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Russia passes law that bans sharing information on homosexuality

Anti-gay rights activists stand on a rainbow flag during a protest by gay rights activists against the proposed
Anti-gay rights activists stand on a rainbow flag during a protest by gay rights activists against the proposed "homosexual propaganda" law, Moscow June 11, 2013.

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

New legislation against “homosexual propaganda” has been passed against backdrop of piousness and machismo of Putinism, says Padraig Reidy.

A law banning “homosexual propaganda” passed entirely unopposed in Russia's federal Duma yesterday. The law imposes fines for anyone providing information on homosexuality to minors.

The move was not surprising. The Putin years have been characterised by twin strands of piousness and machismo, epitomised by the regime's treatment of feminist group Pussy Riot after they staged a protest in a Moscow church. Meanwhile, Putin's announcement of his divorce from his wife this week went oddly unremarked upon by Orthodox church leader Patriarh Kirill, normally a vocal upholder of family values.

But we cannot just blame the church for this attitude. While much of the world gradually liberalised in its attitude to homosexuality through the second half of the 20th century, Soviet communism saw non-heterosexual orientation as a bourgeois deviation. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in Russia in 1993.

(It's also worth noting that this law is not exactly dissimilar to the UK's 1986 Section 28 law, which stated that local authorities “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”. That law was only fully repealed in 2003.)

When Russian LGBT activists organised the first Moscow pride in 2006, they were met with violence both from anti-gay activists and police. Nothing has changed in the intervening seven years, as evidenced by the sacking of broadcaster Anton Krasovsky after he came out earlier this year.

The new federal law builds on a law that already existed in parts of the country, most notably St Petersburg. That regional legislation had already led to some bizarre cases, including a conviction of a St Petersburg human rights lawyer who in May 2012 was ordered to pay a 5,000 rouble fine for holding a placard saying “Homosexuality is not a perversion. A perversion is field hockey and ballet on ice.”

Krasovsky appeared in a bizarre discussion on BBC's Newsnight on Tuesday night, face to face with singer Valeriya Perfilova. The broadcaster pointed out that merely mentioning on air that he was gay, and should have the same rights as President Putin, could be construed as propaganda.

Perfilova's arguments were familiar: some of her best friends were gay, but one had to think of the children, who may be somehow brought over to the dark side merely by hearing about gay people: and then the inevitable spectre of paedophilia was raised, as she old the story of an attempted assault on a child.

Polling shows that around 74 per cent of Russians today consider homosexuality to be a mental disorder. This new curb on free speech will just make it even more difficult for gay Russians to fight for their rights and change their fellow citizens minds.

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