Graham Jones on the Worldwide Opposition to the St. Petersburg Homophobic Bill

12 February 2012

By Graham Jones

Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people face a dangerous and unjust world and in some places around the world the situation is just getting worse. 

The bill currently passing through the regional legislative assembly of St. Petersburg, Russia, is seeking to ban "public actions" and "propaganda" around "sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderness." This is an assault on the freedom of expression of Russia's LGBT community. 

There is provision in the bill to introduce fines for “public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgenderness amongst minors.” 

The bill will be signed into law by the Governor of St Petersburg if it passes its third hearing. If this happens, Amnesty International is concerned that it will adversely impact the freedom of expression and assembly of LGBTI individuals and is in breach of international human rights accords: 

The proposed legislation violates the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, as well as the right to non-discrimination and equality before the law, guaranteed by international human rights treaties to which Russia is a signatory. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In addition, it violates the Constitution of the Russian Federation itself, which prohibits discrimination and guarantees the right to freedom of expression. This bill will inscribe in law discrimination against LGBTI individuals which is already prevalent in Russia, perpetuate the view that LGBTI individuals are not worthy of the same human rights protections as their heterosexual friends, family and colleagues, and contribute to a climate of hostility and violence towards LGBTI individuals. 

The bill will also severely curtail the activities and operations of LGBTI organisations in St Petersburg. 

The St Petersburg LGBT Organisation “Coming Out” says: 

“St. Petersburg, the heart of the grassroots LGBT movement, is home of several strong LGBT organizations, including the LGBT organization Coming Out, the Russian LGBT Network, and Side by Side LGBT film festival. Similar laws were already implemented in 2006 in Ryazan, in Arkhangelsk in September 2011 and in December 2011 in Kostroma region. If passed in St. Petersburg, this measure could next be introduced in the State Duma, the federal parliament. 

If this law is passed, Russian LGBT will live in fear of punishment just for being open about sexual orientation in their social environment. It paves the way to legalized discrimination, justifies violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Moreover, under the pretence of protecting minors, this law in fact will lead to further isolation and greater number of suicides by homosexual adolescents in a country that is already leading in the numbers of teenage suicides. 

Besides laying the ground for legalized harassment and violations of human rights of LGBT, Russia is blatantly ignoring its federal laws, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention for Human Rights, the Council of Europe Recommendations and other decrees, as well as opinions of numerous Russian and international experts – lawyers, psychiatrists, sociologists – who point out the complete lack of scientific evidence or sociological data behind its assumptions. 

LGBT activists of St. Petersburg are not losing hope and are continuing to fight for their rights and dignity. Ahead is the third, and final, reading, after which the bill has to be signed into law by St. Petersburg governor, Mr. Poltavchenko. LGBT activists, their friends and colleagues, members of Russian and international human rights community and civil society, are continuing to campaign and raise the issue with Mr. Poltavchenko and Russian politicians on the federal level. Thousands of people around the world are asking their foreign officials to speak out ( More street protests in Russian and around the world are planned.” 

RFE/RL quotes the St Petersburg musician Gena Bogolepov who has admiited being stirred from his apathy by the threat of the consequences of this bill: 

“The problem is that [this law] can be used in any way that they want to use it. The term ‘propaganda’ is very wide. Any person who is homosexual may actually qualify as the ‘propaganda’ itself. This legislation unties the hands of the government [to act] against all transgendered, bisexual, and homosexual people.” 

The UK Foreign Office has expressed concerns that the legislation seems to equate “lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism” with “paedophilia”. “The message of this law, that homosexuality is unacceptable, let alone in any way similar to a crime like paedophilia, is wrong.” 

Following November’s first reading of the bill, lawmakers raised the maximum fines for promoting non-traditional sexual relationships. 

The fine for individuals was raised from 3,000 roubles to 5,000 roubles ($170), and for officials the amount went from 5,000 roubles to 50,000 roubles ($1,725). 

Human Rights Watch calls for action against the bill: 

On February 8, 2012, the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly held its second hearing of the draft law to impose penalties for “public activities to promote sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transsexuality.” The draft law was passed at second reading, 30 to 6. A similar law was passed in the Russian region of Kostroma in late December. If the St. Petersburg bill is approved at third reading, it will then become law, though it is unclear when the vote will take place. But supporters of human rights should use this window of opportunity to press the legislative assembly to ensure that Russia’s human rights obligations are observed and to urge them to reject this draconian, homophobic bill, which puts the St. Petersburg LGBT community at significant risk. 

Amnesty International are asking their supporters to send messages of concern to the Governor of St Petersburg and the Chair of the Legislative Committee. 

Apart from lobbying the authorities in Russia, we should not forget the brave people in St Petersburg who are publicly protesting against this bill. They deserve our deep respect and will welcome messages of international solidarity reflecting widespread revulsion against these grim homophobic proposals.

Graham Jones lives in Sheffield and has a lifelong interest in human rights in the Soviet Union and Russia. He was Amnesty International UK country coordinator for Russia and the Former Soviet Union for eleven years.