Russia Postpones Anti-LGBT Legislation

If you're gay, even hand holding would be criminalized in new bill.
Gay rights activists kiss during a protest outside the Duma, Russia's lower house of Parliament, in Moscow. (Photo: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)
Jan 22, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Gionni Ponce is Participant Media’s Assistant of Advocacy and Social Impact.

The Federal Assembly of Russia was scheduled to debate a proposed bill on Friday that would ban individuals from publicly displaying “non-traditional sexual orientation,” but the meeting adjourned without the reading taking place. Despite that, the bill still could make its way into Russian law.

In its current draft, the proposed bill would fine anyone in public between 4,000 and 5,000 rubles ($53 to $66) if the police suspect they identify as LGBT. Further, if these public displays occur “on territories and in institutions, providing educational, cultural or youth services,” the bill proposes up to 15 days of jail time.

Two Communist Party members, Ivan Nikitchuk and Nikolai Arefyev, introduced the bill last October, though Nikitchuk has been a more vocal supporter of it. As with the antigay “propaganda” law passed in 2013, the coauthor of the bill cites the need to protect children from the “mentally abnormal,” who will “infect people around them.”

Whether or not the bill becomes law, “the damage has already been done," Tanya Cooper, a Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch who specializes in LGBT rights and discrimination, told TakePart. The public discussion that occurs when bills such as this one are introduced, said Cooper, often “conflate homosexuality with pedophilia.”

After the decriminalization of gay sex in 1993, Russia was becoming more tolerant, according to Cooper. “In general, LGBT people were more visible in public life, more gay and lesbian clubs," she said.

But the conversation changed and quickly “whipped up homophobia and transphobia in the country” in a way that Cooper had never seen. “It was incredible to see how fast the attitudes of Russians changed over the course of six months or a year.” In a 2014 report, Human Rights Watch documented an increase in attacks on LGBT people by both vigilante groups and individuals.

On Jan. 18, the Russian State Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State-Building released a public review stating that it found the bill to be too vague to enforce and superfluous. The parliamentary body, which conducts expert examinations of laws in relation to human rights, recommended the bill not be passed. The first reading and subsequent vote was originally scheduled for Jan. 19. There is no clear indication of why the reading was postponed then or Friday.

Though the bill was not read today, it still remains possible that it could become law. If it is added to the next agenda, parliament members could vote to place yet another restriction on the country’s increasingly harassed LGBT community.