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Russia

Activists Predict Rise In Gay Asylum Claims Amid 'Propaganda' Ban

A gay-rights activist holds a placard displaying the image of 19th-century composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky during an unsanctioned protest rally to defend the rights of Russian gays and lesbians in St. Petersburg on April 7.
A gay-rights activist holds a placard displaying the image of 19th-century composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky during an unsanctioned protest rally to defend the rights of Russian gays and lesbians in St. Petersburg on April 7.

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St. Pete Governor Signs Homosexuality Law

The governor of Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, has signed a new law against "homosexual propaganda" -- defying complaints that it discriminates against gays.
By Richard Solash
In 2010, 26-year-old Artem Pavlov was followed by thugs as he left a cafe in his hometown of Ufa, Russia. The group had overheard him talking about being gay.

He was thrown to the ground and beaten before his friends could call for help. When police arrived and learned that Pavlov was attacked because of his homosexuality, they told him that he was, in fact, lucky -- lucky that the policemen themselves had not been there to join in the beating.

The details of the incident, pieced together through personal accounts in the absence of an official police report, were the foundation for Pavlov's request for asylum in the United States. The request was approved by a New York judge last year.

"I was in danger physically and emotionally from other civilians and would be in danger from the government itself, which is the definition of persecution," Pavlov says. "I would never be able to have a family. I would never be able to have kids. I would never be able to live openly. I want to live. I want to be happy."

Russia has long been a dangerous place for gays and lesbians. However, rights advocates warn that conditions are quickly worsening with a newly approved law they say not only promotes, but institutionalizes, homophobia. While the coming months will tell how the law will be applied, activists and lawyers are already predicting that more LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) Russians will be pushed to seek asylum in the West.

Those like Pavlov, who have already fled, foresee the same trend.

"By the end of the year, probably, the number will surge. Now there is a law that can be interpreted by the powers that be to arrest you [and] to assault you -- just for living your life," Pavlov says. "Thanks to that, you can you apply for asylum like it was still Soviet Russia, when it was illegal to be gay. It's basically the same thing."

Troubling New Laws

In March, St. Petersburg instituted a ban on "homosexual propaganda." Individuals convicted of promoting homosexuality to minors could be fined up to 5,000 rubles ($172) and organizations could be fined up to 500,000 rubles ($17,200). The legislation also appears to equate homosexuality with pedophilia -- a long-standing stereotype -- by levying the same fines for pedophilic "propaganda."

The first arrests were made on April 5 of two gay-rights activists who were holding placards reading, "It's normal to be gay."

Similar laws have been instituted in Russia's Arkhangelsk, Kostroma, and Ryazan regions.

PHOTO GALLERY: The Fight For Gay Rights In Russia
  • A man brutally attacks a gay-rights activist during an unsanctioned gay-pride parade in St. Petersburg on June 25, 2011.
  • Plain-clothes police officers detain gay-rights activist Daniel Choi (center) near the Kremlin during an unsanctioned gay-pride parade in central Moscow on May 28, 2011.
  • Police force gay-rights activist Daniel Choi into a police vehicle as they detain him near the Kremlin during an unsanctioned gay-pride parade in central Moscow on May 29, 2011.
  • Activists hold a demonstration to protest a gay-pride parade in Moscow on May 21, 2011. The placard reads: "Russia Without Pederasts."
  • Activists stage a protest against a law prohibiting "homosexual propaganda" in St. Petersburg on November 23, 2011. The placard reads: "We Want To Be Heard."
  • A gay-rights activist holds a placard displaying the image of 19th-century composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky during an unsanctioned protest rally to defend the rights of Russian gays and lesbians in St. Petersburg on April 7.
  • People take part in an antigay march in Moscow on May 21, 2011. The sign reads: "No To Gay Parades"
  • A member of the Russian art collective Voina tries to silence a man yelling, "Moscow without gays!"
  • Police officers detain a gay-rights activist who tried to protest against antigay legislation in St. Petersburg on April 6, 2012.
  • A gay-rights activist holds a rainbow flag onboard a motor boat during a gay-pride parade in St. Petersburg on June 25, 2011.
  • Gay-rights activists take part in a rally against homophobic laws in the central Arbat area in Moscow on March 10, 2012.
  • Police arrest a gay-rights activist as he holds a poster reading "Homophobia Is A Disease" during an unsanctioned gay-pride rally in St. Petersburg on June 25, 2011.

The St. Petersburg measures, however, are being viewed as more troubling because the city is not only the country's second-largest but also among its more tolerant. At asylum hearings, Western judges sometimes suggest that Russians from smaller towns or rural areas should relocate to cities like St. Petersburg -- an argument that has apparently lost its validity.

A number of Moscow-based lawmakers are now pushing for similar bans in the capital city and on a federal level.

Olga Lenkova of the St. Petersburg-based Coming Out, the largest grassroots homosexual organization in Russia, says community members are concerned that the initial arrests are "just the beginning." She says the prospect of fleeing Russia is "now in the minds of many."

The topic, which Lenkova says is appearing on Russian gay blogs and social media, now features in discussion groups organized by Coming Out. Gay and lesbian families with children, she adds, appear to be most seriously considering asylum.

"They do not know whether they will be considered as promoting homosexuality to their own children, or to the friends of their children, or to the schoolmates of their children -- just [in] being open as a family," Lenkova says. "This is of special concern to the families where the children are adopted -- that the authorities that are supervising such families might decide that they are not safe for the children to grow up [with] and might take the children away."

Lenkova predicts that not only will gay asylum claims rise, but that the trend will have a multiplier effect, causing the number of Russians who are aware of the option to grow.

Numbers On The Rise

In 2010, 548 Russians were granted asylum in the United States, accounting for less than 3 percent of the total number of immigrants. The United States has allowed sexual-orientation-based asylum claims since 1994 but doesn't report the type of claims it receives in its public statistics.

Olga Bychok, a Soviet-born lawyer living in New York, is well-known among gay Russian asylum seekers who make it to the city. She says that since last year, when the St. Petersburg measures were first introduced, she has been contacted by two to three gay or lesbian Russians every week, up from the usual single inquiry a week.

Not all requests are granted, but Bychok says the vast majority are. She expects her client list to increase and says she is already referencing the legislation in arguing her cases.

Joel Le Deroff, an asylum expert at the Brussels-based International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), which brings together rights groups from around the world, says an increase in European requests "will happen."

European Union-wide legislation has allowed for sexual orientation-based asylum since 2004. But Le Deroff adds that the new Russian measures may also have a more quiet effect -- the silencing of people who were considering coming out and declaring their homosexuality.

Then again, at least among some, he says, the laws could provide new motivation to fight.

"You may also have people who may join movements that did not exist before," Le Deroff says. "You have today a lot more LGBT organizations compared to five years ago. People have more national organizations to join and more visible ones."
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Sey from: World
April 30, 2012 21:20
You know what resolve all of these issues? If all these gays, lesbians, and their activists would just shut up about their personal sexual preferences and live their peoples as everybody else does...in complete silence and anonymity as regular citizens.

Nobody needs to know what you like in bed. Don't shove it up in other people's faces, and maybe you won't get your own faces broken.
In Response

by: bearmon2010
May 01, 2012 11:41
Sey,

You dont know what you are talking about. Shame on you, jeez! Sexual preferences ?? Are you kidding me ? No wonder you dont know what you are talking about, indeed.
In Response

by: Sey from: World
May 01, 2012 16:26
I was actually trying to be polite. I would have said "sexual perversion" or "mental illness"...but I know how some of you would have reacted.
In Response

by: Topper Chap from: Right Here, Right Now
May 01, 2012 22:35
If homosexual people were able to live their lives as everybody else does, they'd have no reason to campaign about anything. That's the root of the whole problem.

I'm surprised you're not intelligent enough to realise that.

by: john from: canada
May 01, 2012 14:44
Gay refugees to Canada should certainly be welcomed here, but it is important for gay Russians to keep up the struggle for freedom and equality in Russia - especially in the face of so much homophobic hatred. However, the struggle for sexual freedoms in Russia should signal to Russians that if they really wish to be considered as part of Europe and Western society, they might reflect on how that should arrive. Europe and US/Canada are struggling with these issues, but it seems to be going in the right direction. Now, Russia has 37,000 cases pending at the European Court of Human Rights, but with these repressive anti-gay laws, that number may grow significantly.

On the bright side, by embracing LGBT culture, Russians will benefit not only socially, but also economically. For example, Vancouver, Canada has a large, economically-powerful LGBT community and while many cities have gay pride parades, Vancouver's parade ranks among the best and reflects the depth and integration of our LGBT community: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWEiz96_p3A
LGBT community members generally area well-educated with significant disposable incomes. They love to travel to sympathetic, friendly places. As well as being a social asset to our cities, LGBT folks are also huge economic assets.

And incidentally, Vancouver is where our famous trangender beauty queen Jenna Tacklova (with her Russian family name) was born: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2126033/Jenna-Talackova-Transgender-Miss-Canada-Universe-hopeful-Grade-8-boy-called-Walter.html)


by: Baldur from: USA
May 02, 2012 18:12
In the article, Pavlov says "I was in danger physically and emotionally from other civilians and would be in danger from the government itself, which is the definition of persecution," Sadly, I can say the same thing about the United States, where a number of my friends have been beaten by thugs who the police refused to arrest or charge, or were arrested and convicted themselves for their sexual orientation, and given life sentences or held indefinitely in special facilities after their term has been served - especially in such brutal places as Minnesota and Wisconsin, or released but prevented from having a home or a job in hellholes like Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Michigan.

Pavlov also notes: "I would never be able to have a family. I would never be able to have kids. I would never be able to live openly. I want to live. I want to be happy."

I can say the same thing about the USA, and my friends in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia have said the same thing about their nations.

These Russian gays are fortunate to have the option of asylum, but the United States and the United Kingdom are powerful and their campaign of genocide extends around the world. Where can child lovers find asylum? That's what I want to know.

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