Russia’s attitudes towards gays and lesbians have an impact in Estonia

A survey published on public opinion regarding LGBT rights has highlighted shortcomings in Estonia’s ethnic relations, since attitudes towards gays and lesbians are remarkably different among Estonians and Russians. However, this is nothing new: surveys conducted in 2012 and 2014 showed the same thing. While Estonian-speaking people’s attitudes are becoming more positive each year, Russian-speaking people’s attitudes remain the same or change very little, and in some cases have even become more radical.

The following table shows the percentages of people who think homosexuality is acceptable. The same highs and lows have been noted among the Estonian- and Russian-speaking populations over the years. The drop in 2014 in both groups was primarily due to polarisation because of the passing of the civil partnership law. In 2017 the numbers have normalised and become more positive, but still Russian speaking population attitudes are significantly lower.

Some of the major differences between Estonian- and Russian-speaking people emerge in everyday situations. For instance, 35 percent of Russian-speakers and 70 percent of Estonian-speakers would attend an appointment with a doctor who they knew to be gay or lesbian.

Also, 74 percent of Russian-speakers would not allow their children to play with kids whose parents were gay or lesbian. A third of Estonian-speakers agreed on this point.

Avoiding contact with homosexual people clearly shows that Russian-speaking people think homosexuality is the result of upbringing and is a choice rather than being something innate, which is the opinion of most Estonian-speaking people.

Larissa: I would drop dead if my child said they were homosexual. I wouldn’t kill them, but I’d die myself. And my daughter would die too, I know. (Focus group participant in 2012 survey)


This quote clearly shows how the two different groups would react to their children being gay or lesbian.

Compared to the 2014 survey, the number of supporters of civil partnerships has rapidly increased among Estonian-speaking people, but declined among Russian-speaking people. Unfortunately, the cause of this development is not yet known, although we can assume that there has not been any discussion in Russian-language media since the passing of the law.

Although the survey shows a large gap between Estonian- and Russian-speakers, the Russian-speaking people living in Estonia do not share the same values as Russians living in Russia. The Levada Centre conducted a survey in 2015 which showed that just 8 percent of Russians living in Russia would accept a same-sex marriage, while the same number among Russian-speaking Estonians was 20 percent.

We should not label the Russian-speaking people living in Estonia as intolerant based on these survey results. This is a much bigger problem of the two value spaces that surround us – connecting which takes time and political will.