In a fresh attack on Russia’s LGBTI community, Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party last week brought a backwards and authoritarian bill before St. Petersburg's city legislature, imposing a penalty of up to $1600 on anyone found guilty of “public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors" in the city.
Human rights groups warn that the bill, which was unanimously passed on its first of three readings, will give the authorities cover for banning any public LGBTI activities, from Pride marches to campaigns against homophobia. Meanwhile LGBTI travel services are already advising those visiting St. Petersburg to watch out, lest they inadvertently fall foul of the wide-reaching regulations. Ominously LGBTI people will now face the same penalties as those ‘promoting’ paedophilia – a clear signal of how the United Russia Party view large sections of Russian society.
Perhaps even more worrying than the content itself however, is the rhetoric that accompanied the new legislation. The bill’s sponsor stated that St. Petersburg, birthplace of leading Russian LGBTI group Kryl’ya and home to the International Lesbian and Gay Association’s Russian branch, is facing “a wave popularizing sexual perversion.” He was quickly joined by colleagues outrageously comparing consensual homosexual sex to child abuse.
Whilst horrific, such bigotry from Russia’s authorities is hardly surprising; for years the LGBTI community has faced a series of official restraints, numerous arrests and appalling state-supported violence; often stirring memories of the Soviet regime, which punished homosexuality with imprisonment and hard labour.
Scapegoating and stirring up populist hatred has also long been a favourite tactic of Putin’s, frequently aimed at ethnic or religious minorities as well as the LGBTI community, in order to detract attention from economic difficulties or political corruption. With just weeks to go before Russia’s parliamentary elections, it is hardly surprising that such underhanded behaviour is once again coming to the fore.
That this is continuing, despite previous rulings by the European Court of Human Rights that the Russian authorities were guilty of discrimination and violations of freedom of assembly against gay citizens, is illustrative of their flagrant disregard of any external pressure when it comes to persecuting their own people.
Still, this should not deter governments and groups around the world from joining organisations such as Amnesty International in calling for the latest draconian bill to be halted and scrapped. Whether in Uganda, Iran, Russia or anywhere else in the world, bigoted legislation targeting innocent people on the basis of their sexuality must always be vocally –and loudly - opposed.