Russia will host the Winter Olympics in Sochi six months from now, the World Cup in 2018 and is bidding for the World Expo in 2020. But a new law banning expressions of support for gay rights has generated a worldwide backlash.
A gay activist is attacked in front of Moscow’s State Duma (parliament) earlier this year. Six more are detained in July after attempting to stage a protest outside a children’s library in the Russian capital.
Homophobic violence and stigma are rampant in Russia, even as support for same-sex marriage has steadily increased in the West.
St. Petersburg’s “gay propaganda” ban, adopted nationally and signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, was authored by Russian lawmaker Vitaly Milonov.
“Without a doubt, we will demand that law enforcement employees defend us, defend our children who came here with us, and stop propaganda of sodomy and pedophilia of children,” said Milonov.
The law is supposed to protect minors by banning public discussion of “non-traditional sexual relationships.” But critics say it’s really an attempt to criminalize homosexuality and Russia’s fledgling gay-rights movement.
The legislation is part of a broad attack on civil society groups in Russia, says British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
“We’re seeing journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers and political opposition activists being harassed, arrested, and, in some cases, framed on trumped up charges. So that’s the context of this new law. Its part of a creeping authoritarianism,” said Tatchell.
And that has not gone unnoticed. In the West, gay bars have dumped Russian vodka and there have been calls for a boycott of the Sochi Games.
On Saturday, thousands in London and other major cities protested against the anti-gay law. British actor Stephen Fry urged athletes competing at the Olympics to show solidarity with Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community with a simple gesture.
“They just need to show some form of solidarity at the games, because the games are going to happen. They can’t chop their arms off before you get into the Olympic village, so just do that [crossing his arms to form an X,” said Fry.
President Obama weighed in last week.
“Nobody’s more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia,” said President Obama.
Russians overwhelmingly support the gay propaganda ban. Peter Tatchell says the country’s social conservatism plays into Putin’s hands.
“In Russia, the Putin far-right regime, in alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church, is turning homosexuality into a litmus test of Russian identity and culture.It’s a very, very good diversionary tactic, and I think Putin and his party are deliberately exploiting it in order to win political advantage and deflect criticism from their own failures,” said Tatchell.
Russian officials, including U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin – confronted by protesters in New York last week – say the law does not ban homosexuality but was written to protect children.
Gay rights advocates say it can be used to arrest anyone who appears to support LGBT rights.
(Photo: Patrik Millikin/sxc.hu)