Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has signed into law the new homophobic Bill that criminalises gay freedom of expression. The adoption of children by foreign same-sex couples has also been banned and gay organisations that receive financial donations from overseas are being fined as 'foreign agents'. These are the latest examples of an escalating trend towards homophobic repression in Russia.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) campaigners in St Petersburg who attempted to hold a Gay Pride march last Saturday were violently attacked by neo-Nazis and ultra nationalists. The police failed to protect them. At least seven LGBT people were hospitalised with injuries. Around 60 peaceful LGBT protesters and some straight allies were arrested, with many being roughly manhandled by the police and detained for hours in police stations.
Previously, on 25 May, an attempted Moscow Gay Pride parade was broken up and the participants arrested. Earlier, the parade was issued with an official banning order and the organiser, Nikolai Alekseev, was sent two intimidating letters by the state authorities.
Previously, the Russian courts banned Moscow Gay Pride parades for the next 100 years.
In June, the St Petersburg LGBT organisation, Coming Out, was fined 500,000 roubles (nearly £10,000) for allegedly accepting overseas funding and failing to register as a 'foreign agent'. The Russian LGBT film festival, Bok o Bok (Side by Side), suffered a similar fate, despite receiving no funding from abroad. These fines are huge by Russian standards. They are a debilitating financial burden on both organisations.
Last month, a Russian MP, Alexander Mikhailov, a deputy in the regional Trans-Baikal parliament, announced plans to introduce a law to have LGBT people seized by soldiers and publicly flogged in town squares.
At least two men suspected of being gay/bisexual have been beaten to death in frenzied, bloody attacks in recent weeks. Others have been badly bashed with fists, boots, knives and bottles. The police mostly do not take anti-LGBT violence seriously and fail to give support to the victims.
I salute the courageous activists in Moscow, St Petersburg and other Russian cities who have repeatedly risked their lives and freedom; protesting peacefully for LGBT equality. Often beaten and arrested, they have shown extraordinary, inspirational bravery as they make their claim for equal rights.
The new anti-gay law is symptomatic of President Putin's increasing authoritarianism and his wider, generalised crackdown on civil society. It violates the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, and the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia has signed and pledged to uphold.
Although the new legislation is ostensibly aimed at prohibiting the dissemination of so-called 'gay propaganda' to young persons under 18, in reality its damaging effect will be much wider. It will criminalise any public advocacy of LGBT equality or any expression of gay identity where a person younger than 18 years old could potentially see it.
In practice, LGBT marches, festivals, posters, magazines, books, films, welfare advice and safer sex education are likely to face criminal prosecution, as will individuals who identify themselves as gay in public.
Any statement that homosexuality is natural and normal will become criminal, as will the provision of gay-affirmative counselling or safer sex information to LGBT youth.
Putin seems hell-bent on forcing LGBT people back into the closet and locking the door.
This law is effectively a blanket censorship of any public expression of same-sex love, gay identity and LGBT human rights.
It could result in the purging of books, films and plays with LGBT characters and story-lines from libraries, galleries, theatres and cinemas, including many classic works of art and literature.
Without question, it's one of the most sweeping and harsh laws against LGBT freedom of expression anywhere in the world.
No wonder some people fear that under Putin's increasingly autocratic rule Russia is reverting to the state-sanctioned homophobia of the Tsarist and Stalin eras. The liberalising period in the early 1990s, which led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993, now just seems a distant aberration.
If you have not already done so, please sign the All Out petition against LGBT persecution in Russia and consider making a donation to the Peter Tatchell Foundation, to support out campaigns in solidarity with Russian LGBTs.
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