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St Petersburg votes for gay hate law

Local Russian politicians ignore massive European, US and global pressure to press ahead with gay gag law
Protest against the St Petersburg anti-gay bill on the streets of Berlin.

St Petersburg politicians have today (29 February) voted in favor of a new law which makes people criminals if they discuss homosexuality in public.

The law prohibiting public discussion of LGBT issues is similar to rules already introduced in the country's Ryazan, Arkhangelsk and Kostroma regions.

Currently, the bill has fines of up to 1 million roubles ($34,400 €25,000) for organisations and up to 5,000 roubles (€172 €125) for individuals.

Campaigners have warned that if it does become law, it could silence moves towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the region and prevent gay cultural and social events.

The governor of St Petersburg, Georgiy Poltavchenko, now has 14 days to sign the bill into law, or send it back to the Duma.

Ten days after the governor signs the bill and it is published in the official ‘journal’, the law comes into effect.

There has been widespread international opposition to the proposed legislation with pressure coming from the US State Department and a European Parliament resolution condemning the plan.

There were pro-gay protests outside Russian embassies in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Milan, Antwerp, Lisbon, Paris and Rio de Janeiro and a global petition by All Out targeting St Petersburg’s tourist market.

Perhaps because of this, 15 St Petersburg City Duma representatives stayed away from the vote today and one abstained. However, only five voted against the bill and 29 were in favor, giving it a clear majority.

Manny de Guerre of the St Petersburg-based Side by Side LGBT International Film Festival told GSN they were 'disappointed' by the vote but they would find legal and other routes for the event and their work to continue.

She said: 'We worked on lots of different levels diplomatic level and protests were taking place but Russia has its own position and doesn't listen very well.

'It will be difficult to get information out for people who need help or young people who are coming out or need advice. It will be hard to give access to that information.

'It will also increase fear. Will holding hands be a prosecutable thing?'

The festival and St Petersburg's other two biggest LGBT organisations, Coming Out and the LGBT Network, are likely to spend the next few days considering their options before making their next move.

Polina Savchenko, director of Coming Out, said: 'This radical law undermines the great legacy of our city’s past and future.  If it passes, it would be illegal to mention that famed Russian composer of the 1812 Overture, St Petersburg native Tchaikovksy, was gay.

'This law installs a culture of censorship in what was once Russia’s most cosmopolitan city and is a huge blow to the freedom of expression in Russia.  At a time when people all over the world are opening up and coming out, this law puts Russia back in the closet.'

And AllOut.org executive director Andre Banks said it would muzzle artists, writers, musicians and regular citizens who live in or visit the city.

He added: 'This bill, which would violate Russia's own constitution as well as any number of international treaties, is an outrageous attack on the freedom of expression for all Russians - straight and gay. It must not be allowed to stand.'

But Nikolai Alekseev, founder of Moscow Pride and GayRussia.eu, suggested that gay organisations in St Petersburg should have acted before when similar legislation was adopted elsewhere in Russia.

He said: ‘It's a collapse of the policy of gay groups who have been collaborating with authorities in St Petersburg for several years.

‘GayRussia and Moscow Pride have been fighting against similar laws since 2009 without anyone helping.

‘We have always said that this case can only be legally resolved when the UN Human Rights Committee and especially the European Court of Human Rights delivers a binding verdict against similar laws in Ryazan Regions in the case initiated by activists of GayRussia and Moscow Pride, who were harshly criticized for their actions against these laws by organisations in St Petersburg.’

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