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It's been a busy month.  The fine folks at the Russian LGBT-network have put together a handy guide to existing and proposed laws banning homosexual "propaganda" in front of minors, a scary bit of legislative homophobia that could make any public statement of same-sex attraction a punishable act.  The guide is useful and comprehensive; unfortunately it's also in Russian, so I'll provide a few translated excerpts instead of the whole document.

I'm sticking to the general format of their release, with each numbered section.  For ease of reading I've also hyperlinked some terms that may be unfamiliar and provided some context for the regions under discussion.

Follow me below...

A quick and dirty introduction to the current legislative state of affairs:

At present two Russian oblasts - Ryazan and Arkhangelsk - have their own laws providing liability for so-called "homosexual propaganda among minors".  In St. Petersburg a similar bill passed its first reading (by unanimous vote) and awaits its second.  Discussion of the bill presented to the legislature of the Kostroma oblast is scheduled for December 27th, 2011.

The Kostroma meeting did indeed take place on the 27th (more on this below).  A similar bill has been proposed, but not yet acted upon, for Moscow.  Here's the geography for the uninitiated.  The total number of people affected by these laws, passed and proposed, comes in just under 20 million:

modified from original at Wikimedia Commons
1. The Ryazan oblast

The Ryazan law is the oldest, having been on the books since 2006 (note: a thousand rubles is around $32):

Article 3.10. Public Acts aimed at promoting homosexuality (sodomy and lesbianism) among juveniles

Public acts aimed at promoting homosexuality (sodomy and lesbianism) among minors are punishable by administrative fine for ordinary citizens in the amount of one thousand five hundred to two thousand rubles, for government officials in the amount of two to four thousand rubles, and for legal persons from ten to twenty thousand rubles.

On March 30, 2009 two activists were detained and fined for carrying around placards saying "Homosexuality is normal" and "I'm proud of my homosexuality. Ask me about it."  They later lost their appeal, and the ruling from the Constitutional Court stings:

In itself the ban on this kind of propaganda - activities toward the purposeful and unregulated dissemination of information that could pose harm to health and moral and spiritual development, like forming distorted ideas about social equivalence between traditional and non-traditional marriage - among those who do not have the benefit of age to evaluate this kind of information independently, cannot be considered a violation of the constitutional rights of citizens.

Worse, the decision helped form the legal strategy in the Arkhangelsk oblast, where a similar law quickly followed.  The court ordered that such a ban is not "disproportionate to the freedom of speech", and the plaintiffs are now seeking relief from the European Court of Human Rights.  It won't be the first time.

2. The Arkhangelsk oblast

In September 2011 the Arkhangelsk oblast passed the first of its two anti-gay laws banning "public actions aimed at homosexual propaganda toward minors" (Article 10)  When Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT-network attempted to submit a challenge to the law, the civil court rejected his application, saying that it was a constitutional rather than civil challenge.  In the meantime the second law passed, amending the first by setting the amount of fines not unlike what we saw in the Ryazan statute.  It also mandated greatly increased fines for repeat offenders.

3. St. Petersburg

Together the Ryazan and Arkhangelsk oblasts contain about two and half million people.  That's why the recent decision to move forward a similar statute in a major city like St. Petersburg has taken the lion's share of attention.  We know that the legislation was introduced by Putin's party United Russia and in particular the pet project of Vitaly Milonov in coordination with the Russian Orthodox Church, and it ups the ante on anti-LGBT bigotry considerably:

Article 7_1. Public actions aimed at promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgender among minors

Public actions aimed at promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgender toward juveniles are punishable by an administrative fine on ordinary citizens in the amount of one thousand to three thousand rubles, on government officials from three thousand to five thousand rubles, and for legal persons from ten thousand to fifty thousand rubles.

Article 7_2. Public actions aimed at promoting pedophilia

Public actions aimed at promoting pedophilia involve imposition of an administrative fine on ordinary citizens in the amount of one thousand to three thousand rubles, on government officials from three thousand to five thousand rubles, and on legal persons from ten thousand to fifty thousand rubles.

Note that the category of transgender is now explicitly included in this proposed law.  I suppose we should be thankful that they separated pedophilia into a separate article, even though both are being proposed as a package deal.  At any rate it shows that bigots in Russia have been more successful than their American counterparts in linking the idea of non-normative sexuality with non-consensual rape of minors.  Ugh.

In reviewing the proposed law the Legal Department of the city cautioned that the statute mixed up sexuality with gender, and orientation with medical "deviance", and the bill was temporarily shelved.  Unfortunately the only amendments since then have dealt with the level of fines imposed: they were all increased substantially.  The bill has passed its first reading and awaits its second; in the meantime Milonov has this posted on the city's website regarding the new law:

1) after the third paragraph add the following paragraph:

"Note. In this Article public actions aimed at promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgender among minors should be understood as efforts toward the purposeful and unregulated dissemination of information that could pose harm to health and moral and spiritual development of minors, like forming distorted ideas about social equivalence between traditional and non-traditional marriage."

Sound familiar?  The Constitutional Court's formulation has become the norm for defenses of the new laws; the creators hope that by hewing closely to the wording of the decision they can deflect challenges to it.

Local activists are mounting a brave and well-coordinated campaign to prevent this from becoming law; in particular the Russian LGBT-network, the group "Vykhod" (lit. "coming out"), and the LGBT film festival "Side by Side" have managed to turn this into an international embarrassment.  

*** Speaking of which, you can do your part here. ***

As GayRussia notes, Russian LGBTs have never been able to "propagandize" openly, so laws like this one are just extreme codifications of existing practice.   Russian social conservatives can make political hay out of beating up this particular minority, and it's no accident so much attention has focused on the level of fines involved.

4. The Kostroma oblast

This appeared on the website for the Kostroma oblast's legislature on December 15th:

Among the issues discussed were amendments to the law "On Guarantees of the Rights of the Child" [...] to ban public acts aimed at promoting pedophilia, homosexuality (sodomy and lesbianism), bisexuality, and transgender toward minors. [...]

Similar legislation has already been successfully operating in the territory of some regions of the country. According to deputies, the introduction of this ban would protect the morals of the family, and preserve the physical, mental and spiritual health of young people. The committee hopes that at the next meeting of the regional parliament this document will be supported unanimously.

Note that this is becoming the increasingly widespread code for anti-LGBT bigotry: "rights of the child".  

On December 27th, the date of the meeting, a group of protestors showed up with placards denouncing the proposed legislation: "Stop the homophobic law!", "Gays and lesbians are not pedophiles!  Deputies, turn on your brains!", "Deputies, leave the gays alone and tackle unemployment!", "We are your neighbors and coworkers! We are your children!"  Of the eleven people who showed up to picket, five were detained, including Kochetkov.  From the police station he had this to say:

Two unlawful actions took place in Kostroma today: the deputies adopted a discriminatory law, and for no reason at all the police arrested innocent people who were protesting against the bill.  And they made two big mistakes.  The protests will only get bigger, and we will not stop until these shameful, homophobic laws are repealed.

In the meantime the bill had passed its first reading almost unanimously: there was a single abstention.  The protesters were eventually released, and they await a hearing later this month.

The Commission on Human Rights

Yes, Russia has one, and they haven't been too eager to discuss the law.   In response to a flurry of letters protesting the new laws, they took the audacious stance that they were not in a position to comment at all, and posted this snippy response on their website last month:

The Commission is not familiar with the bill against which the applicants are filing a complaint, nor with the proposals on the introduction to St. Petersburg of civil liability in the form of a fine for public action promoting all forms of sexual orientation among minors, and is therefore unable to give a legal assessment of the proposed regulation.

The appeals submitted to the Commission can not be classified as complaints because they do not contain any information about specific cases of violations of human rights and freedoms and are little more than suggestions of possible violations of these rights and freedoms in the future.

In addition, it is impossible not to note that the aforementioned appeals are
absolutely identical in content, that is, they in fact represent a collective appeal, replicated in dozens of copies, perhaps in order to paralyze the working staff of the Commission.

In that regard we consider ourselves justified in sending this reply only to the first of the applicants - A. S. Pastykov - while also posting the reply on Commission's website. We therefore consider all correspondence on the issues raised in these appeals completed.

Ouch.

Appendix: The Russian Orthodox contingent

As was the Church of LDS to California's Prop 8, so is the Russian Orthodox Church, and in particular the Moscow patriarchate, to LGBT rights in Russia.  They've been a key part of the effort to recast anti-LGBT bigotry as a "human rights" issue, insofar as these are the supposed "rights of children" not to be subjected to confusing and deviant behavior.  

Last month's issue of Church Herald, the ROC's official journal, contained the article "The right of children to protection. On the legal validity of limits to homosexual propaganda toward minors".  The whole article is a doozy of read, making the case that children have a fundamental human right not to be preached to by perverts (ugh), but I'll excerpt the most offensive parts.  For one, the author argues that "homosexual propaganda" should already fit our existing legal frameworks, as defined by international humanitarian law:

Under paragraph 18 of Article 11 of General Recommendation Number 19, "Violence against Women", adopted by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against women at the Eleventh Session (1992), "Sexual Harassment" can be understood, in particular, as sexually colored remarks, display of pornographic materials, or sexual harassment in the form of statements. Many children who have notions of morality and family values derived ​​from their family and their people reasonably perceive homosexual propaganda, the more publicly imposed on them in its aggressive form, as intentionally cruel and degrading treatment of human dignity.

So if children are raised to be bigoted, it's the fault of gay people for causing them emotional distress by existing: furthermore, this is just like sexual harassment of women.  If that's not enough to get your ire up, the author kicks it up a notch in both audacity and offensiveness:

In accordance with Article 34 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20/11/1989, States-Parties shall take all necessary measures to prevent the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity. Forcing homosexual propaganda onto children is definitely inducement and/or forcing a child to engage in unlawful sexual activity.

So there you have it: being gay is like raping a child.  Just so you know.

So what now?

For both better and worse, the LGBT fight has been completely swamped by a much bigger story: the protests against last month's elections to the national Duma.  This is a massive, nationwide political movement that has government officials much more worried than the dozen protesters who showed up in Kostroma.  If anything the government would be happy to divert more attention toward socially conservative and broadly popular issues like anti-gay legislation.

In the meantime you may see reports that LGBT activists have been unwelcome at the political protests; it's both possible and likely that this kind of thing has occurred, but take these stories with the usual grain of salt.  For one thing, the protest movement shares with Occupy a broad and decentralized membership, so it's hard to know who exactly is doing the rejecting.  Still there have been multiple reports, so it's something to keep an eye on in the next few weeks.

I'll update as more stories come in.  Hopefully this was helpful, and a big thanks to the Russian LGBT-network for putting most of this information together.

5:16 PM PT: More on the participation of LGBT activists in the election protests: in a comment below kalmoth linked to this article suggesting that they were more welcome than not, at least in Moscow.  Nikolai Baev, who was involved in organizing the ill-fated Moscow pride parades, wonders whether the relative "tolerance" in Moscow is due to the parades having had some deeper impact - unlike, say, in Novosibirsk, where an activist was beaten for having a rainbow flag.  He closes by saying that there is little hope,

should the opposition take power, that they will legalize gay marriage or put forth anti-discrimination laws.  But perhaps they won't so blatantly ban gay parades, spitting on the laws and decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, like Putin's junta does.  What was happening up on stage was a lot less interesting than down below in the crowd, suddenly manifesting as an endless diversity of civil society, the very pluralism we've forgotten from the long ago days of perestroika.  Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender men and women finally came out of the woodwork, declaring themselves part of that diversity.  And this is the first step toward legalization of same-sex marriage, and towards total equality for LGBT citizens in Russia.

Originally posted to De hominis dignitate on Tue Jan 03, 2012 at 12:55 PM PST.

Also republished by Milk Men And Women and Community Spotlight.

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