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Homophobic bill would penalize people for publicly displaying sexual orientation

Anti-gay protesters try to tear a rainbow flag during an LGBT community rally in Moscow, 30 May 2015
Anti-gay protesters try to tear a rainbow flag during an LGBT community rally in Moscow, 30 May 2015

REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 4 November 2015.

A draft law pending in Russia's parliament would penalize people who engage in public displays that would suggest that their sexual orientation is gay, Human Rights Watch said today. Parliament should reject the draft as wholly incompatible with Russia's human rights obligations.

“This draft law is a new and absurd low in discriminatory legislative proposals,” said Tanya Cooper, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The draft proposes to effectively outlaw being gay, and just being yourself could land you behind bars.”

The draft law was introduced on October 29, 2015, by two parliament members from the Communist Party, Ivan Nikitchuk and Nikolai Arefyev. The authors propose fines of between four and five thousand rubles (US$65-$80) for “the public expression of non-traditional sexual relations, manifested in a public demonstration of personal perverted sexual preferences in public places.” If such public displays occur “on territories and in institutions, providing educational, cultural or youth services,” the offender will be fined or put under an administrative arrest of up to 15 days.

In an explanatory note, the authors contend that homosexuality is “socially infectious,” especially for children and teenagers exposed to public manifestations of homosexuality.

The draft law has not yet been scheduled for plenary debate.

In an explanatory note, the authors contend that homosexuality is “socially infectious,” especially for children and teenagers exposed to public manifestations of homosexuality. They also conflate homosexuality with pedophilia, explicitly accusing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement of striving to support pedophilia. The measure's authors claim that the measure will protect public health and morals.

Nikitchuk said in a media interview that the law would be applied only to gay men, because women are “more reasonable” and "respected." In another interview, Nikitchuk condemned Western countries for protecting rights of LGBT people as human rights, saying that “normal people,” especially the young, should be protected from “these mentally abnormal” people. He also called gay people “cattle” and said they “infect people around them.”

“The authors are using false, abusive, homophobic rhetoric in discussions of their draft law,” Cooper said. “As public officials, they should at a bare minimum respect the rights enshrined in the constitution and international law, and not engage in rhetoric that borders on hate speech.”

The draft law is so vague that any public behavior, from holding hands to hugging or kissing – or simply behavior that authorities deem non-gender-conforming – could be considered an offense. It would be a blatant violation of freedom of expression and association, as well as discriminatory, Human Rights Watch said. It would add to the hostile environment in Russia for LGBT people and put them at further risk of violence, in violation of Russia's human rights obligations.

It is not the first attempt by Russian authorities to push the country's LGBT community into silence and hiding, Human Rights Watch said. In 2013, Russia adopted a law banning the “promotion among children of nontraditional sexual relations.” The ban applies to information provided via the press, television, radio, and the Internet. The law, passed unanimously by the Russian parliament, amends the Law on Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development and the Code of Administrative Violations.

"This draft is yet another example of how the 2013 law opened the floodgate to further discrimination against LGBT people," Cooper said. "It protects no one and punishes people for exercising their right to freedom of expression."

At least three LGBT activists and a newspaper editor in Russia's Far East region have been found guilty of violating the federal anti-LGBT “propaganda” law. Elena Klimova, founder and administrator of an online group, Children 404, which provides psychological support to LGBT children, is fighting charges against her under the “propaganda” law in courts. In August, a Russian court banned the information published on Children 404 from distribution in Russia. A Russian social network, VKontakte, subsequently blocked access to the online group.

Children have the right to comprehensive health information and, more generally, access to information from a diversity of international and national sources, including information regarding sexuality and sexual behavior, Human Rights Watch said.

Another law adopted in 2013 banned adoptions of Russian children by foreign same-sex couples.

“This draft is yet another example of how the 2013 law opened the floodgate to further discrimination against LGBT people,” Cooper said. “It protects no one and punishes people for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

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