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Q&A on anti-gay legislation in Russia

Q&A on anti-gay legislation in Russia

MOSCOW — The law on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors” was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin on July 29. Originally titled the law on “homosexual propaganda,” the bill criminalizes public expression of support for nontraditional relationships.

Russian lawmakers say the law doesn’t outlaw homosexuality but merely discourages discussion of it among people younger than 18.

However, the law has outraged Russian liberals and some sectors of the international community just six months before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in the Russian city of Sochi.

Dmitry Lovetsky, AP
In this June 29, 2013 photo, riot police (OMON) guard gay rights activists who have been beaten by anti-gay protesters during an authorized gay rights rally in St.Petersburg, Russia.

However, the law has outraged Russian liberals and some sectors of the international community just six months before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in the Russian city of Sochi.

What is “propaganda”?

The definition of “propaganda” is vague and hinges on intent. Anyone who distributes information with the “intention” of persuading minors that nontraditional sexual relationships are “attractive” or “interesting,” or even “socially equivalent to traditional relationships” could be accused of breaking the law.

The law does not outlaw gay sex, which was legalized in Russia in 1993. It does not explicitly ban participation in gay pride parades or promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality online, but anyone wearing a rainbow flag on the street or writing about gay relationships on Facebook, for instance, could be accused of propagandizing.

What are “nontraditional relations”?

They are not defined by law. However, in an interview with the channel REN-TV, Yelena Mizulina, one of the bill’s authors, said there are four kinds: “men with men, women with women, bisexuality and being transgender.”

What are the penalties for violating the law?

The law sets fines of up to 5,000 rubles ($150) for individuals and 1 million rubles ($30,000) for organizations convicted of violating the law. Punishments are more severe for propaganda on the web or in the media – up to 100,000 rubles ($3,000) for individuals and up to 1 million rubles for organizations. Foreign citizens are subject to fines of up to 100,000 rub les, up to 15 days in prison, and deportation and denial of reentry into Russia.

Has the law been enforced?

No one has yet gone to court under the federal law. Six LGBT activists were detained after one of unfurled a banner reading “Being gay is normal” near a children’s library in Moscow, but so far the participants have not been brought to trial.

Four Dutch citizens working on a documentary film about gay rights in the northern Russian town of Murmansk were the first foreigners to be detained under the new law. They were fined and forced to leave the country, but weren’t put on trial.

There have been six cases in which individuals have been tried for “propaganda” under regional legislation.

How will the law impact LGBT rights?

While most activists believe that the law will not be widely enforced, it effectively gives any local government a carte blanche to ban gay pride events and will discourage people from discussing LGBT rights public ly and online.

Have Russians reacted to the law?

While the legislation outraged Russian liberals and activists, a poll by the independent Levada Center in Russia found that 73 percent of respondents supported any government efforts to curb homosexual propaganda. Four out of five Russians say that they do not have a single LGBT acquaintance.

How has the rest of the world reacted to the law?

The law sparked a boycott of Russian vodka in gay bars across North America and vodka dumps in front of Russian embassies and consulates. There have been scattered calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi, but no country or athlete has yet declined to attend. Most officials, including President Barack Obama, have called a boycott unnecessary.

What about the Olympics?

That’s unclear. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said foreign athletes would be expected “to respect the laws of the country,” and the Interior Ministry, which controls the police force, said Monday the anti-gay law will be enforced during the Olympics.

But some lawmakers and the Russian Olympic Committee said the law would be suspended during the Games.

Last week the International Olympic Committee called for Russia to clarify its stance.

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