Homosexuals in the Kremlin’s crosshairs

The Kremlin says it does not have anti-gay policies

However, with the new laws against “propaganda” and on adoption, homosexuals have become second-class citizens

Less than one month after the punishing law against all acts of homosexual “propaganda” in front of children took effect in Russia, worry is intensifying in the gay community. Controversial in other countries but almost without debate in Russia, the new regulation provides for fines from 4,000 to 5,000 rubles (€90 to €120) for an individual and up to a million rubles (€24,000) for legal organizations. Although the cause receives little attention in the major media or by the public, human rights advocates in Moscow have denounced the law as discriminatory. It also provides for sanctions for foreigners: up to 100,000 rubles (some €2,400) and fifteen days in jail despite protests in Europe and the United States.

Four Dutch citizens were threatened with just that. During filming on gay rights, they specifically interviewed minors in Murmansk, the big city north of St. Petersburg. The police showed up and arrested them as they were participating in a round table on human rights on Sunday. They were interrogated for eight hours. They were to be tried this week, but no doubt facing protests from the Dutch government, the court postponed the case. The four Dutch citizens are forbidden to visit Russia for three years.

The affair might have ended there but it affected people. Russians arrested under the same law do not benefit from the same leniency. The next week, five gay militants were arrested when they protested against the new law on Red Square.  Human rights activists also denounced legal amendments on the adoption of children. Gay singles and couples living in countries where same-sex unions are legal are now prohibited from adopting Russian orphans. The measure was adopted after the changes in France which shocked the majority of the Russian people.

In a country where homosexuality was considered a crime during the Soviet era until 1993, and as a mental illness until 1999, it is still seen as an illness. According to a recent poll, 88% of Russians support the ban on homosexual “propaganda” and 54% think homosexuality should be punished.

Even if gay couples have higher public visibility at least in some areas of Moscow, gays are easy targets during their military service and are frequently attacked in the metro. Last May a 23 year old man who in his city of Volgograd (in the south), came out during a drinking session, ended up being beaten by two friends. They put bottles of beer in his anus before trying to burn him, then they split his head open with a block of stone.

The climate of insecurity for gays is even stronger in the Orthodox Church which is influential in the halls of power and in society. It includes many “ultras” but few dissident voices. Patriarch Cyril has declared that homosexuality, drug addiction, prostitution and adultery are the principal threats to Russian society. “It is a sin and cannot be equal to a normal relationship between a man and a woman,” insists his spokesperson. “Contrary to some Christian churches in Europe we will never recognize the rights of homosexuals.” The authorities do not hide their scorn for the gay cause, and notably, ban gay pride parades – “the work of Satan” as the former mayor of Moscow once said.

“During the Second World War, Muscovites fought against the Nazis, who exterminated Jews, Communists and …homosexuals. But, now, the mayor of Moscow is on the side of the neo-Nazis,” protested Peter Tatchell in 2011. The celebrated British defender of gay rights came to Russia to support Nikolai Alexeyev, the leader of the Gay Russia movement who is regularly arrested. His leadership is being challenged in his community. His media-centric strategy centered on gay pride has done nothing to advance the rights of homosexuals.

 

BENJAMIN QUENELLE

 

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