence Schimel and Elina Braslina.Bedtime Not Playtime by Lawrence Schimel, illustrated by Elina Brasliņa. Photograph: Lawrence Schimel and Elina Braslina.

A month after a Hungarian bookshop chain was fined for selling a children’s story about a day in the life of a child with same-sex parents, the same picture book has been published in Russia – but with an “18+” label on it in deference to the country’s so-called “gay propaganda” law.

American author Lawrence Schimel and illustrator Elīna Brasliņa’s picture book tells about a morning and an evening in the lives of two children with same-sex parents. It is published as two titles in English – Early One Morning, about a young boy’s morning with his two mothers; and Bedtime, Not Playtime!, which follows a girl with two fathers at bedtime. The Russian translation, by Dmitriy Kuzmin, combines both books under the title Mothers, Fathers and Kids from Dusk till Dawn.

Somewhat unconventionally, the book has been published by Sphere, which is a charitable foundation rather than a traditional publishing house. Sphere, which campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights, said Russia’s 2013 law banning gay “propaganda” meant that none of the country’s publishing houses would support its initiative to release the book, so it took matters into its own hands.

“[This] is a book that is not only about LGBTQ+ families, but for them. In that sense, this book stands on its own as the very first of its kind in Russia,” said the organisation, adding that the law made it necessary to print the book with an 18-plus label. “In other words, because of the existing legislature there was no other choice but to publish a children’s book for adults only … This is the ridiculousness of the propaganda law, which only raises discrimination against LGBT+ and limits access to information.”

When the children’s book was released in Hungary last month, the Líra Könyv bookshop chain was fined 250,000 forints (£600) by a local authority for failing to clearly indicate the book contained “content which deviates from the norm”.

Sphere has launched a campaign to have Russia’s propaganda law repealed, with its petition already gathering almost 60,000 signatures. “This book is the epitome of the … law’s absurdity,” the organisation said in a statement. “This law does not protect anyone from anything. Rather, it acts as an instrument of 1) limiting access to information, and 2) legitimisation of discrimination in the forms of homophobia and transphobia in the society – all while real families, with real children, are suffering from it.”

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Schimel said that he and illustrator Brasliņa were both “delighted” to donate their book to the campaign, “because we both are strongly opposed to the Russian government’s persecution of LGBT people”.

“Hate should be given no quarter in the plural, diverse, global world in which we live,” said Schimel. “These LGBT propaganda laws do not protect children from anything, nor are our lives anything that anyone needs to be ‘protected’ from … That’s why this campaign to repeal this noxious law in Russia is so important. Not just for kids who might be in same-sex families or discovering their own LGBT identity, but for all kids to see these families that exist in the world – even in Russia – and to prevent a generation from growing up brainwashed by this political homophobia.”

So far, Sphere has printed about 500 copies of Schimel’s book, and sent them to regional LGBT+ organisations and queer influencers. It hopes to publish more in the future. “It has not been easy,” said a spokesperson. “We were constantly afraid that there would be some interference in the process or the books would be seized by authorities immediately after printing. Nothing of the sort has happened, fortunately, in part because we were extremely cautious, yet we are still expecting some additional attention to be drawn to us and our activity as an organisation. We are not thinking of commercial distribution. For us this is a way of giving representation to LGBTQ+ families and, in some way, of adding a whole new dimension and momentum in fighting the discriminatory legislature.”

Schimel and Braslina’s books have already been published in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian, and a campaign to publish them in Hebrew was launched recently. Schimel and Sphere predict that by the end of 2022, the books will exist in at least 30 editions and 24 languages worldwide.


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