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Thursday, 24 November 2011

Western leaders condemn Russian 'gay propoganda' law

Arrest of Nikolai Alekseev at St Petersberg Pride in June 2011
By Paul Canning

Both the British and the American governments have condemned Russia's 'gay propaganda' law.

The law, which has been rushed through the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, prohibits so-called propaganda of ‘sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism, and pedophilia to minors.’ It passed second reading this week but lawmakers have delayed the third reading until 30 November, according to a video statement by Russian lesbian leader Polina Savchenko.

The bill was introduced by Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party and the same law is reportedly being considered by the Moscow region and also federally. It is broadly written, so could potentially ban wearing a rainbow flag badge or even a public presentation about or concert of music by the gay Russian composer Tchaikovsky where his sexuality was mentioned. It also deliberately conflates homosexuality and paedophilia, as have its proponents.

The UK Foreign Office and the US State department condemnations are unusual. Both been been condemned by Russian activists for a perceived acquiescence to Russian anti-gay actions.

Although the State Department did issue a statement after this year's Moscow Pride demonstration was banned and a number of people arrested, including two Americans, they had said nothing about previous Moscow Pride bans, said nothing when leader Nikolai Alekseev was kidnapped last year and when Hillary Clinton visited Moscow in 2009 to unveil a statue of the gay American poet Walt Whitman activists had then appealed to her to use the opportunity to support LGBT rights in Russia - she didn't.

The organizers of St Petersburg Pride asked the US Consulate in St. Petersburg last year to help by screening the documentary, Beyond Gay, the Politics of Pride, which features the differences between several Gay Prides around the world. The Americans refused, and the excuse was:
“We cannot show a Canadian documentary in the US consulate.”
The State Department made no statement following the banning and subsequent arrests at the St Petersberg Pride demonstration in June this year.

The UK Foreign Office said:
The message of this law, that homosexuality is unacceptable, let alone in any way similar to a crime like paedophilia, is wrong.  It goes against European and Russian commitments to human rights, including the guarantee of non-discrimination set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The idea that children need protecting from ‘gay propaganda’ is also mistaken.  In the UK we have also had discussions about how to teach children about sex and relationships.  But as Prime Minister Cameron said in 2010  - ‘We need good sex and relationship education. That education should teach people about equality and the sort of country we are – that we treat people the same whether they are straight or gay, or black or white or a man or a woman. It is important that ethos is embedded in our schooling’.
The UK has assumed the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, which includes Russia, and says that the law will be raised both by the Consulate General in St Petersburg and at the next EU-Russia consultations later this month.

The UK has also initiated condemnatory joint letters from 12 European countries to authorities in St Petersberg.
"The United States places great importance on combating discrimination against the LGBT community and all minority groups," the State Department said. 
"Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights."
Lance Price, Director of the UK-based international LGBT group Kaleidoscope Trust, said that he believed that international pressure on the authorities is working.
"We hope that our government, in conjunction with others around the world, will maintain the pressure," he said.
Nikolai Alexseyev called for pressure on the European Court of Human Rights to speed up consideration of the complaint before the court regarding the first 'gay propaganda' law, in the Ruzlan region.

Interviewed by Doug Ireland in August last year regarding the attitude of foreign governments to supporting Russian LGBT activists, Alekseev said that Russia prior to 9/11 was often criticised internationally for human rights abuses but after, not so much:
"You know, if tomorrow the Kremlin starts to put us in jail, do you think someone will care? Does someone care when human rights activists are arrested? Not anymore. They used to care," said Alekseev. 
"Europeans have experienced the collateral damages of the fight between Russia and Ukraine on the issue of imported natural gas. When Russia switched off the gas to Ukraine, Western Europe started to be cold as well. The Europeans understand that they have limited margin of maneuver with Russia... Human rights activists in Russia are the hostages of this geopolitics. And I am including us in that pot," he said.
Savchenko said of the delayed third vote on the St Petersberg bill:
"This victory is a very small step. The threat to the LGBT community and human rights remains very real and there is still a very long way to go. This delay by lawmakers wins us time to CONTINUE TO PRESSURE our government. We ask you to continue your support by:
  • Requesting your leaders to contact our politicians and speak out against this law
  • Requesting your mass media to cover the issue and approach our politicians for comments
  • Signing the petition on AllOut (www.allout.org/russia_silenced)"
AllOut.org Co-Founder Andre Banks said that their petition, which is directed at world leaders and being used to lobby foreign ministries, was nearing 200,000 signatures:
"It's moments like these that highlight exactly why we launched All Out just under a year ago: to stand with our friends around the world when they’re under attack, and to keep opportunistic governments from playing politics with fundamental rights," he said.
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