Russia will vote on jail time for LGBT affection in public

Walking hand-in-hand through Moscow turned into a frightening experience. (Photo courtesy of ChebuRussiaTV0
Walking hand-in-hand through Moscow turned into a frightening experience. Click on the image to see the 3:30-minute video with English subtitles. (Photo courtesy of ChebuRussiaTV)

Human Rights Watch researcher Tanya Cooper writes:

Dispatches: Jail Time for Being Gay in Russia

Russia is again making media headlines for all the wrong reasons. On January 19, parliament will hold the first reading of another abusive homophobic law, which proposes jailing people for public displays of non-heterosexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill was first introduced in October 2015 by two Communist Party members, Ivan Nikitchuk and Nikolai Arefyev. It proposes fines of between four and five thousand rubles (US$53-$66) for “the public expression of non-traditional sexual relations, manifested in a public demonstration of personal perverted sexual preferences in public places.” If such public displays occur “on territories and in institutions, providing educational, cultural or youth services,” the offender could face an additional penalty of up to 15 days of administrative arrest.

Amsterdam protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Amsterdam protest in April 2013 against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It is hard to exaggerate the sinister absurdity and abusive intent of this bill – it would effectively outlaw being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) and penalize people for expressing their identity, a crucial part of anyone’s existence. If passed, it will put President Vladimir Putin in an uncomfortable situation. Talking about Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law a few weeks before Russia hosted the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, Putin insisted that Russia was a safe country for LGBT people: “We don’t ban anything, we don’t grab people, we don’t have any [criminal or administrative] responsibility for these type of relations, unlike many other countries […].”

But the new bill proposes to do just that: send people to jail for kissing, holding hands, or simply for public behavior that authorities consider non-gender-conforming. Such legislation would further escalate the rabid homophobia and transphobia in Russia, putting LGBT Russians at further risk of violence and discrimination.

The State Duma’s Legal Directorate concluded in its review that the Communists’ bill was unclear and vague, but it appears that the first reading of the bill will go ahead as scheduled. If the members of parliament have any regard at all for the country’s constitution and international human rights obligations, they know that they should immediately reject this bill. After all, does Russia really want to make news headlines for flouting the most basic norms of rights protection and portray itself as among the leading intolerant, homophobic, and unsafe countries in the world?

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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