Update on LGBT issues in Russia

Published: January 3, 2012

It’s been a busy month.  The fine folks at the Russian LGBT-network have put together a handy guide to existing and proposed laws banning homosexual "propaganda" in front of minors, a scary bit of legislative homophobia that could make any public statement of same-sex attraction a punishable act.  The guide is useful and comprehensive; unfortunately it’s also in Russian, so I’ll provide a few translated excerpts instead of the whole document.

I’m sticking to the general format of their release, with each numbered section.  For ease of reading I’ve also hyperlinked some terms that may be unfamiliar and provided some context for the regions under discussion.

Follow me below…

A quick and dirty introduction to the current legislative state of affairs:

    At present two Russian oblasts – Ryazan and Arkhangelsk – have their own laws providing liability for so-called "homosexual propaganda among minors".  In St. Petersburg a similar bill passed its first reading (by unanimous vote) and awaits its second.  Discussion of the bill presented to the legislature of the Kostroma oblast is scheduled for December 27th, 2011.

The Kostroma meeting did indeed take place on the 27th (more on this below).  A similar bill has been proposed, but not yet acted upon, for Moscow.  Here’s the geography for the uninitiated.  The total number of people affected by these laws, passed and proposed, comes in just under 20 million:
1. The Ryazan oblast

The Ryazan law is the oldest, having been on the books since 2006 (note: a thousand rubles is around $32):

    Article 3.10. Public Acts aimed at promoting homosexuality (sodomy and lesbianism) among juveniles

    Public acts aimed at promoting homosexuality (sodomy and lesbianism) among minors are punishable by administrative fine for ordinary citizens in the amount of one thousand five hundred to two thousand rubles, for government officials in the amount of two to four thousand rubles, and for legal persons from ten to twenty thousand rubles.

On March 30, 2009 two activists were detained and fined for carrying around placards saying "Homosexuality is normal" and "I’m proud of my homosexuality. Ask me about it."  They later lost their appeal, and the ruling from the Constitutional Court stings:

    In itself the ban on this kind of propaganda – activities toward the purposeful and unregulated dissemination of information that could pose harm to health and moral and spiritual development, like forming distorted ideas about social equivalence between traditional and non-traditional marriage – among those who do not have the benefit of age to evaluate this kind of information independently, cannot be considered a violation of the constitutional rights of citizens.

Worse, the decision helped form the legal strategy in the Arkhangelsk oblast, where a similar law quickly followed.  The court ordered that such a ban is not "disproportionate to the freedom of speech", and the plaintiffs are now seeking relief from the European Court of Human Rights.  It won’t be the first time.

2. The Arkhangelsk oblast

In September 2011 the Arkhangelsk oblast passed the first of its two anti-gay laws banning "public actions aimed at homosexual propaganda toward minors" (Article 10)  When Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT-network attempted to submit a challenge to the law, the civil court rejected his application, saying that it was a constitutional rather than civil challenge.  In the meantime the second law passed, amending the first by setting the amount of fines not unlike what we saw in the Ryazan statute.  It also mandated greatly increased fines for repeat offenders.

3. St. Petersburg

Together the Ryazan and Arkhangelsk oblasts contain about two and half million people.  That’s why the recent decision to move forward a similar statute in a major city like St. Petersburg has taken the lion’s share of attention.  We know that the legislation was introduced by Putin’s party United Russia and in particular the pet project of Vitaly Milonov in coordination with the Russian Orthodox Church, and it ups the ante on anti-LGBT bigotry considerably:

    Article 7_1. Public actions aimed at promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgender among minors

    Public actions aimed at promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgender toward juveniles are punishable by an administrative fine on ordinary citizens in the amount of one thousand to three thousand rubles, on government officials from three thousand to five thousand rubles, and for legal persons from ten thousand to fifty thousand rubles.

    Article 7_2. Public actions aimed at promoting pedophilia

    Public actions aimed at promoting pedophilia involve imposition of an administrative fine on ordinary citizens in the amount of one thousand to three thousand rubles, on government officials from three thousand to five thousand rubles, and on legal persons from ten thousand to fifty thousand rubles.

Note that the category of transgender is now explicitly included in this proposed law.  I suppose we should be thankful that they separated pedophilia into a separate article, even though both are being proposed as a package deal.  At any rate it shows that bigots in Russia have been more successful than their American counterparts in linking the idea of non-normative sexuality with non-consensual rape of minors.  Ugh.

In reviewing the proposed law the Legal Department of the city cautioned that the statute mixed up sexuality with gender, and orientation with medical "deviance", and the bill was temporarily shelved.  Unfortunately the only amendments since then have dealt with the level of fines imposed: they were all increased substantially.  The bill has passed its first reading and awaits its second; in the meantime Milonov has this posted on the city’s website regarding the new law:

    1) after the third paragraph add the following paragraph:

    "Note. In this Article public actions aimed at promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgender among minors should be understood as efforts toward the purposeful and unregulated dissemination of information that could pose harm to health and moral and spiritual development of minors, like forming distorted ideas about social equivalence between traditional and non-traditional marriage."

Sound familiar?  The Constitutional Court’s formulation has become the norm for defenses of the new laws; the creators hope that by hewing closely to the wording of the decision they can deflect challenges to it.

Local activists are mounting a brave and well-coordinated campaign to prevent this from becoming law; in particular the Russian LGBT-network, the group "Vykhod" (lit. "coming out"), and the LGBT film festival "Side by Side" have managed to turn this into an international embarrassment. 

    *** Speaking of which, you can do your part here. ***

As GayRussia notes, Russian LGBTs have never been able to "propagandize" openly, so laws like this one are just extreme codifications of existing practice.   Russian social conservatives can make political hay out of beating up this particular minority, and it’s no accident so much attention has focused on the level of fines involved.

4. The Kostroma oblast

This appeared on the website for the Kostroma oblast’s legislature on December 15th:

    Among the issues discussed were amendments to the law "On Guarantees of the Rights of the Child" […] to ban public acts aimed at promoting pedophilia, homosexuality (sodomy and lesbianism), bisexuality, and transgender toward minors. […]

    Similar legislation has already been successfully operating in the territory of some regions of the country. According to deputies, the introduction of this ban would protect the morals of the family, and preserve the physical, mental and spiritual health of young people. The committee hopes that at the next meeting of the regional parliament this document will be supported unanimously.

Note that this is becoming the increasingly widespread code for anti-LGBT bigotry: "rights of the child". 

On December 27th, the date of the meeting, a group of protestors showed up with placards denouncing the proposed legislation: "Stop the homophobic law!", "Gays and lesbians are not pedophiles!  Deputies, turn on your brains!", "Deputies, leave the gays alone and tackle unemployment!", "We are your neighbors and coworkers! We are your children!"  Of the eleven people who showed up to picket, five were detained, including Kochetkov.  From the police station he had this to say:

    Two unlawful actions took place in Kostroma today: the deputies adopted a discriminatory law, and for no reason at all the police arrested innocent people who were protesting against the bill.  And they made two big mistakes.  The protests will only get bigger, and we will not stop until these shameful, homophobic laws are repealed.

In the meantime the bill had passed its first reading almost unanimously: there was a single abstention.  The protesters were eventually released, and they await a hearing later this month.

Full text of article available at link below –

Leave a Reply