International Community Must Confront Putin and Russia on Anti-Gay Legislation


There’s been quite a bit of talk recently about Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” legislation–signed into law on June 30 by President Vladimir Putin–because of this month’s World Athletics Championships in Moscow and the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi as well as Edward Snowden’s decision to defect to Russia. Naturally there is concern about discrimination against gay athletes and coaches at international sporting events; and Snowden has been criticized because his supposed passion for human rights is belied by his embrace of Putin and his disastrous human rights record.

Here’s an explanation of the new law at PolicyMic: Russia’s Anti-Gay Law, Spelled Out in Plain English.

On June 30 this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” thus opening a new, dark chapter in the history of gay rights in Russia. The law caps a period of ferocious activities by the Russian government aimed at limiting the rights of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people.

The violations of fundamental, constitutionally protected rights of Russia’s gay citizens have included multiple bans on gay pride parades in Moscow and other cities, hefty fines to gay rights groups accused of acting as a “foreign agent,” denial of registration to nongovernmental organizations, and regional laws banning the propaganda of homosexuality to minors, which served as a basis for the federal law enacted by Mr. Putin and unanimously passed by the State Duma. Against this backdrop, violent attacks on gays or “suspect gays” are becoming commonplace.

The federal law is spelled out in Article 6.21 of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses.

Here is what Article 6.21 actually says:

Propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.

If you’re Russian. Individuals engaging in such propaganda can be fined 4,000 to 5,000 rubles (120-150 USD), public officials are subject to fines of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles (1,200-1,500 USD), and registered organizations can be either fined (800,000-1,000,000 rubles or 24,000-30,000 USD) or sanctioned to stop operations for 90 days. If you engage in the said propaganda in the media or on the internet, the sliding scale of fines shifts: for individuals, 50,000 to 100,000 rubles; for public officials, 100,000 to 200,000 rubles, and for organizations, from one million rubles or a 90-day suspension.

If you’re an alien. Foreign citizens or stateless persons engaging in propaganda are subject to a fine of 4,000 to 5,000 rubles, or they can be deported from the Russian Federation and/or serve 15 days in jail. If a foreigner uses the media or the internet to engage in propaganda, the fines increase to 50,000-100,000 rubles or a 15-day detention with subsequent deportation from Russia.

As PolicyMic points out, the language of the law is so ambiguous that it is difficult to predict how it will be enforced or how it will be applied to foreigners. According to HuffPo, visitors to Russia should be concerned.

Bad news for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) travelers hoping to visit Russia, as foreign tourists will now be subjected to the same “gay propaganda” fines and sentences as residents.

Travel site Skift reports that the new law, signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 30, contains a provision that allows the government to arrest and detain gay (or “pro-gay”) foreigners for up to 14 days before they would then be expelled from Russia.

As far as what is considered “pro-gay,” the laws specifics are somewhat vague, butCanadian site Travel and Escape suggests “gay-affirmative” speech, displaying a rainbow flag and same-sex partners holding hands are among the prohibited actions.

A few days later, on July 3, Putin signed another law that bans adoption of Russian children by foreign same-sex couples or by any unmarried couple or single parent in a country that recognizes gay marriage.

Today Harvey Fierstein published an op-ed in The New York Times on Russia’s Anti-Gay Crackdown, in which he reports there are rumors that Putin will soon

sign an edict that would remove children from their own families if the parents are either gay or lesbian or suspected of being gay or lesbian. The police would have the authority to remove children from adoptive homes as well as from their own biological parents.

Fierstein dismisses claims that these recently passed laws are designed to protect children from pedophiles. There is no scientific evidence to show that pedophiles are homosexuals; in fact research shows that the overwhelming majority of pedophiles are heterosexual males. So what is the explanation for the Putin’s war against gays?

Mr. Putin’s true motives lie elsewhere. Historically this kind of scapegoating is used by politicians to solidify their bases and draw attention away from their failing policies, and no doubt this is what’s happening in Russia. Counting on the natural backlash against the success of marriage equality around the world and recruiting support from conservative religious organizations, Mr. Putin has sallied forth into this battle, figuring that the only opposition he will face will come from the left, his favorite boogeyman.

Mr. Putin’s campaign against lesbian, gay and bisexual people is one of distraction, a strategy of demonizing a minority for political gain taken straight from the Nazi playbook. Can we allow this war against human rights to go unanswered? Although Mr. Putin may think he can control his creation, history proves he cannot: his condemnations are permission to commit violence against gays and lesbians. In May a young gay man was murdered in the city of Volgograd. He was beaten, his body violated with beer bottles, his clothing set on fire, his head crushed with a rock. This is most likely just the beginning.

Yet, so far the international community hasn’t done much to push back against Putin’s anti-gay campaign. As Fierstein writes, “this must change,” and the upcoming Winter Olympics provides the perfect opportunity for enlightened government to put pressure on Putin and his regime.

Today, one gay reporter, James Kirchick, did his part to call attention to Russia’s repressive new anti-gay laws when he appeared on Russia Today, the state-owned TV station, ostensibly to discuss the Bradley Manning sentence. It turned into quite a scene.

According to The Washington Free Beacon, Kirchick was taken off the air when he refused to stop talking about Russia’s anti-gay laws and focus on Bradley Manning.

“A quick explanation now for the beginning of our coverage of the Bradley Manning sentences,” one host said later in the program. “We invited a guest on to discuss the fate of the whistleblower, but he used the chance to discuss his views on other unrelated issues and that’s why we had to take him off air. We would like to say sorry for any confusion caused.”

RT also refused to continue Kirchick’s car service, according to the reporter.

“True fact: (RT) just called taxi company that took me to studio to drop me off on the side of the highway on way to Stockholm airport,” Kirchick wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning following his appearance on the network.

This is an open thread, but any comments on the content of this post will be much appreciated.

19 Comments on “International Community Must Confront Putin and Russia on Anti-Gay Legislation”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Russian-American journalist Julia Ioffe at TNR on Kirchik video: This Video Proves That Trolling Russia Is Better Than Boycotting It

    This segment brought me pure, unalloyed joy for several reasons. One, Russia Today is a ridiculous sham of an organization where “whataboutism” reigns supreme. It unintentionally produces segments—like this one on America’s colonization of Sweden (“The United States of Swedamerica”)—that seem like they were picked up off the cutting room floor at “The Colbert Report.” When Russian President Vladimir Putin talks about the editorial process of RT, he uses the first person plural—”we”—because it was founded by the Kremlin not as a news channel, but as a counterweight to Western (and, in the Kremlin’s view, anti-Russian) media. Moreover, it hires Westerners, often ones who can’t hack it in the West, to run its shows, using their perfect English and either their cynicism or naivete to present its view without an accent. If you’ve ever wanted to see what cognitive dissonance looks like, try having a drink with an RT employee living in Moscow.

    But the main reason Kirchick’s performance is spectacular is because this is exactly what people should be doing to protest Moscow’s anti-gay laws: Don’t boycott Russia, troll it. Boycotting them gives them a sense of wounded pride and artificial importance; trolling, they don’t know what to do with. As Mr. Kirchick so aptly demonstrated today.

  2. bostonboomer says:
  3. RalphB says:

    Games shouldn’t boycotted. They should be moved out of Russia though. Screw ’em!

    • bostonboomer says:

      Maybe the Olympic committee could organize a gay pride march to open or close the games? They probably don’t have the guts though.

  4. Joyce L. Arnold says:

    This is getting lots of attention in the LGBT media and organizations, but so far the IOC and official government (U.S. and others) responses have been weak. The Olympics, Miss Universe Pageant and International Film Festival are all taking place in Russia. Imagine if all moved their events.

    • RalphB says:

      The IOC should move to their latest prior venue and let Russia pound sand..

    • Joyce, that is what amazes me…so many “events” are taking place in Russia…even the World Cup which is a huge deal. And still the lack of outrage from the organizations is very disturbing, not to mention the lack of support from the US gov and others. I guess there is too much time and money in the Russian games to move them, what about the plan to boycott the sponsors? Take it to the point like they did with Rush. Is there anything like that in the works with the LGBT community?

  5. bostonboomer says:
  6. bostonboomer says:
  7. dakinikat says:

    I wanted to post something on an up note

    Lily Tomlin, Jane Wagner May Get Married After 42 Years Together

  8. peej says:

    Sorry I’m late here. Another apology – I think I’ll be the lone voice of dissent. First on Kirchick. While I appreciate his intent, what he actually accomplished is legitimizing the Conservative-Libertarian media strategy which is corroding our discourse. An intelligent and thoughtful “performance” would have addressed both Manning (as I understand – the purpose for his being there?) and his condemnation of Putin/Russia.

    The second is what little respect I might have had for Manning was eradicated with his letter to Obama. Clearly his world view hasn’t the benefit of well-roundedness. And naivete isn’t a defense.