Russia Moving Backwards on Gay Rights

Today’s reading of a bill that would enact a nation-wide ban on ‘homosexual propaganda’ in Russia has passed in the State Duma.  It still has to pass two more readings and get the upper house’s approval before it becomes law.  Gay rights activists were reportedly assaulted by homophobic opponents at a staged ‘kiss-in’ protest outside the Duma this afternoon.  The bill lacks a description of what exactly it means by ‘homosexual propaganda’, which makes it prone to abuse by authorities, and means that gay couples could become subject to fines for acts such as kissing or holding hands in public. Protester Nikolai Alexeyev has been fined for holding a pro-gay-rights placard on a St Petersburg street corner, where the law is already in force (Kaliningrad also passed the law regionally this morning).

There is some speculation as to whether this draconian and anachronistic measure will win the approval of President Vladimir Putin, and reports say that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has already spoken out against it, commenting in a television interview that ‘not all the relations between people are subject to regulation’.  And Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of Vladimir Putin’s council on human rights, spoke out in favour of the gay community, saying, ‘Homosexuality is not a crime’.

But the greatest obstacle to those who support and promote gay rights is the fact that three-quarters of Russians support the bill, and that it is often independent groups who attack gay rights protests. The FT reports on some of the recent attacks faced by members of the LGBT community:

“Before people regarded gays with dislike but calmly, but now that the subject of gay rights is being discussed more publicly, passions have been stirred,” Mr Verkhovsky says. “When a minority starts to get certain rights, a very difficult period begins. That is what’s happening with us right now.”

Three months ago, a group of unknown masked thugs attacked a Moscow gay club, beating up patrons and spraying them with mace, and ransacking the club’s facilities.

At a gay rights protest in Moscow in 2011, a young woman was beaten up so savagely she needed a week at a hospital to recover, while her attacker walked free. More recently, homophobia has also become a currency in regional politics, with many new politicians, such as the new St Petersburg governor Georgy Poltavchenko, pushing anti-gay bills as a way to promote their political careers.

Read the full article here.

PHOTO: An unknown assailant attacks a gay rights activist (L) during a protest by activists outside the Duma, Russia’s lower house of Parliament, in Moscow January 25, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin