Russia’s reaction against gay rights starts in St Petersburg

Russia has become the worldwide target of gay activists for its new law banning “gay propaganda.” St. Petersburg is the birthplace of Russia’s reaction against gay rights.

In St. Petersburg, Kirill Kalugin, a gay activist, tested Russia’s new ban on gay rallies. He chose national paratroopers’ day — in front of the world famous Hermitage Museum.

He said being openly gay in Russia is not very safe. But activists get used to feeling unsafe.

Kalugin was protesting Russia’s new law that bans “homosexual propaganda.”

A few blocks away, at the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, Vitaly Milonov wrote Russia’s first gay propaganda ban.  Now this legislator leads Russia’s reaction against gay rights.  “We do not have enough authority to call a same sex couple a family.  A family is a man and a woman, it’s said by God,” he assered. “The first society exists from two individuals – Adam and Eve.  It was the first family.”

Far from the protests, Alla Kuzmina, a St. Petersburg business student, said Russians oppose gay rights parades.  “You want to be gay, be gay.  But not walking in lingerie in front of my window, where my 5-year-old kid is looking out the window.” she stated.

Gay rights parades in Europe and the United States increasingly include calls for a boycott of next February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Lilia Shevtsova said the Kremlin underestimated the impact of the gay rights issue. “Because they couldn’t understand that this predatory law that the Duma passed would raise such a scandal outside, such a huge, powerful wave in the Western world,” she stated.

Russian President Vladimir Putin downplayed the controversy in an interview he gave this month to the American news agency, The Associated Press.

He said Russia will faithfully follow the Olympic principles of nondiscrimination.

Kalugin, the activist, said this is for foreign consumption.

He said discrimination does exist here, and that Russia’s human rights problem will not be solved as long as Putin remains in power.

When President Barack Obama visited St. Petersburg in early September, he met with gay and community activists. Among them, Olga Lenkova, works with “Vykhod,” or “Coming Out,” a gay rights group.   “We were talking about the abuses of human right against LGBT people. We were talking about hate crimes not being properly investigated and prosecuted.  We were talking — and suggesting to President Obama — that these issues should be issues of international interest,” she said.

Hours earlier that day, gay rights protesters and their Orthodox Christian opponents traded chants in a St. Petersburg park. Three months after Russia’s gay propaganda ban went into effect, the debate is just heating up — inside Russia, and outside.

(Image: Aivazovsky)



James Brooke VOA Moscow Bureau Chief

James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow last summer – the hottest on record. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.