In November 2011, St. Petersburg shocked the world. Legislative Assembly of one of the world’s cultural capitals approved in its first reading the bill which outlaws promotion of homosexuality, transsexuality and pedophilia to minors.
The passage of the bill provoked quick reaction from the local LGBT activists who organized several protests against the initiative. It also mobilized the international community. The bill was condemned by MEPs, U.S. State Department and thousands of people from around the world who signed online petition against its implementation.
The city which is deemed the cultural capital of Russia, the place where famous Russian gays created Russian artistic heritage, entered into hall of shame of the 21st century by drifting into medieval barbarity.
The bill that was proposed in St. Petersburg sets administrative fines for the propaganda of homosexuality, transsexuality and pedophilia but it does not explain what “propaganda” actually means.
What is the difference between the public expression of someone’s loving feelings and promotion of a lifestyle? Can a work of art be considered a propaganda? Can a protest for human rights be considered as imposing one’s personal characteristics on others?
The St. Petersburg bill does not answer these questions. In fact it not only equals homosexuality to pedophilia but also separates homosexuality and heterosexuality as the later, in the MP’s view, can be promoted.
The city — where one of the most famous Russian gays, composer Peter Chaikovskiy lived, worked and died just days after conducting his Sixth Pathetic Symphony; where another gay, famous Russian writer Nikolay Gogol wrote many of his classical works; where a Russian gay ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev gracefully flew over the stage of Mariinskiy Theatre — turned to be in the hands of uneducated clericals, namely devotional orthodox Governor Georgiy Poltavchenko and local parliamentarian and acting priest Vitaliy Milonov.
Will they ever be known by the world except for their anti-gay hatred?
But those living in St. Petersburg and visiting it as tourists want to know whether after the “propaganda” bill is passed Hermitage museum, like in 2002, will ever be able to reunify two paintings by Michelangelo da Caravaggio “The Lute Player” and “Love Conquers All” from Berlin collection written for marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani.
No-one knows now whether the law in St. Petersburg will finally come into force but if it does one can guess that hundreds of tourists aboard Baltic Gay Cruise of Atlantis will hardly feel themselves as safe as before, when they step on St. Petersburg soil in July 2012.
International and local protests are very important in finding solution to St. Petersburg homophobic initiative. But the roots of this plague are not in the Northern capital of Russia. They are just 180 km from the official Russian capital Moscow, in the city of Ryazan.
In 2006, local lawmakers adopted the first ever law prohibiting propaganda of homosexuality to minors in Russia. This law was as much useless as politically motivated directed at symbolic stigmatization of gays and lesbians that in five years it was only used in practice once.
When the activists of Moscow Pride and GayRussia went to Ryazan to educate minors with the placards that homosexuality is normal. They were arrested, detained, humiliated, judged, fined and challenged the law in courts. In a very creative decision the Russian Constitutional Court confirmed that the law did not contradict with the Constitution.
The case of Nikolay Bayev v. Russia challenging the propaganda laws of Ryazan region is pending before the European Court of Human Rights since November 2009. The opening of this case by Strasbourg judges is now the only binding legal way to challenge Ryazan, St. Petersburg, Arkhangelsk and any future, even possibly federal law, prohibiting propaganda of homosexuality in Russia.
The LGBT community has to unite around this case now to stop similar initiatives not only in Russia but also in other European countries as similar bills are discussed in Lithuania and Ukraine. This issue is not only Russian. It is an Eastern European one. And this case can put a final dot to this issue by making a European precedent.
Gay people are being used as scapegoats in Russian politics as the society is still largely homophobic. St. Petersburg initiative before the parliamentary elections is maybe just aiming to increase the vote for the ailing ruling United Russia party of Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev on 4 December but it also creates the atmosphere of hatred in the society.
In a similar way than when the Governor of Tambov called for gays to be torn into pieces and thrown in the wind, or when former Moscow Mayor Luzhkov called us alternatively “satanic”, “faggots”, “Western weapons of mass destruction” and made us responsible for the spread of HIV”.
In June 1961 world famous Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev ran from the USSR asking for political asylum in France. He became a star in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) but he went far beyond the official constraints on his liberty, creativity and expression of his times.
I just want to hope that Russian Nureyevs and ordinary LGBT people of today will not one day wake up facing similar challenges which will force them to leave their country forever.