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If Russian Lawmakers Get Their Way, Coming Out Could Send You To Jail

An antigay protester uses pepper spray against gay-rights activists during an LGBT rally in central Moscow in May.
An antigay protester uses pepper spray against gay-rights activists during an LGBT rally in central Moscow in May.

Russian lawmakers have submitted legislation that would introduce fines and potential jail time for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals who publicly reveal their sexual orientation.

The bill, registered October 29 in Russia’s lower house of parliament, appears to target a process known as “coming out” as well as other "public expressions of nontraditional sexual relations."

Such "demonstrations" lead to a “deliberate upheaval of [Russia’s] national culture and the foundation of human relations,” it said.

Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they call a concerted government effort to restrict the rights of LGBT individuals in Russia, including a controversial 2013 law signed by President Vladimir Putin that bans the spreading of "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” among minors.

Putin has rejected the accusations, saying the “propaganda” law is aimed at protecting children but does not infringe on LGBT rights.

The bill submitted to the State Duma was authored by lawmakers Ivan Nikitchuk and Nikolai Arefyev of the Communist Party, which has 92 members in the 450-seat chamber.

The Communists are widely seen as a malleable foil to Putin’s United Russia party -- which has a majority in both houses of parliament -- and generally toe the Kremlin line on major legislative initiatives.

The legislation would introduce fines for of up to 5,000 rubles ($78) for individuals who “publicly” express “nontraditional sexual orientations” and for those who “demonstrate their aberrant sexual preferences in public.”

Such actions in places used for the purposes of “culture,” “education,” or “young people” could lead to jail time of up to 15 days, the bill says.

To be enacted, the legislation would have to be approved by the Duma in three separate readings and then in the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council. It would then be sent to Putin to be signed into law.

In an explanatory note submitted with the bill, the authors include quotes from both Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and current Democratic frontrunner in the U.S. presidential election, and U.S. President Barack Obama about the importance of LGBT rights.

Russian riot police detain LGBT activist Nikolai Alekseyev during an unauthorized rally in central Moscow in May.
Russian riot police detain LGBT activist Nikolai Alekseyev during an unauthorized rally in central Moscow in May.

The inclusion of comments by the two U.S. politicians appears aimed at discrediting the LGBT rights movement as a bid by the United States to impose its values on other countries.

It said that Obama has made “the fight for the rights of sexual minorities abroad…a priority of American foreign policy.”

The authors made clear they believe the punishments set out in the bill should apply to people involved in gay-pride parades, who they said “go out into the streets not to defend their rights but to demonstrate their perverted, atypical sexuality.”

Nikitchuk, deputy chair of the Duma’s natural resources committee, told the daily Izvestia in an interview published on October 23 that the bill is necessary because the so-called “gay propaganda” law has proved “insufficiently effective” in protecting young people.

He said in a radio interview that same day that only men would be subject to the legislation because women are “more sensible” and “emotional,” though the bill submitted to the Duma does not differentiate between men and women.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in December released a report accusing Russian authorities of failing to protect members of the LGBT community from discrimination, harassment, beatings, and humiliation by "homophobic vigilante groups," strangers, and others.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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