St. Pete May Fine Gays Who Are Open

Published: November 17, 2011

In a throwback to Soviet times, St. Petersburg legislators have tentatively approved a bill that would impose fines on gays or lesbians who openly profess their sexual orientation.

The bill achieves this by outlawing gay pride parades and any other public display or discussion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, lifestyle that might be observed by minors — curiously equating such acts to promotion of pedophilia, which is a criminal offense.

Gay activists denounced the bill as "medieval" and called it a pre-election stunt, while legal experts doubted the bill’s legality. But a senior local lawmaker said the main flaw of the bill was that it was not harsh enough.

The bill proposes fines of 3,000 to 5,000 rubles ($100 to $160) for individuals and up to 50,000 rubles for organizations engaged in "public activities to promote sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transsexuality" that might be observed by children, local news agency Fontanka.ru said.
The United Russia-dominated St. Petersburg legislature passed the bill in a first reading Tuesday with a vote of 37-1, with one abstention. The bill needs to pass two more readings, the dates for which have not been set.

"The rising popularity of sexual deviations influences our children in a negative way," said the bill’s author, Vitaly Milonov, a United Russia deputy, Fontanka.ru reported.

Another deputy, Yelena Babich of the Liberal Democrat Party, denounced even the rainbow-colored decorations that covered St. Petersburg during its City Day celebrations in May as gay propaganda.

The St. Petersburg bill appeared to be modeled on near-identical legislation passed in the Arkhangelsk region in September. Lawmakers introduced a similar ban in the Ryazan region in 2006.

Although the legislation only prohibits the "promotion" of a LGBT lifestyle, it amounts to blanket bans on expressing nontraditional sexuality in any public form because it is next to impossible to prevent minors from being exposed to it, Ogonyok magazine wrote last summer about the then-upcoming Arkhangelsk ban.

St. Petersburg gay rights activists protested the legislation on Tuesday through a series of one-person pickets — the only form of public protest that doesn’t require permission from authorities. They also pledged to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The bill is an attempt to bank on widespread homophobic sentiment ahead of the State Duma elections on Dec. 4, said Igor Kochetkov, head of LGBT group Vykhod (Exit).

"The bill is passed before elections to boost the popularity of United Russia, which is flagging in St. Petersburg," Kochetkov said by telephone.

"This bill smacks of the Middle Ages," he said.

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