Russia has been making headlines due to its so-called “anti-gay law” and increased incidents of violence towards openly gay Russians and travelers. As a result, there is a growing concern for LGBT travelers right now and during the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi. It’s not just about the laws on the books. It’s also about the culture on the ground. Here is a complete breakdown of what has been going on in Russia.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993. This has not changed. What has changed is new legislation that criminalizes the distribution of “propaganda” that equates homosexual relationships to heterosexual ones.
This law was passed by the Duma on June 11 and signed by President Vladimir Putin at the end of the month. It went into effect immediately.
But what does the law say? According to an unofficial translation, it states:
Propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors expressed in distribution of information that is aimed at the formation among minors of non-traditional sexual attitudes, attractiveness of nontraditional sexual relations, misperceptions of the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations, or enforcing information about non-traditional sexual relations that evokes interest to such relations, if these actions do not constitute a criminal offence, – is punishable by an administrative fine for citizens in the amount of four thousand to five thousand rubles; for officials – forty thousand to fifty thousand rubles; for legal entities – from eight hundred thousand to one million rubles, or administrative suspension of activities for the period of up to ninety days.
The punishment for foreigners or stateless individuals includes “an administrative fine in the amount of four thousand to five thousand rubles with administrative deportation from the Russian Federation or administrative arrest for a term of up to fifteen days with administrative deportation from the Russian Federation.” If the information is distributed via the Internet, the fine ranges from fifty thousand to one hundred thousand rubles.
Before this law was brought to a national level, it existed in nine states across Russia. But since it was brought before the Duma earlier this year, it has stirred anti-LGBT sentiment that has been brewing within the country for years.
It is believed by some that by implementing this law, President Putin is catering to the country’s conservative Orthodox Christian base. Meanwhile, the LGBT community has attempted to protest the legal suppression of its voice. As a result of this law, equality parades and “It Gets Better” campaigns will not be possible. Some incidents that recently occurred include:
- At a June equality rally in St. Petersburg, 40 gay-rights activists were physically attacked by a group of about 200
- In early May, a 23-year-old man was violently tortured and murdered in Volgograd after revealing he was gay
- At the end of May, a 39-year-old man, who was a senior administrator at an airport, was stabbed and trampled to death
- Four Dutch tourists were imprisoned under the new law
- According to Spectrum Human Rights Alliance, a neo-Nazi group has bullied, tortured, and murdered gay men, filming the proceedings and posting them on YouTube
But these attacks are not considered rare. The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012 released by the U.S. State Department noted that “openly gay men were targets of skinhead aggression, and police often failed to respond.”
Since the new law is in place and being enforced, travelers to Russia need to exercise caution.
The term “propaganda” is not specific, and many believe that the law’s wording is vague on purpose. If LGBT Americans do have to go to Russia, it is best not to display affection publicly, which includes kissing and holding hands. The government has recently cracked down on open criticism of the law, so regardless of your sexual orientation, if you don’t agree with the law, keep it to yourself.
And never assume that you are protected because you are American. If you’re in a foreign country, you’re subject to their laws. If you are fined and imprisoned, the State Department can send someone out to advise you of the situation, but they cannot have you released.
You can register with the nearest U.S. embassy and enroll the in the State Department’s Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which will email you up to date alerts and information.
Visit our Complete LGBT Travel archives for LGBT-Friendly Travel Destinations & Travel Safety Tips.
By Stephanie Ervin for PeterGreenberg.com