‘Many adolescents are very frightened about their orientation’
Members of Russia’s LGBT network say the new law is inciting violence
A protester holds up a placard during a demonstration against Russia’s anti-gay legislation near Downing Street in London. Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters
Russia’s law on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors” commonly known in as the “gay propaganda” law does not ban all conversations on homosexuality as claimed by some western critics but, according to Tatyana Glushkova, it is so wide-ranging that even the two members of the Russian parliament who introduced the law could find themselves in breach of their own legislation.
Glushkova, a lawyer who advises LGBT clients and is a member of Russia’s LGBT network, pointed to a hypothetical situation in which deputies Yelena Mizulina and Olga Batalina discuss their law on TV. If they did so at a time when viewing by under 18s was endorsed by the TV station they could, technically at least, face a hefty fine.
Any public discussion on homosexuality that can be seen or heard by children would be in breach of the law so those who organise workshops on the issue have to ensure that they are confined to adults and that no one under 18 can stray into the attendance.
So far no one has been found guilty under the controversial law but that has not stopped police harassment of gays on the streets of Russian cities. Glushkova cited three cases.
In July in Moscow near the Children’s Library an activist held up a poster with the message “It’s normal to be gay.” He was taken to a police station and held for six hours even though police were only permitted to hold him for three. He was then charged under the new law and also accused of holding a public meeting without permission.
The next step in the process under Russian law was the sending of a “protocol” (a report of the incident) to a judge. In this case the protocol was rejected by the judge on a technicality. In the Volga city of Kazan, which has a largely Muslim population, an activist displayed an anti-homophobia poster and was taken into custody. What happened after that is not clear but no further action has been taken and the judge has up to a year to decide on whether to accept the police report or not.
In Murmansk in northern Russia a Dutch LGBT television crew interviewed a 16-year-old boy without knowing his age. Their video recording was seized by police and they were summoned to appear in court. The Dutch crew arrived in court at the appointed time and were met by the judge’s assistant who said: “What are you doing here. Go away.”
The law is a very new one but even at this early stage a pattern appears to be emerging of police taking action and judges shying away from decisions.