Five reasons LGBT activists have been protesting about the situation in Russia.
With the Winter Olympics set to begin tomorrow, there have been protests held around the world against Russia’s repressive anti-gay laws.
The aim of the protests is to persuade the sponsors of the event (such as McDonalds and Coca-Cola) to publicly criticise the homophobic legislation. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has condemned attacks on the LGBT community in Russia, and over 200 authors have written an open letter to the Guardian denouncing Russia’s anti-gay and blasphemy laws, describing them as a ‘chokehold’ on creativity.
So why have LGBT activists been protesting about the situation in Russia? Here are five reasons:
1. The outlawing of the promotion of ‘non-traditional’ sexual relations
This law states that it aims to ‘protect the younger generation from the effects of homosexual propaganda’, and forbids the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality (which is eerily similar to the infamous Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 in the UK, repealed in 2003, which forbade the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities).
The anti-gay law in Russia makes it illegal to give the impression that gay relationships are normal. There have already been prosecutions as a result of this – for example one Russian newspaper was fined 50,000 roubles simply for printing the statement ‘being gay is normal’. Prosecutors in Russia are currently investigating a children’s library book on the grounds that it constitutes ‘gay propaganda’.
The law also threatens gay couples with children, who could be breaking the law by telling their children that their relationships are equal to those of straight couples.
Overall, the law effectively outlaws almost any expression of support for gay rights.
2. A crackdown on gay pride marches
The new anti-gay law is not the only example of harassment by the authorities which LGBT people face in Russia – in 2012 a Moscow court banned gay pride marches for 100 years
A gay pride march which did take place in St Petersburg last year was attacked by extreme right-wing nationalist and religious activists, and approximately 60 gay pride marchers were arrested.
3. Widespread and tolerated attacks on LGBT people
The frequent vigilante attacks on LGBT people, which are often ignored by the Russian authorities. The Channel 4 Dispatches documentary Hunted, broadcast last night, showed horrific examples of this. The police are reluctant to investigate homophobic violence, and victims often do not report attacks because they fear that reporting the offences will only lead to more harassment.
In the increasingly homophobic atmosphere, it would appear that the authorities are deliberately trying to send out the message that it is acceptable to attack LGBT people.
4. Homophobic rhetoric
The harmful rhetoric from Russian politicians has added to the hostile atmosphere surrounding the LGBT community in Russia. This rhetoric often accuses gays and lesbians of being paedophiles. For example, Russia’s deputy prime minister recently claimed that gay athletes should ‘leave the kids alone’.
Another notorious homophobic politician is Vitaly Milonov, who drafted the new anti-gay law, and who has likened homosexuality to bestiality.
5. A lack of human rights more generally
The situation for LGBT rights in Russia is a sign of the lack of human rights in general in today’s Russia.
For example, the anti-gay law is connected to the anti-blasphemy law, as both are backed by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been gradually increasing its influence since the collapse of Communism. The anti-blasphemy law places restrictions on freedom of speech, and imposes a prison sentence of up to three years for ‘offending religious feelings’.
The law was introduced in response to Pussy Riot’s ‘punk prayer’ in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral in February 2012. The treatment of Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova during their imprisonment also brings to mind the forced labour camps of the Soviet Union.
The anti-gay and anti-blasphemy laws appear to be an attempt by President Vladimir Putin to increase his support among conservative Russians, and to establish a reputation for Russia as a stronghold of traditional and religious values (as a result of this, some religious conservatives in the US are now praising him).
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