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Russia looks to criminalize being gay, bisexual or lesbian

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CURRENT WORLD AFFAIRS QUESTION: What do Russia, Uganda and Nigeria have in common? Other than the fact that all three are oil-producing countries (albeit Uganda as a fledgling oil producer), they are all involved in creating legislation banning homosexuality in one way or another.

While Sharia law courts in northern Nigeria have already sentenced people to death for homosexuality, Uganda has passed laws that would make homosexuality punishable by death. Meanwhile, Russia, though not quite so extreme, is a country where moves are afoot to ban any reference to homosexuality as unacceptable “propaganda.” The move comes from the highest level of the federal government – the Russian deputy prime minister, no less.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak called for banning any “propaganda” of non-traditional sexual relationships at the federal level, and at a press conference Dec. 2 in St. Petersburg said that the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations “is a disgusting thing,” promising consideration of “this topic at the federal level.”

The bill about administrative responsibility for “propaganda” of homosexuality and pedophilia among minors passed in the first hearing in St. Petersburg City Parliament Nov. 16 where the St. Petersburg governor, Georgy Poltavchenko, supported Kozak, saying that if the bill passes, “it will serve the public morals.”

However, Polina Savchenko, general manager of the Russian LGBT organization Coming Out, thinks passage of the bill is quite likely. “Many politicians are willing to use homophobic attitudes spread in the society to attract the electorate, including during the coming presidential elections,” said Savchenko. “Some of the regional and federal officials have already made statements claiming that this law is necessary in Russia.”

The implications of the bill for gays, bisexuals and lesbians in Russia is considerable says Igor Kochetkov, chairperson of the Russian LGBT Network. “First of all millions of people feel humiliated by the very discussion of this law. In case it is adopted, any LGBT activist will be subject to administrative charges for dissemination of information about homosexuality, and the very functioning of the LGBT Network will be at risk. The possibilities of living an openly gay life will also be further limited.”

The bill will also have implications for ordinary Russian citizens. Says Kochetkov, “They will not have access to information that they need to be able to accept LGBT people. The grounds for conflicts and phobias in society will therefore be still in place.”

Adds Savchenko, “Another important implication is that homophobic bullying at schools will be left unaddressed, and many more teenagers will be likely to commit suicide.”

Charles Radcliffe, chief, global issues section, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights told San Diego LGBT Weekly, “Any laws that restrict people’s right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly need to be looked at very closely. International human rights law doesn’t permit restriction of these rights on discriminatory grounds – and that includes on grounds of sexual orientation. Punishing people for discussing homosexuality while protecting those who wish to discuss heterosexuality is inherently discriminatory. In addition to helping to legitimize homophobia, restrictions of this kind pose a real risk to public health, depriving people of access to information that can help to keep them safe. They also raise serious concerns for the ability of human rights defenders to do their work.”

The very idea of anti-homosexuality laws in Russia is seen as a significant step backward to activists who have been watching LGBT developments in the home country of the former Soviet Union. Some partially blame American fundamentalist Christians, and see the sentiment behind the move to criminalize homosexuality as a threat to the viability of Russian democracy.

“Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia 20 years ago,” said Julie Dorf, senior advisor for the Council for Global Equality. “This re-criminalization of LGBT expression is beyond regressive – it is a sign of a failing democracy. The actual language of these proposed bills is very similar to others we’ve seen in Eastern Europe and are highly influenced by the Church. American anti-gay extremists like Paul Cameron and Scott Lively – who are discredited here in the U.S. – are finding fertile ground in other parts of the world to spread their lies and seed hatred. It is imperative that we support our colleagues around the world fighting these extreme criminal measures.”

Adding to the threat to Russian LGBTs’ wellbeing, claim critics, is the corruption of political power in Russia, which they say goes hand-in-hand with social scapegoats and the oppression of minorities.

Says Kochetkov, “Those deputies who seek being re-elected and the officials who want to maintain the current political power use their influence on the media to attract support of the homophobic part of the society.”

Adds Savchenko, “This law will also heighten the risks of corruption. The wording is so vague, that it will allow full arbitrariness in application. There is even no definition of what will be considered to be ‘propaganda,’ letting alone that the word itself doesn’t make any sense in this context at all.”

Other regions of Russia are also considering bans on the “propaganda of homosexuality.” Indeed, Kostroma, a region located 300 kilometers north east of Moscow, may become the third Russian region to outlaw so called propaganda of homosexuality to minors, after similar regional laws were implemented in 2006 in Ryazan and earlier in 2011 in Arkhangelsk. These are in addition to the recent activity in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The history of homosexual persecution in Russia is long, and historically has been tied to repression of political opponents by the government.

Says Kochetkov, “In Tsarist Russia, homosexuality was punished by forced labor. This article was introduced into the criminal code in 1839, but mostly was out of usage. After the revolution of 1917 criminal persecution was abolished, but not for long. A respective article was introduced into the Soviet criminal code in 1926 and existed till 1993 in the Russian Federation.”

Political oppression was often the real cause behind the persecution of gays and lesbians, according to Kochetkov.

Adds Savchenko, “Some 250,000 people were charged under this article during this period. Most of the time it was applied selectively and used as one of the instruments of political repressions.”

If political oppression was not enough to drive gays and lesbians (and bisexuals, for that matter) deep into the closet, there was also the specter of medical mistreatment.

“Along with criminalization, gay people also faced forced psychiatric treatment,” said Savchenko. “The overall number of gay and lesbian victims of the Soviet regime is unknown. After the article was abolished, gay people still encountered persecution, mostly from the radical nationalistic groups, and wide-spread discrimination without any protection from the state.”

Whether used to pander to a political demographic, or as a tool to silence political opponents, legislated persecution of gays, lesbians and bisexuals in Russia is likely to continue by the passing and proposing of federal and regional anti-homosexuality laws.



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Posted by LGBT Weekly on Dec 27, 2011. Filed under Around the World, Feature Story, This Week. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

9 Comments for “Russia looks to criminalize being gay, bisexual or lesbian”

  1. well this is democracy and that’s how it works, if Russian people and government want this to be the law of their nation we need to respect it even if we disagree with it.

    democracy and freedom does not just apply to gay people you know, if people and nation want no gay activity at all, and they do not want to teach that type of behavior to their kids it is their FREE RIGHT to do that, any people and nation is free to make their own laws this is what freedom is.

  2. A better understanding of the law in St Petersburg would require actually reading the law which is a lot more benign than the articles that keep appearing in western press would have their readers believe. The only point that is probably correct in this article is the influence of US churches. Since the early 90s there have been hundreds of thousands of missionaries from Evangelical churches based in the US arriving in Russia seeking converts to radical fundamentalist churches. The prohibition of any sex related information is a prime goal for those churches. Another influence that is of concern is the approximately 30,000 NGOs operating in Russia whose primary funding is from the US, using either private or government money. Several of the minor political parties are completely funded by the US. Some of those are heavily involved with fundamentalist churches.
    In many ways there is a great deal of personal freedom in Russia primarily due to the lack of laws prohibiting activities of all sorts. That is the natural result of having a cumbersome legislative process and only 20 years to grow the body of laws. But as an American living in Russia I am reminded daily of how much less intrusion there is in personal matters in Russia than in the US where there are regulations and laws regarding every aspect of life, with 10s of millions of laws and regulations with the force of law on the books while there are only thousands in Russia. The IRS tax code is 4,000,000 pages, while the tax code in Russia is about 300 as an example. People generally leave others alone and do not get worked up about people doing something they might not want to do themselves.

    • If you say so, but as a native Russian I disagree with you. I happen to know just how homophobic Russians are including my own family. Not that I the subject or anything since I’m married, but if you listen to my father you would know just homophobic they are. The taxes I agree with they make a lot more scene than the US tax code, but on a lot of social issues Russians are backward and they will get in your face about it since we are loud, proud people.

  3. what gives the USA Canada & Britain the right to impose their homosexuals lesbians & perversions on any free nation of the earth?? there is a name for this— it is –COLONIALSM–nothing less–Russia– Nigeria–Uganda– Jamaica etc are all free & sovreigh nations the last time anyone looked–who in the name of God are these COLONIALISTS?? in the USA 2 men named Doug Wirth & George Harasz “married” each other in a “LEGAL Marraige” which in itself is a sin against the laws of God–then they were allowed Legally” to “adopt” 9 school boys– now they are under arrest for raping the boys & teaching them its ok to be into homosexuals activity– is this what free nations who opppose the USA evils desire?? not–the USA invades nations kill inocent people & then has the disgraceful will to tell another naiton what laws it can pass?? Presidente Hugo Chavez has warned many times against the new imperialsms–reject the USA & its colonialisms–its homosexuals lesbians etc– remember the disgraceful USA colonialist woman–Lori Berenson– teach USA types to stay away from free nations

  4. Fast Five Fix: Jan. 9 | Call Me A Homo

    [...] First, Russian lawmakers may be looking to make being gay against the law, according to San Diego LGBT Weekly. [...]

  5. lejos is a total pervert and has tried to pick up underage females in aol chat rooms beware

  6. Jose de venezuela

    Alan–eres tu de EU?? porque tu nacion es contra de Dios?? tu nacion tienes permiso a hombres con “esposos” es propaganda–Presidente Huga Chavez es contra de ti–your are a international criminal you attack childrens–Lejos es Corecto–you are a bad nation –no one like you–stop killing the babys

  7. Jose de Venezuela

    Lejos es CORECTO!!! porque tu habla mentiras de el?? Arrrrriba Chavez!! en Venezuela–Dios es nos Rey–Alan–proque tu mentiras?? Viaje a Venezuela aprende vida real we invite you stop being a colonialist liar tu tienes miedo de realidad?? why do you censor & attack nations USA?? you will never censor facts with name callings & colonialisms!!

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