EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: The anti-homosexual propaganda law sweeping through Russia

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The law against the “Propaganda of Homosexuality,” or Article 6.13.1, is already in place in 11 Russian regions, including densely populated St. Petersburg. Recently, the region of Duma approved of the law, bolstering its support nationally.

The law is going through the legislative process for a national approval and is experiencing political support by the majority Conservative Party in Russia and the conservative branches of the Russian Orthodox Church. The law would ban any public displays of being gay and set fines of up to an equivalent of $16,000.

The international community has unanimously condemned the law as a fundamental infringement on human rights. Inside Russia, LGBT groups are trying to rally support, but have faced strident opposition, including beatings, being sprayed with paint and public humiliation.

Anastasia Smirnova of The Russian LGBT Network spoke exclusively with 429Magazine about the law.

429Magazine: How will the anti-gay propaganda bill affect LGBT people in Russia?

Smirnova: The proposed anti-gay propaganda bill will limit the fundamental rights of Russian citizens. The proposed bill, which bans the so-called “propaganda of homosexualism” limits the freedoms of expression and assembly, as well as the right to privacy of Russian LGBT citizens and their allies.

429Mag: How could it be used?  

Smirnova: The vague and wide-reaching language of the bill will serve to further marginalize sexual minorities in Russia. Under the law, activities such as gay pride parades, campaigns for greater recognition of LGBT rights under the law, sexual health projects, or even the flying of a rainbow flag, could be prohibited. As such, the law allows the Russian government to severely limit the fundamental freedoms of both LGBT people, as well as any Russian citizen deemed to be promoting “homosexual propaganda.”

429Mag: What will the bill take away?

Smirnova: By enacting this bill, the Russian government is effectively sanctioning legal discrimination and sending a message to Russian society that sexual minorities are undeserving of equal rights under the law.

429Mag: Has there been any international pressure to prevent this bill being passed?

Smirnova: Numerous foreign governments, international organizations, and NGOs have condemned the proposed bill, drawing attention to the limitations on rights it imposes on Russian citizens and emphasizing that it conflicts with a number of Russia’s international obligations under human rights law.  

429Mag: Can the bill be used to affect non-LGBT people? 

Smirnova: The proposed anti-gay propaganda bill applies equally to all Russian citizens. Thus, anyone deemed to be promoting “homosexual propaganda,” regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, may find him or herself facing punishment under this law. Clearly, this applies to non-LGBT human rights advocates, activists, or other allies advocating for LGBT rights in any sort of way. Additionally, given the vague language of the proposed bill, there are potentially many other situations in which non-LGBT people may find themselves facing fines or prosecution.  

429Mag: What’s being done to protest against the legislation? 

Smirnova: Currently, there are a number of initiatives and campaigns aimed at preventing the proposed bill from coming into force. The Russian LGBT Network has organized the “Campaign Against Article 6.13.1,” which includes sending open letters to members of the State Duma, online petitions, flash mobs, and organizing protests outside of Russian embassies.

These efforts have served to raise international awareness and to put pressure on lawmakers to reconsider their stance. The campaign also included other initiatives, for example, a community-mobilizing photo action where those against the law post pictures of themselves with a sign that says “I am against Article 6.13.”

A similar project on YouTube has assembled videos of people explaining why they are against the proposed law. The Russian LGBT Network has also created designs for t-shirts, with the campaign’s slogan displayed prominently across the front. Hopefully, these campaigns will help to prevent the adoption of the proposed law, or at the very least, spread awareness about the state of LGBT rights in Russia. 

429Mag: How do you think the current political climate affects the legislation? 

Smirnova: In recent years, President Vladimir Putin and his party, United Russia, have been gaining greater political power, particularly following Putin’s reelection in 2012. Under Putin, the Russian Orthodox Church has also gained significant power and nationalist and anti-Western sentiments are on the rise.

Under the circumstances, it is unsurprising that anti-homosexual legislation has been on the agendas of the federal and regional governments, particularly given that homosexuality is deemed by many politicians to be a “Western phenomenon” that has no place in Russian society. Furthermore, these anti-gay propaganda laws have been powerful tools of propaganda themselves, used by lawmakers to scapegoat LGBT people and draw public attention away from the real issues affecting Russian society.

429Magazine

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