Coming Out Could Mean Jail Time in Russia

Though President Putin continues to deny it, state-sanctioned animosity against the country’s LGBT community is alive and well.
A gay rights activist poses with a rainbow flag during a protest in Dvortsovaya Square in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Aug. 2. (Photo: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters)
Oct 26, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

Conservative lawmakers in Russia are considering amending an already controversial two-year-old article that punishes individuals who “propagate homosexuality” to children. The amendment to this article would make publicly coming out as gay an administrative violation punishable by up to 15 days in jail or a fine of 5,000 rubles, which amounts to about $80.

“This is a ridiculous suggestion which not only violates Russia’s international human rights obligations but its own constitution,” Tanya Cooper, Russia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told TakePart.

Russia’s LGBT community already reports state-sanctioned animosity. In 2013, the “anti-propaganda” law was enacted, making it illegal for same-sex couples to adopt children or for any individual to distribute information that promotes “non-traditional sexual orientations.” Anti-LGBT violence and harassment from vigilante groups and individuals has increased over the past two years, according to Human Rights Watch. The amendment was proposed Friday by communist lawmakers and has not yet been scheduled for a parliamentary vote.

Cooper said the amendment is a political move by the communist party to attract the attention of the broader conservative political movement in Russia before parliamentary elections in 2016.

“I suspect that this legislation will be extremely vague, and it will be up to law enforcement to interpret, which is very dangerous, because then it can be interpreted arbitrarily, just like the propaganda law,” Cooper said. “The propaganda law is mostly being enforced against activists.”

In the two years since the propaganda law was introduced, it has been used to prosecute three activists and one left-leaning newspaper editor.

In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin told 60 Minutes that anti-LGBT violence and sentiment in his country had been exaggerated by the media and is a nonissue.

“We have no persecution at all,” Putin told Charlie Rose. “People of nontraditional sexual orientation work, they live in peace, they get promoted…I don’t see anything undemocratic in [the propaganda law].”