LGBT in Russia

Mads Nissen

A new law in Russia prohibits 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations' among minors and imposes hefty fines and prison sentences on both locals and foreigners for any infringement, both in person and online. Already, many people have felt the strong arm of the law when they have tried to protest.~~Life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Russia has just got worse, following the signing by the State Duma of a new law banning 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations' among minors with a majority of 436 to 0. The law states that 'it is essential to put in place measures which provide for the intellectual, moral and mental wellbeing of children, including a ban on any activities aimed at popularising homosexuality … including instilling distorted ideas that society places an equal value on traditional and non-traditional sexual relations…' While 'it would not be an offence to be a person of homosexual orientation' the wording of the law is vague enough to leave officials across Russia enough freedom to harass, intimidate and ultimately prosecute LGBT people on flimsy grounds.

The new law, which follows years of creeping anti-homosexual legislation in a number of Russia's regions, has been widely condemned by governments and individuals alike, leading to a call by British actor Stephen Fry for a boycott of the Winter Olympics, scheduled to take place in the Black Sea city of Sochi in 2014. Yet while it is unlikely that any such boycott will take place with many suggesting that a protest at the event is better than being absent from it, foreign visitors will have to watch their steps since the law applies to Russians and visiting foreigners alike.~~The penalties for transgressing this law are harsh. For Russians it could mean fines of up to USD 150, for officials up to USD 1,500 and for organisations engaging in 'propaganda' of this sort fines up to USD 30,000. Engaging in these activities, however loosely defined, on the internet carries significantly harsher fines. For foreigners the penalties are no less harsh, carrying a 15 day prison sentence and/or deportation from the country. What actually constitutes 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations' among minors, however, has left many in the dark.~~While certain public figures have taken courageous steps in criticising the law and, in some cases, 'coming out' publicly to make a point and encourage others, domestic sentiment seems hard to judge, with some surveys suggesting that 80% of Russians think homosexuals should hide their sexual orientation. Anton Krasovsky, a popular TV presenter, shocked Russia viewers when he announced to camera that 'I am gay, and I am a human being just like Putin and Medvedev' (Russia's president and prime minister). He was immediately sacked by his TV station and all reference to his name was removed from the station's website. Alexander Smirnov, an official in Moscow's city government, revealed his homosexuality in an issue of Afisha magazine, a popular glossy, which devoted an entire issue to portraits of 27 people from across the social spectrum in Russia who are all gay. He had been hiding his sexuality all his life but maintains that 'I'm 39 and society is still telling me my place. I don’t like it when people tell me how to live, or accuse me of being guilty of something.'~~Mads Nissen met and interviewed a number of young gay people living in St Petersburg and ventured into the secret underworld of nightclubs where gay people feel free to express themselves. Full transcripts of the interviews are available on request.

 

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