Thursday, July 30, 2015


Being Gay In St. Petersburg Gets Even Harder

A gay activist is detained by police during a gay-pride parade in St. Petersburg in June 2011.
A gay activist is detained by police during a gay-pride parade in St. Petersburg in June 2011.
By Claire Bigg
Aleksandra and Marina had never contemplated leaving Russia.

Now the two women, a longtime lesbian couple, are giving it serious thought following the adoption of a new law targeting homosexuals in their hometown of St. Petersburg,

The law, which came into effect in mid-March, criminalizes "public action directed at propagandizing sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism, and transgenderism among minors."

It follows similar legislation in the cities of Ryazan, Arkhangelsk, and Kostroma. But its adoption in St. Petersburg, one of Russia's most liberal cities, has sparked international outrage and sown fear among the homosexual community.

Three months after the law's passage, homosexuals in St. Petersburg are finding that the fragile human rights gains they earned through years of activism have suddenly evaporated.

"'Homosexual propaganda' is an extremely vague term. Now when I tell Marina 'I love you,' it could be considered homosexual propaganda," says Aleksandra, a 40-year-old PR manager who chose not to give her surname to protect her privacy.

"We are shocked by how openly and crudely our government is telling us that we have no rights. So yes, sometimes we consider packing our bags and leaving."

Chilling Effect

The maximum punishment under the new law is a fine of about $17,000. But many fear the law will fuel already deeply entrenched homophobia and pave the way for yet harsher measures against Russia's gays and lesbians.

Antigay protesters destroy a bus carrying gay activists during the Antigay protesters destroy a bus carrying gay activists during the "Rainbow flashmob" organized in St. Petersburg on May 17.
Antigay protesters destroy a bus carrying gay activists during the
Antigay protesters destroy a bus carrying gay activists during the "Rainbow flashmob" organized in St. Petersburg on May 17.
It has already had a chilling effect on St. Petersburg's relatively vibrant gay scene. Activists say several cultural venues have already canceled events organized by the community for fear of being fined.

Perhaps more alarmingly for homosexual parents like Aleksandra and Marina, the law specifically targets people deemed to give children a "distorted impression" of "marital relations." Aleksandra and her partner, who are raising Marina's 2-year-old son together, fear for their family.

"Legislation could become even tougher. It's perfectly possible that in a year's time social services will knock at our door, ask us why we are living and raising a child together, declare that Marina is a bad mother and take the child away from us," Aleksandra says.

"Nothing is impossible in this country. If such a law is possible, then anything is possible. And this scares me."

Tapping Into Widespread Prejudice

Although homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993, hostility against gays and lesbians remains widespread in Russia.

A 2010 poll by the independent Levada Center found that 38 percent of Russians viewed homosexuality as a "bad habit," while 36 percent thought it was "a sickness or result of a psychological trauma."

At the public level, close allies of President Vladimir Putin and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church have made no secret of their aversion toward homosexuals.

State Duma Deputy Vitaly Milonov, the law's main author, has branded them "perverts" and accused activists of colluding with Western governments to convert Russian children into homosexuals.

A man attacks an activist during a gay-pride parade in St. Petersburg last year, typical of the violence marchers face.A man attacks an activist during a gay-pride parade in St. Petersburg last year, typical of the violence marchers face.
A man attacks an activist during a gay-pride parade in St. Petersburg last year, typical of the violence marchers face.
A man attacks an activist during a gay-pride parade in St. Petersburg last year, typical of the violence marchers face.
Repeated attempts to hold gay-pride marches, which have been described by former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov as "satanic," have been brutally repressed. Attacks on homosexuals are rife and rarely punished.

Frederike Vehr, of Amnesty International, warns that Russian homosexuals should brace for a spike in violence. "Of course, such a law increases the possibly that people will consider that attacks on homosexuals are justified," he says. "The fear is there."

Echoing these concerns, a number of human rights groups and Western governments have warned homosexual tourists against visiting St. Petersburg.

Growing Campaign

Several arrests have already been made in the city under the new law. Last month, Nikolai Alekseyev, Russia's leading gay-rights campaigner, was fined the equivalent of $170 for holding a sign reading "Homosexuality is not a perversion, field hockey and ice ballet are."

Critics say the law is part of a government campaign aimed at boosting the Kremlin's flagging popularity by tapping into antigay sentiment.

They suspect officials, too, are behind, a new website launched last month to combat "the growing terror of sexual minorities." The site has published a list of media resources that it claims violated the law on promoting homosexuality, and its authors say they are ready to use force to defend the "rights" of heterosexuals.

A RFE/RL request for an interview with the website's editor went unanswered.

A handful of prominent figures have raised their voice against the mounting antigay rhetoric, but most Russians remain largely indifferent.

Tip Of The Iceberg

Gay activists, however, warn that heterosexuals should also be worried.

Many believe the new law fits into wider efforts to crack down on public protest and civic activity as Putin faces an unprecedented opposition movement against his 12-year rule.

"This law will be applied against people who take to the streets, against journalists who write things that displease authorities, against those who simply defend their rights," says Igor Kochetkov, the head of the LGBT Network, a gay-rights group in St. Petersburg.

"One should not assume that deputies who approved this law are stupid or naive. They are using the sentiments of part of our population, and their aim does not concern only gays and lesbians. It concerns all citizens who have an opinion of their own."

Just weeks after the law was passed in St. Petersburg, Russia's parliament adopted controversial new measures that dramatically increase fines on protesters.

The State Duma is also working on a proposal to make "homosexual propaganda" punishable nationwide.

While some activists have vowed to drag officials before the courts over the antigay laws, others like Aleksandra believe Russian homosexuals are fighting a losing battle.

"I think the law criminalizing homosexuality will eventually return," Aleksandra says. "Something irreparable is taking place, something after which there will be no way back to freedom."

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Mamuka
June 25, 2012 15:27
That website,, has a logo which I think is supposed to be a microscope. But it looks much like the hammer-and-sickle.

I'm sure it's just an unintentional coincidence.

by: Sey from: World
June 25, 2012 15:44
Legalizing these perverts is like legalizing drugs, is giving an open for further deterioration of society. This is the only thing liberalism has brought to this world.

I encourage Russians to take further measures.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 25, 2012 18:09
A horrible, horrible place is this St. Petersburg :-)))

by: American Troll
June 26, 2012 01:45
Russia entertains us from a safe distance. One hundred and forty million homophobic racists pride themselves as "cultured" thanks to a gay composer and an African poet.

Ladies, your courage is admirable, but flee for your lives now while you can. The same goes not just for all Russian LGBTs, but also anyone who isn't Slavic and at least nominally Orthodox Christian. You won't be missed (to put it mildly), and the West will be richer and more vibrant for your presence. A solid majority of your fellow inmates want their Fourth Reich, and there are too few of you to stop them. Its building blocks are already being assembled, and once the pretense of civilization is dropped, then the bodies will pile up like cordwood.

You have friends here, but no one can help if you stay in Russia because outside intervention is only an option for places lacking nuclear weapons. When genocide becomes state policy in the Reich (and it will), it can and probably will be live-streamed for the entire world to watch, and your murderers can feel secure knowing that no one can stop them.

Escape while you can. If I'm wrong, then fine, I'm wrong. No one will be happier than I will be. But I'm not wrong, and you know it.
In Response

by: R from: US
June 26, 2012 16:55
I agree with your post wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, I predict life for LGBTs and minorities will only become more difficult. The white majority countries in the former Soviet Union are festering hate producing hives. Some of the people eat up the religiosity (Orthodox Christianity and White Supremacist ideology) and feed it to their children.

by: Jacob from: Australia
June 26, 2012 11:36
How bitterly disappointing. I was mid way through planning a 6 week trip to St Petersburg and Moscow and was really looking forward to it. Seems the place I wished to go to for years since hearing it was becoming a civilised nation, has reverted back to its former non glory. The ignorance of that communist regime just can't be shaken. Will be taking my $20k spending money to Canada where its welcome.
Stay true guys n girls, I really do feel for you. I wish all LGBT Russians the very best of luck from down under!

by: Peter from: Sweden
June 26, 2012 13:54
I am lucky to live a civilized country were homophobia is not a real problem, and people are generally accepted for who they are and not for their sexuallity, I have a few gay freinds and am happy to be there freinds (I and not gay myself).

Russia on the other hand is a very uneducated and backward country and almost medievel when it comes to human rights and personal expression, I feel sorry for it's peoples, it's sad thing to either hate or to be hated for such stupid and petty prejudeces, what a waste of time and energy !

The strange thing I have noticed over the years and I've seen this a number of times is that when a person is overly homophobic, it's often because they, themselves are homosexual or bisexual, can't accept it and instead of facing to who they are, get defensive and fill themselves full of hate for others !

In Response

by: Robert Hagedorn from: USA
July 02, 2012 21:09
For something different, a change, Google First Scandal. It's relevant. And it really is all about sex.

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