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A cultural crossroads between Asia and Europe, Russia has a long, rich, and often violent heritage of varied influences and stark confrontations in regard to its patterns of same-sex love.
Topics In the News
Russian Homophobia
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 04/13/12
Last updated on: 04/13/12
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Detail from a video filmed in St. Petersburg by allout.org.

On April 11-12, 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted the G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting at Blair House in Washington, D.C. Attending the meeting, in addition to Clinton, were the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom. The G8 foreign ministers adopted a resolution in favor of glbtq rights, but the vote was 7-1, with Russia casting the sole negative vote.

As Alexander Kolyander explains in an article in the Wall Street Journal, Russia's rejection of the G-8 resolution is part of a growing pattern of homophobia exhibited by the Russian government and people.

The statement issued at the conclusion of the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting read as follows: "The ministers reaffirmed that human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all individuals, male and female, including lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals. These individuals often face death, violence, harassment and discrimination because of their sexual orientation in many countries around the world."

Appended to this statement document was a footnote, which declared that "the Russian Federation disassociates itself from this language given the absence of any explicit definition or provision relating to such a group or such persons as separate rights holders under international human rights law."

Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov made his country's position clear. He denounced the G8 statement, alleging that "under the pretext of protecting the so-called sexual minorities, in effect there's aggressive propaganda and the imposition of certain behavior and values that may insult the majority of the society."

Earlier this year, the parliament of St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, approved a law banning "homosexual propaganda" directed at minors, with fines of up to $17,000 for offenders. Two people have already been prosecuted for displaying a sign reading "being gay is normal" near a youth club.

The law, which passed the legislature on a vote of 29 to 5, defines propaganda of homosexuality as "the targeted and uncontrolled dissemination of generally accessible information capable of harming the health and moral and spiritual development of minors," particularly that which could create "a distorted impression" of "marital relations."

Igor Kochetkov, the head of the Russian L.G.B.T. Network, a rights group based in St. Petersburg, called the premise of the law "absurd."

"You can also adopt a law against turning off the light of the sun, but no one has the ability to do this. Even if someone wanted to, no amount of propaganda is going to turn a heterosexual gay."

"This is a law that can be used, and will be used, to conduct searches of organizations and prevent public actions," he said. "Most importantly, it will be used for official propaganda. Officially homosexuality will be considered illegal, something incorrect and something that cannot be discussed with children. It will create a negative atmosphere in society around gays and lesbians as well as our organizations."

Three Russian regions have followed St. Petersburg's suit. A draft of similar legislation has been submitted to the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, by the Novosibirsk city parliament.

Earlier this year an attempt by Russian activists to register as an NGO to establish a Pride House for the 2014 Olympics, slated for the Russian city of Sochi, was roundly rejected by the Russian Ministry of Justice. When activists appealed in court, their efforts met with defeat and disdain.

In a decision released in March, an appellate judge, Svetlana Mordovina, said that the aims of the Pride movement "contradict the basics of public morality and the policy of the state in the area of family motherhood and childhood protection."

She added, "The activities of the [Pride House] movement lead to propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation which can undermine the security of the Russian society and the state, provoke social-religious hatred, which is the feature of the extremist character of the activity."

The Pride House established for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 proved to be enormously popular among both gay and straight athletes. The same is likely to be true for the Pride House at the 2012 London Olympics.

I would hope that Russia's disdain for the human rights of glbtq people might prompt calls for a boycott of the Russian Olympics and that the United States Olympic Committee would support such a boycott.

The international gay rights organization AllOut.org earlier called for a boycott by tourists of St. Petersburg, Russia's largest tourist attraction, to protest the anti-gay legislation recently passed there. They have now issued another video calling for civil disobedience in response to the legislation.

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