Breaking News: Interfax, Gazeta.Ru and other sources are now reporting that during its session today (November 23), the Petersburg Legislative Assembly has decided to postpone indefinitely the second reading of its draft law banning the “promotion of homosexuality.” United Russia deputy Vitaly Milonov, the bill’s author, is quoted as saying that the postponement was necessary in order to “clarify all the legal definitions involved in this law.”
The Mariinsky Palace, home of the legislative assembly, was picketed this morning by several dozen LGBT activists and their supporters.
It’s clear that the spirited fightback by local activists and the extremely negative publicity the proposed bill has generated in the international press and international public opinion have begun to sway minds in the legislative assembly.
Help activists keep up the pressure by:
Amnesty International Slams Gay Law
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
November 23, 2011
A protester holds a sign Sunday reading ‘I’m a lesbian. A person, not propaganda.’ Photo: Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly is encountering increased criticism from within Russia and abroad as it gets ready to pass United Russia’s anti-gay law in a second reading. Meanwhile, Russian officials are talking about expanding the anti-“gay propaganda” law proposed by Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev’s party to the entire nation.
Amnesty International, which condemned the draft law as “draconian,” warned that the measure will rule out nearly all public events carried out by or on behalf of LGBT people and organizations and their reaching out to the media and the Internet, severely curtailing the publication of anything relating to LGBT rights or providing assistance or advice.
“This bill is a thinly-veiled attempt to legalize discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Russia’s second-biggest city,” Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director Nicola Duckworth said in a statement Friday.
“The notion that [LGBT] rights activists are somehow converting Russia’s youth through ‘propaganda’ would be laughable if the potential effects of this new law weren’t so dangerous and wide-reaching… Instead of seeking to restrict freedom of expression and assembly for [LGBT] people, the Russian authorities should be doing more to safeguard their rights and protect them from discrimination and violence.”
Earlier, the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights addressed the Legislative Assembly in an open letter, reminding it that Russia is party to both the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which make clear that the freedom to receive and impart information cannot be limited, except under the ambit of public order.
“We’re getting great behind-the-scenes support, with certain [European] deputies and ministers calling the Legislative Assembly’s deputies and [its United Russia chair Vadim] Tyulpanov and speaking to them,” said Igor Kochetkov, director of the LGBT rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out).
“Sometimes even we don’t know who exactly is calling, but we know that it’s happening.”
The All Out web site launched a petition against the bill Monday. It had been signed by 115,345 people around the world by Tuesday evening. [Editor’s Note. On Wednesday morning, it had been signed by 157,265 people.]
On Saturday, LGBT activists seized the podium of a forum for NGOs from Northern Europe and Russia, whose priority topics were equality, tolerance and gender equality. Local officials spoke about the tolerance program and human rights protection in the city.
Kochetkov, who managed to get hold of the microphone between the speeches, urged the forum to draft a resolution on the issue, and the forum’s international participants to inform their governments about gross violations of human rights in Russia.
Activists in the audience had posters, one of which read “Tolerance is for society, not only for international forums!”
The draft law, which was introduced by the chair of the Legislative Assembly’s legislation committee and United Russia deputy Vitaly Milonov on Nov. 11, was passed by the Legislative Assembly almost unanimously in its first hearing on Nov. 16.
Thirty seven deputies voted for the law, one against and one abstained.
The second hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 23. The bill will become a law when it has passed three hearings and is signed by the governor.
In the past week, the bill was backed by a federal official and a number of Moscow deputies who suggested a similar draft law might be introduced in Moscow as well.
Valentina Matviyenko, Chair of the Federation Council and former St. Petersburg Governor, supported the bill when speaking in the Ryazan Oblast on Thursday, adding it might be expanded throughout the whole of Russia.
“If I were a member of the Legislative Assembly, I would support this bill, because no one has the right to involve a child in things like that,” Matviyenko was quoted as saying.
“And everything that destroys the mind and health of a child, a minor — all this should be strictly blocked. If this law has a positive effect, then we can consider expanding it to the national level.”
Natalya Yevdokimova and Ksenia Vakhrusheva of the Yabloko Democratic Party see the bill as a populist pre-election stunt by United Russia as polls show the party rapidly losing popularity.
Alexander Vinnikov of the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council sees the bill as more than just a pre-election stunt.
Drawing comparison to anti-gay legislation in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that adopted laws punishing homosexuals in the 1930s, Vinnikov explained the bill as an attempt at consolidating society on the foundation of hatred toward a minority.
“Every totalitarian regime started from persecuting gays. I urge the public to condemn this bill as a drift toward totalitarianism,” he said Tuesday.
As public protests in St. Petersburg continued, the activists encountered arrests and violence. Two activists were detained outside the Legislative Assembly on Nov. 16 and charged with holding an unauthorized rally.
On Sunday, after the largest rally against the bill held so far, which took place on Palace Square near the Winter Palace, several supporters were beaten by young men wearing black coats and hoods. The rally consisted of a dozen activists standing with posters, while about 150 supported them with applause.
A group of social workers were assaulted soon after the rally as they walked near the Moika River, close to Palace Square. Six to eight attackers charged them, punching and kicking them, activists said.
The attack left a young Russian woman with a bruised face, another with a cut lip, and one German man with a broken tooth, according to Vykhod’s press officer Gulya Sultanova.
November 18, 2011
Russia: St. Petersburg urged to halt draconian anti-gay bill
Amnesty International today urged authorities in Russia’s second largest city not to enact a homophobic bill, saying it would threaten freedom of expression and fuel discrimination against the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.
The bill, which St. Petersburg’s city assembly passed nearly unanimously on the first of three readings on Wednesday, effectively bans public events by LGBTI people and organizations under the pretext of protecting minors.
If enacted, the law would allow authorities to impose fines of up to the equivalent of US$1,600 for “public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.”
“This bill is a thinly veiled attempt to legalize discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Russia’s second-biggest city,” said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director.
“The notion that LGBTI rights activists are somehow converting Russia’s youth through ‘propaganda’ would be laughable, if the potential effects of this new law weren’t so dangerous and wide-reaching.”
Local LGBTI rights activists have blasted the law, saying it will provide legal cover for banning any of their actions, including the distribution of information leaflets or even actions against homophobia.
Under the measure, freedom of assembly and expression for LGBTI groups would be prohibited anywhere children might be present. This would rule out nearly all public events carried out by or on behalf of LGBTI people and organizations.
The publication of anything relating to LGBTI rights or providing assistance or advice – including informative leaflets as well as publications in the media and on the internet – would also be severely curtailed.
Other Russian cities like Moscow have planned legislation to ban “propaganda for homosexuality”, while Arkhangelsk and the region of Riazan have already introduced such legislation.
Although consensual same-sex activity was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, LGBTI people still face widespread discrimination and violence.
LGBTI activists’ attempts to organize Pride marches, cultural festivals and other events in major cities, including St. Petersburg, have frequently been met with official red tape and violence from anti-gay groups, among them people associating themselves with the Orthodox Church. Violent attacks against LGBTI activists often go unpunished.
“Legislation like that proposed in St. Petersburg will only further marginalize LGBTI people, and must be stopped,” said Nicola Duckworth.
“Instead of seeking to restrict freedom of expression and assembly for LGBTI people, Russian authorities should be doing more to safeguard their rights and protect them from discrimination and violence.”