Social Issues
Activists In Russia Say New Laws That Ban ‘Homosexual Propaganda’ Are Fuelling Attacks Against Gays
November 9, 2012
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For a country that's supposed to be a democracy, Russia sure has a strange way of showing it.

Back in the days of the Cold War, homosexuality was outlawed in the Soviet Union. But after communism fell, the ban was lifted.

Over time, gays and lesbians in Russia started to come out and mainstream gay clubs started to open.

But now, it seems Russia is taking a trip back to the dark ages, so to speak.

Authorities have introduced new laws to target "homosexual propaganda" in eight regions around the country, including the city of St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg is Russia's second biggest city, it's most "European city", it's cultural capital, and it has a relatively large gay scene.

The law is quite vague, targeting "public action aimed at propagandizing sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism, and transgenderism among minors".

In other words, you can't promote homosexuality to young people. Anyone charged with breaking the law faces a fine of $150 to $15,000.

Gays rights activists say the law is part of a plan by the government and the powerful Orthodox Church, to shut down public protest, liberal thinking or any group that stands up for its rights.

In fact, Russian politicians and Orthodox Church officials have called for federal anti-gay laws to be applied across the country. A bill calling for a national ban has been tabled in the Russian parliament.

As well, gay pride marches are regularly banned in Russia and this summer, Moscow's highest court banned gay pride parades in the capital for 100 years.

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The new laws have also sparked renewed violence against gay people in parts of Russia.

One example happened recently on 'National Coming Out Day' in a gay-friendly club in central Moscow. A group of men wearing surgical masks walked in and attacked several people.

"I never thought I would live to see this," Alyona Korolyova told The Guardian. "It was like a movie, a nightmare."

During the attack, the men kicked Korolyova's girlfriend in the head repeatedly while she was forced to stand against a wall and watch.

"The authorities have given a command - that such attacks will not be punished, that we are a group to be hated," Korolyova said.

One witness Andrei Obolensky said the men ran by him and yelled: 'This fight has been ordered'.

He says they started "overturning tables, throwing chairs and beating whomever fell under their hands."

Five minutes later, they were gone. Four people - three women and one man - were treated in hospital.

Activists say there have been similar attacks on gay clubs in St. Petersburg, including one the day after the law was adopted.

An anti-immigrant, pro-church group called 'People's Council' has been questioned about the attack in Moscow.

Oleg Kassin, a member of the group, denied any involvement saying "We don't go down the path of violence. Only the path of law."

He accused gay and lesbian activists of organizing the attack themselves to raise their profile.

In terms of politicians, an MP in St. Petersburg - Vitaly Milonov - is leading Russia's anti-gay movement.

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He put forward the St Petersburg law this year and has called homosexuality a "sickness" that "must be treated like a tooth that hurts."

He also says it can be treated by fasting and prayer.

Back in August, Madonna played a concert in St. Petersburg where she called on Russians to respect gay rights and handed out pink wristbands.

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A city court has ordered her to appear for a hearing on allegations of promoting homosexual propaganda.

A lawsuit - brought by a group of activists - calls for Madonna to pay more than 9 million dollars in "moral damages".

Madonna has ignored the court.

An independent poll done in July, found 32% of Russians consider homosexuality "a sickness or the result of a psychological trauma".

43% saw it as "debauchery or a bad habit".

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