Will “Promoting Homosexuality” Become a Crime in Russia?

By Innokenty Grekov

Fighting Discrimination Program

Later this month, the Russian Duma will consider whether to impose a national ban on “promoting homosexuality.” According to the proposed bill, people who “promote” homosexuality to minors can be fined up to $160, and organizations up to $16,000.

This was a difficult year for gay Russians. Homophobic violence is rampant, and the government has systematically denied them fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.

Russia’s courts and municipal authorities have banned gay pride for 100 years in Moscow and refused to register a pride house for the upcoming Sochi Olympics on the grounds that homosexuality threatens Russia’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The federal bill is based on laws already adopted in nine locales, including Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city and famed cultural capital. These laws are difficult to enforce en masse, so authorities use them to go after the most outspoken activists.

President Putin will undoubtedly sign the bill if it passes. The government has played the homophobia card in recent years, part of the general backslide into authoritarianism. In 2004 and 2006, the executive branch rejected similarly homophobic bills, citing the constitution and international human rights obligations. But in 2012, the clock has been turned back.

In November, the Russian delegation denied that the government discriminates against LGBT people in response to a review by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which based its findings on an extensive shadow report by the interregional Russian LGBT Network. In April, Russian officials disassociated themselves from a G8 statement saying that people “often face death, violence, harassment and discrimination because of their sexual orientation in many countries around the world.” The diplomats said it’s not right to single out a group.

A growing number of LGBT Russians are fleeing and seeking asylum here in the United States (including with the help of my organization, Human Rights First, which has recruited and trained pro bono attorneys to provide them with legal representation.)

The latest spasm of homophobia is the legal assault on Lady Gagafollowing her performances in Russia earlier this month. Authorities in Saint Petersburg are investigating whether the singer’s vocal support for gay rights on stage amounted to “promoting” homosexuality to minors.GayRussia.eu reports that the popular rapper Timati, known for his collaborations with Snoop Dogg and Diddy, said he wanted to throw up and left the concert in Moscow when Gaga started talking about homosexuality, gay pride, and Pussy Riot.

Timati, who rose to fame on Russia’s version of American Idol and was Putin’s 2012 campaign trustee, may not feel the sting of the ongoing assault on freedom of expression. But the country’s record of denying artistic freedom and enforcing discriminatory laws is seen in the legal threats against Lady Gaga.

In January, Russia will take another step backward when the Duma takes up the discriminatory bill. But Gaga did something about it, and so can all of us: Take a Stand For Russia today.

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Published on January 3, 2013

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