This week, the homophobic and medieval "anti-gay propaganda" law passed its third and final reading in St Petersburg. Yesterday, it was signed by Georgiy Poltavchenko, Governor of St Petersburg (despite international protests from assorted LGBT groups and Western governments), which now makes it an actual law in St Petersburg. Officially, the law states that “public actions directed at the propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism among minors” will be punishable with fines of up to £17,000.
AllOut.org is a global organisation that campaigns for gay rights across the world. Having been toiling since December to try to bring worldwide attention to the law, one of the videos they put on the internet condemning it and asking people not to travel to the city went viral. Andre Banks, co-founder of AllOut, said: “By validating a new regime of censorship and intolerance, Governor Poltavchenko has diminished the reputation of his city with the stroke of a pen. One hundred thousand people have promised not to visit the "new" St. Petersburg after this law goes into effect.”
I spoke to Andre to try to figure out how this even happened.
VICE: Why the hell was this bill even proposed? Was there a particular event that triggered it?
Andre Banks: There was no single event that triggered the law, but a similar law was recently passed in two small Russian cities. When AllOut.org started our campaign back in December, the goal was to make sure that the "propoganda" law did not spread throughout Russia without major global opposition.
What actually is "gay propaganda"? The legislation seems pretty sketchy and vague.
It is sketchy and incredibly vague! We've had the law reviewed by some of the best lawyers in Russia and what they tell us is that it is badly written, unclear and so broad that an enormous range of activities could now be subject to substantial fines. Most notably, it appears that the law could be used to make it impossible for LGBT groups to operate openly in the country, prohibit artists from using gay subjects or characters and make it very difficult, if not impossible, to report homophobic hate crimes. Even this article would be illegal in St Petersburg now.
I understand the bill was passed in St Petersburg, but does it affect the whole of Russia?
After three votes, the bill was passed two weeks ago and Giorgy Poltavchenko, the Governor of St Petersburg, just signed it into law. The law only applies to the city of St Petersburg for now, but it's worth noting that Poltavchenko, as well as the Mayor of Moscow, were appointed by the national party, so it's very possible that they could try to pass this the law at the national level soon.
Vitaly V. Milonov, the law’s principal drafter, said gay rights activists are trying to "convert" children. That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard – do you know anything else about this guy?
Our partners in Russia have told us repeatedly that the atmosphere within the St Petersburg Assembly is irrational, homophobic and extremely intense. Thanks to Milonov and others stirring up completely unfounded fears of "conversion", they have been able to advance the law quickly and even with popular support. The fact is, this is not about children – the law will silence all Russians, straight and gay, by giving the government the tools to crush freedom of expression.
If you'd like to help AllOut.org in vetoing the "anti-gay propaganda" law, you can pledge not to visit St Peterburg any time soon, right here.
Follow Gabriela on Twitter: @gabrielaesta