Second city in Russia is St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg’s infamous anti-gay law has been abolished by the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly in a second reading of amendments during a council session on June 18. The amendments were initiated by the Legislative Assembly’s United Russia deputy Vitaly Milonov, who had originally introduced the law in 2011.
According to Milonov, the local law prohibiting the “promotion of sodomy, lesbianism, bi-sexuality and transgenderism to minors,” became redundant after a similar national law came into force in June 2013. However, Milonov, who chairs the Legislative Assembly’s committee on legislation, said he would now work on amendments to the Russian Criminal Code to criminalize the alleged offense.
Despite domestic and international criticism and protests for being anti-constitutional and violating Russia’s international obligations, the city’s anti-gay law came into effect on Mar. 17, 2012 after passing three readings at the Legislative Assembly and finally signed by St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko.
The more vaguely termed national law, prohibiting the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations,” was proposed to the State Duma on Mar. 28, 2012, soon after the controversial presidential election that year, which was marked by mass protests, and came into force on June 30, 2013 after being signed by Vladimir Putin, who had returned to the presidency.
In over two years since Milonov’s initiative had become a law, the only person punished by court for alleged gay propaganda has been Moscow-based LGBT activist Nikolai Alexeyev, who was detained outside the city administration during his one-man protest on Apr. 12, 2012. A St. Petersburg court imposed a fine of 5,000 rubles ($145) on Alexeyev for his sign saying “Homosexuality is not a perversion. Hockey on grass and ballet on ice are,” — a quote from the famous Russian and Soviet actress Faina Ranevskaya.
Alexeyev, the organizer of the Moscow Gay Pride Rally who won a lawsuit against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2010 over 164 bans on LGBT rallies issued by the Moscow administration, filed lawsuits against the law with the St. Petersburg Statutory Court for violating the City Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically Article 10, “ Freedom of expression,” and Article 14, “Prohibition of discrimination.” Russia is a signatory member of the convention.
In a statement on June 18, Alexeyev said that Milonov backed down because he feared expected rulings against the law. “Milonov apparently got scared and decided not to wait for a humiliating verdict of the European Court of Human Rights, where his law will obviously have a fiasco,” he said.
“[But] the European Court will not close the case, and the Russian budget will have to pay for Milonov’s initiative, among other things.”
According to Ksenia Kirichenko, a lawyer for the LGBT rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out), the national law was initiated after it had been tested in the provinces, including St. Petersburg. “There seems to have been an idea to pass it in several regions and see what the reaction will be,” she told The St. Petersburg Times on Monday. “Now that there is a national law, there is no necessity in regional laws anymore.” In November 2013, the local law similar to Milonov’s was abolished in Arkhangelsk Oblast.
Although Alexeyev remains the only person fined under the law, it was used several times for banning LGBT rights rallies, including the ones organized by Vykhod, and once to stop a rally after it started, Kirichensko said.
“Sometimes the law was used technically, when people were detained at rallies for the promotion [of homosexuality], but when pressing charges, [the police] forgot about it. Instead, they were charged for alleged bad language, disorderly conduct or violation of the rules of holding a rally.
“A gay pride rally on June 29, 2013 was stopped by either the administration or the police allegedly due to a complaint that homosexuality was being promoted there.”
According to Kirichenko, the implementation of the law led to complaints against high school teachers and the NGOs that carried out tolerance programs among school children. The other issue with the law was that LGBT people who had children from former heterosexual marriages were now being threatened by their ex-spouses with the termination of parental rights due to the alleged promotion of homosexuality to minors, she said.
According to her, the atmosphere of intolerance created by the anti-gay legislation also led to an increase in Russians seeking for political asylum abroad.
“On the whole, we see that the law has a symbolic meaning; the state sort of says that LGBT people are worse, that they are socially unequal, which probably leads to a splash of violence against both gay activists and people who don’t take to the street,” Kirichenko said. “In general, society started to treat LGBT people more negatively.”
Yury Gavrikov, the chairman of Ravnopraviye (Equality) LGBT rights organization and organizer of the St. Petersburg Gay Pride Rally, sees the abolishment of Milonov’s law as naturally determined, but sees the implementation of the new national law as only one of the reasons. “It is caused first of all by the unworkability of the law and the lack of law enforcement practice,” he told The St. Petersburg Times on Monday.
City’s Anti-Gay Law to Be Abolished