The Lord Mayor and deputy leader of Manchester City Council, in northern England, are using their trip to the Russian city of St Petersburg to urge its governor not to sign an anti-gay new law.
Meanwhile activists from Moscow have pledged to defy the legislation by protesting in front of children’s libraries and schools in St Petersburg on the day it comes into force.
The law officially prevents the ‘propaganda of homosexuality to minors’ but campaigners warn it will be used to gag any public discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender issues or events targeted at gay and trans people.
It is similar to laws already introduced in the country's Ryazan, Arkhangelsk and Kostroma regions. The St Petersburg bill has fines of up to 1 million roubles ($34,400 €25,000) for organizations and up to 5,000 roubles (€172 €125) for individuals.
In the final vote last week on the legislation, 15 St Petersburg City Duma representatives stayed and one abstained but only five voted against the bill and 29 were in favor, giving it a clear majority. It now awaits the signature of Georgiy Poltavchenko, the Governor of St Petersburg, who has until early next week to sign it into law. It will then come into effect after 10 days.
But Manchester City Council, St Petersburg’s twin city is urging Poltavchenko to veto the bill. Officials from Manchester are currently there to mark the 50th anniversary of the cities’ friendship.
Councillor Sue Murphy, deputy leader of Manchester City Council, said: ‘When you have been friends for so long – whether it be a person or a city – it gives you the right to point out when your friend is doing something wrong. This bill is simply wrong. It is bad for LGBT people living in the city, and it is bad for St Petersburg's reputation across the globe.
‘This trip gives us the opportunity to make this point clearly at the highest level in St Petersburg before it is too late. We will urge the governor to veto this ill-conceived piece of legislation.
‘Manchester has a deserved reputation as one of the most tolerant and open cities in the world. That has done our city nothing but good. It encourages tourism and investment, it means that people come to Manchester to make our city their home. It aids cohesion and brings all of our communities closer together. We're rightly proud of our gay rights record and hope the governor will listen to us and reject this dreadful piece of legislation.
‘Our message is simple – equality is not something anyone should fear.’
While Manchester’s Lord Mayor and deputy leader are there, they will also meet with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender leaders in the city, presenting a letter of solidarity from Manchester’s Lesbian and Gay Foundation.
Murphy added: ‘The people of Manchester – gay and straight – stand shoulder to shoulder with them.’
Assuming the governor doesn’t veto it, activists of GayRussia and Moscow Pride told Gay Star News they are planning a series of actions in front of the children’s libraries and schools in St Petersburg on the day the bill becomes law.
The aim of these actions, GayRussia.eu reports, is to be able to take the St Petersburg law through the Russian Courts and up to the Constitutional Court – and if necessary to the European Court of Human Rights.
‘The Constitutional Court has already handed down a decision when, in January 2010, it ruled that such law does not contradict the Russian Constitution,’ Nikolai Alexseev, founder of GayRussia and Moscow Pride, told GSN.
‘However, we intend to have the court check again the constitutionality of the laws recently passed in Arkhangelsk and in St Petersburg.
‘We hope that our first victory against these laws comes as early as next July when the United Nations Human Rights Committee will give a decision in the case of Fedotova v Russia concerning similar laws in Ryazan region’.
In January, activists of GayRussia and Moscow Pride were arrested and fined in Arkhangelsk for propaganda of homosexuality after organizing a series of protests in front of the city’s Children’s Library. In March 2009, they were arrested and fined in Ryazan for a similar action.
An international campaign was organized in December 2011, asking the European Court of Human Rights to give priority treatment to the case Bayev v Russia concerning similar laws in Ryazan region.