Gay travel websites herald St. Petersburg as Russia’s most gay-friendly city. According to gaytravel.com, “St. Petersburg is to Moscow what San Francisco is to New York. Culture and nightlife are explosive yet there’s a sense that people aren’t in nearly as big a hurry.”
That statement was arguably true up until February 8, 2012, the date when St. Petersburg approved a controversial bill that threatens to impose fines of up to $16,700 for the “promotion of homosexuality.” The bill—if signed in to law by St. Petersburg’s mayor—will criminalize reading, writing, speaking or reporting on anything related tao gay, lesbian bi or trans people, and will make illegal almost all activity related to defending or promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) equality. “Pride parades, literature, or NGOs that openly serve LGBT people will be wiped out, or pushed underground,” said leading global lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered rights group AllOut.org.
AllOut.org had undertaken a “massive international call-in campaign” (more on that campaign here: www.allout.org/russia_call) against the law, but failed to convince Russian lawmakers to withdraw the anti-gay bill. Several LGBT rights activists protesting the law were reportedly arrested outside the parliament building on February 8, 2012, the day the bill was approved.
As part of the All Out international campaign, thousands of All Out members deluged their foreign ministries with calls, from Washington to Buenos Aires, London to Madrid to Sydney, urging their governments to speak out against the bill to their counterparts in Russia.
Following the approval of the law, ComingOut, an LGBT-organization based in St. Petersburg, issued a statement. It said: “This law would legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia. The history of Europe shows that all totalitarian regimes here began with similar repression of LGBT people. If this law is allowed to pass, it could signal that Russia is sliding towards a new totalitarianism.”
“This bill, which would violate Russia’s own constitution as well as any number of international treaties, is an outrageous attack on the freedom of expression for all Russians – straight and gay. It must not be allowed to stand,” said Andre Banks, AllOut.org executive director. “Last year, 250,000 All Out members around the world raised their voices and stood in solidarity with the brave men and women in Russia, who refused to be used as a political scapegoats and forced into the shadows. Today we will make certain that phones across the world are ringing off the hook—and that the voices demanding equality are louder than those of bigotry and hate.”
According to AllOut.org, the law—if passed—will have a deep chilling effect on the LGBT community in Russia by equating speech about gay and transgender issues to committing acts of pedophilia. “In Russia’s most cosmopolitan city, home to some of the country’s most established gay rights organizations, it could soon be a criminal offense punishable by heavy fines to publish or distribute anything LGBT related. ”
As of this writing, the controversial law has outraged gay-rights activists and liberal lawmakers in Russia, as well as condemnation by the international community, including by the US State Department.
On Sunday, February 19, 2012, a group of gay-rights activists spray-painted a rainbow and the words “We cannot be banned” on the facade of the United Russia party headquarters in Moscow to protest the controversial St. Petersburg anti-gay law.