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Russia's Ban On 'Homosexual Propaganda'

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The fight against homophobia is a global one. Russia, which, twenty years ago took one step forward by decriminalising homosexuality, recently took two leaps back. A law has been passed in eight major cities, including St Petersburg, that bans "public action aimed at propagandising sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism, and transgenderism among minors".

It is now illegal to publish an article or put up an exhibition condoning homosexuality; those charged will face a hefty fine, anywhere between $200 and $20,000. However, it is still legal for same-sex couples to show affection in public, but the number of gay-related crimes has reportedly gone up since the law was passed in St Petersburg in March.

In response to what they describe as an 'absurd' law, the editors of Colta.ru - a Russian arts and culture website - have curated a project, With Love from St Petersburg! [С любовью из Питера!]. Colta created picture postcards of nine gay couples kissing outside the city's most famous landmarks, such as the Hermitage. The idea is to show St Petersburg as a gay-friendly city, which, right now, it is anything but.

The law's main purpose is to mobilise Russia's conservative majority. "The notion that homosexuality is shameful and punishable is becoming established in people's minds," explains Mikhail Ratgauz, deputy editor of Colta. "So we wanted to ask the people of St Petersburg not to just come out of the closet, but to come out right into the most famous and busy streets of the city. Not to hide, but to show off their relationships."

For Vladimir Putin, this law and other repressive measures will help him cling to power in his third term as president. Instead of appealing to enlightened ideas about freedom of speech and self-expression, he is willing to divide the nation and to search for the "enemy within". "The main reason for the law is not the fines, but to poison the atmosphere," says Ratgauz. "We might not see it in courts of law, but we are seeing it in self-censorship and the way that people think."

The law comes in the wake of December's anti-Putin protests in Moscow and the Pussy Riot trial, which has seen three young women jailed for two years for singing an anti-Putin song in a church. It is quite likely that, at some point, this law and its extortionate fines will be used to put a rebellious magazine or TV channel out of business.

But for now, Colta's editors are not worried. They found volunteers for their project via social media sites. Although they didn't encounter anything more than curious glances from passersby while being photographed kissing in public places, the couples in the pictures look furtive, as if they are stealing a forbidden kiss - their embraces are a protest, rather than a right. "Taking part in the project," explains Ratgauz, "was a real stand for their identity and self-determination." And, in the current climate, for their courage.

You can see the photos from Colta's project on The Huffington Post UK here.

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