Despite the decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia in 1993, the past few weeks have seen a rush of anti-gay legislation, including the new ban on the adopting of children by any same sex couples. This weekend, four Dutch immigrants became the first people found in contempt of the anti-gay propaganda law, and were arrested. They were released Sunday without being charged.
Cara introduced the specifics of this bill in her article last month, explaining the fines and penalties for citizens who engage in the “dissemination of information aimed at developing in minors non-traditional sexual facilities.” This includes any printed propaganda, use of the media and internet to spread pro-gay messages, speaking about homosexuality in the presence of children and the assembly of LGBT groups, protests or rallies. Monetary fines range from 4,000 rubles for individuals up to 1 million rubles for organizations. Foreigners can face deportation, organization can see temporary closure, and some individuals can serve jail time.
According to a report from BBC, the four Dutch citizens were filming a documentary about gay rights in Murmansk when police burst in during an interview, detained the film crew, and questioned them for several hours. The police later reviewed their footage. One of the documentary participants turned out to be 17 years old, though the Dutch lawyer countered that the participant told the film crew he was 18 before they included them in filiming. One member of the Dutch group, Kris van der Veen, wrote on his twitter account that since their release, no further action has been taken against them. It is now assumed there won’t be a full case brought against them. (Van der Veen is the head of LGBT-Groningen, a group that campaigns for gay rights). Each of the four were fined 3,000 rubles, ($93), and cited for violating their visas which stated they were visiting the area to learn local culture.
As the homophobic legislation in Russia escalates, there seems to be little mainstream news coverage or reaction to these harsh political changes, despite the international attention you would assume Russia would receive as Russia is readying to host the 2014 Winter Olympic games. In a New York Times op/ed piece last weekend, Harvey Fierstein, an actor and playwright, voiced his frustrations about the situation in Russia, calling out the world’s silence and questioning Putin’s political motives. Fierstein concludes that “Mr. Putin’s campaign against lesbian, gay and bisexual people is one of distraction” from other political failings. He also challenges the world leaders to speak out against these practices that are breeding hate and violence.
As mentioned above, at least two new bills regarding LGBT rights have passed since the anti-gay propaganda bill in June. On July 3rd, Putin signed the ban on adoptions by same sex couples, both domestic and foreign, which had been brewing for some time. Single parents who lived in same sex permitting areas are included in this ban. The Huffington Post quoted the Kremlin as saying “the measure is aimed at guaranteeing a harmonious and full upbringing for children in adoptive families.” Just a few days earlier, Putin extended the previous anti-propaganda bill to include foreign tourists. This new provision is especially worrisome in light of the Olympics – and whether any LGBT athletes could be subjected to consequences of this law, which includes up to 15 days of jail time, for speaking publicly about their sexual orientation.
The time is ripe for international pressure to be put on Russia, but any real action is yet to be seen. The International Olympic Community and Human Rights Watch have already released statements vowing to stand by any LGBT athletes, but the protection of just one group isn’t a good meter for change. While stories of questioned foreigners and fears about traveling swirl on smaller news outlets, the internal violence continues without much coverage, and Russia’s silenced LGBT community waits for collective support.