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Five arrested as St Petersburg backs anti-gay bill

Five arrested as St Petersburg backs anti-gay bill

Five activists protesting a bill that would criminalise the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in St Petersburg were arrested today as the Legislative Assembly gave the measure its second reading.

The five were protesting in front of the assembly building. They were charged with demonstrating illegally and resisting the police, according to Just Out, the St Petersburg LGBT group.

The second reading of the bill that would criminalise the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in St Petersburg passed in the city’s Legislative Assembly this afternoon (8 February).

Politicians voted 31 in favour but six voted against – five more than when the measure passed its first reading in November. Initial reaction from St Petersburg suggests that the five more votes against could be put down to the Yabloko Party, who had no seats in the Assembly before the November election.

The support for the bill comes despite diplomatic pressure from Europe and a petition by All Out, a leading LGBT digital direct action organization, has warned the bill will ‘make it illegal for any person to write a book, publish an article or speak in public about being gay, lesbian, bi or transgender’.

They warn: 'Pride parades, literature, or NGOs that openly serve LGBT people will be wiped out, or pushed underground.'

During the debate, Vitaly Milonov, the bill’s author, accused what he called the ‘liberal opposition’ of wanting to ‘destroy the country’. He charged individual politicians who opposed the bill of ‘not caring for the well-being of children’, again likening homosexuality with paedophilia.

The bill’s third reading, which is largely technical, is expected within a month and then, if passed as expected, it goes to the governor for ratification before becoming law.

ComingOut, an LGBT-organization based in St Petersburg said: 'This law would legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia. The history of Europe shows that all totalitarian regimes here began with similar repression of LGBT people. If this law is allowed to pass, it could signal that Russia is sliding towards a new totalitarianism.'

Similar laws are already in place in two regions of Russia. The first was introduced in Ryazan in 2006. The second was at the end of last year in Arkhangelsk. There have been reports that the Moscow region Duma might well introduce a measure.

Speaking from Moscow, activist Nikolai Alekseev, who founded Moscow Gay Pride, said he ‘just could not understand’ the sudden international furore over the proposed bill in St Petersburg.

Speaking to Gay Star News this afternoon, he asked: ‘Where were the petitions and American bloggers back when the Ryazan Duma was considering their bill?

‘And where were they when Arkhangelsk politicians were discussing their law?’

Alekseev admitted that he felt somewhat bitter that all of a sudden the laws against the so-called promotion of homosexuality has ‘become sexy in the West’.

‘Two activists, Irina Fet and Nikolai Baev, were arrested and fined in 2009 in Ryazan when four of us went there and challenged the law.

‘The matter of this law in Ryazan is now with the United Nations and is to be considered in July by the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva [there is also a case pending in the European Court of Human Rights].

‘And there has been little coverage of the fines imposed on three of us last week in Arkhangelsk,’ he added – a story Gay Star News was among the few to cover.

Tomorrow, the focus switches to Moscow where activists are mounting an unauthorised demonstration outside the Aeroflot offices protesting the denial of the country’s leading airline to recognise an LGBT staff association and forcing a gay flight attendant to marry his former school girlfriend to keep his job.