Elena Omel’chenko and Nastya Min’kova, MYPLACE team members at Centre for Youth Research, Higher School of Economics (St Petersburg) write about recent protests against homophobic legislation in St Petersburg.
For more information on the MYPLACE project, visit the project’s website: HERE
We are now in the second week of protest actions against what has been termed the ‘homophobic’ law has been begun by activists of the St Petersburg LGBT community (http://vihod-spb.livejournal.com/57931.html). They have been are protesting against an amendment to local legislation proposed by ‘United Russia’ deputies Milonov and Makarov which would introduce fines for propagandizing ‘male homosexuality (muzhelozhestvo), lesbianism, bisexualism, transgenderism and paedophilia’ in the country’s northern capital.
The amendments were adopted at first reading, despite the absence in the text of any clear definition of what constituted ‘propaganda’. Moreover the very formulations used by the authors have been criticized by doctors (http://ru-antidogma.livejournal.com/1227966.html); the views of eight experts was ignored by the deputies, the majority of whom accepted the amendments (one person abstained and 1 voted against) and moved on to discuss the monetary value of fines as if they were at an auction. So far the speaker, Vadim Tiul’panov, has the highest bid – half a million roubles.
On the same day, 16th November, activists of the LGBT movement marched on the city parliament building bearing protest posters. They were most angered by the way in which the legislation sought to equate sexual minorities with paedophiles. Isolated pickets continued into the weekend on Palace Square. Witnesses saw participants in the actions being attacked by aggressive young men in tracksuits (http://madw.livejournal.com/137695.html). The police failed to detain the attackers.
After this LGBT community activists moved their site of protest to the internet. They began a petition (http://www.allout.org/en/actions/russia_silenced) and suggested opponents of the draft legislation articulate their civic position by repeatedly ringing the reception offices of deputies and reminding them that that their electorate included gays and lesbians. Similar instructions about who to ring and what to say were provided in a blog (http://danny0071.livejournal.com/201198.html). Judging by the commentaries, the actions were successful – telephones were slammed down irritably in a number of reception offices.
St Petersburg could become the third administrative unit of the Russian Federation to adopt a law limiting the freedom of public activity of sexual minorities; following the adoption of legislation in Riazan’ and Arkhanel’sk regions that prohibits gay-parades. Similar legislation is already being developed in the Moscow parliament and that the speaker of the Council of the Federation is not against adopting such a prohibition across the country as a whole (http://www.gazeta.ru/social/2011/11/17/3838878.shtml).
The populist nature of the law is recognized by both sexual health experts and (http://www.rosbalt.ru/piter/2011/11/16/913302.html) political scientists (http://www.regnum.ru/news/polit/1468107.html). The newspaper ‘Kommersant’ uncovered evidence to support these concusions; a source of the newspaper declared that the draft had been introduced on the eve of elections on the assumption that it would bring ‘United Russia’ additional votes from the more conservative sections of society (http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/1822978). However, the noise generated by LGBT activists has reflected negatively rather than positively on United Russia and, as a consequence, the law will not have its second reading at the last meeting of deputies before elections on 4th December. The issue is closed until next year when a new parliament will take up its duties.