Tuesday, Russia's lower house of parliament passed a law against the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" (i.e. propaganda from "the gays"). The vote was of 436 in favor, 0 against. You could argue that the bill could have been more homophobic, since its original title was the law against "homosexual propaganda." The law against "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations," which the bill's defenders defined as "relations not conducive to procreation," is a step in the right direction, I guess. But if you suspect the legislation will not be applied to heterosexual couples who cannot or choose not to have biological children of their own, you are correct. The law imposes significant fines of up to $31,000 for providing information about the LGBT community to minors, holding gay pride events, speaking in defense of gay rights, or equating gay and heterosexual relationships. In a truly egalitarian and internationalist spirit, the bill applies to Russians and foreigners alike, as well as media organizations.
Applying the invaluable English-class lesson that it's better to show than tell, Russia not only passed homophobic legislation (telling) but engaged in homophobia in its violent response to the valiant few protesting the bill (showing). Before the vote, some LGBT Russians staged a kiss-in to protest the bill. Some of the hundreds of Russians protesting in favor of the bill hurled eggs and other objects at them, sang Russian Orthodox songs, chanted "Moscow is not Sodom!" and beat the kissers. Luckily the police were there to ... detain the LGBT protesters!
The law was already passed in several regions of the country, including St Petersburg, considered one of the most open-minded cities in Russia (remember, everything is relative). In fact, when Madonna made the mistake of saying, at a concert there, "I am here to say that the gay community and gay people here and all around the world have the same rights — to be treated with dignity, with respect, with tolerance, with compassion, with love," conservative organizations tried to use the law against her, arguing that her statements would adversely affect Russia's birthrate and its ability to maintain its army, and (somehow) cause the divorce rate to skyrocket. On a sad day for homophobes, the judge ruled against the plaintiffs, asking why they had not gone after alcoholics, since alcoholism causes divorce.
It's unclear whether alcoholism, the gays, or another woman was responsible for a recent divorce announcement made by none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila. For his part, Putin insists that there is no anti-gay discrimination in Russia and backs that claim up by openly blaming Russia's declining birth rate on whatever the Russian word is for "homosexuals." He criticized France's legalization of same-sex marriage and supports a law banning the adoption of Russian children by foreign LGBT parents. Observers are certain Putin, as well as Russia's upper house of parliament, will pass the new anti-gay — er,I mean anti-nontraditional-sexual-relations — law just passed by the lower house of parliament. This accompanies Putin's increased closeness to the Russian Orthodox Church. You'd think a man so concerned with birth rates, family values, and morality would want to lead an exemplary marital life. You'd think that he wouldn't get divorced. Or, OK, maybe he'd get divorced, but he would handle it in a way that reflects the sanctity of marriage. But you'd be wrong, since Putin and his wife decided to announce their pending divorce on state television in an interview conducted during an intermission of an opera the "couple" was attending. Putin's spokespeople insist the announcement was spontaneous and not staged. Almost every other person in the world thinks it was, since a reporter for state television asking about the president's personal life on the spot would be unthinkable in modern Russia.
If the president's publicity stunt around his own divorce as well as his alleged infidelity make the moralizing about nontraditional sexual relations that much more ridiculous and hypocritical, the recent attacks, torture, and murder of LGBT people make the law tragic, scary, and dangerous. The Russian LGBT Network told Human Rights Watch that it had observed an increase in physical attacks and verbal aggression against LGBT people since parliament began debating the bill in January. Three homophobic murders were reported within the month of May. Most recently, a man killed another man who proposed having sex with him. Before that Oleg Serdyuk, 39, was kicked and stabbed to death. Authorities say his killers were motivated by his alleged “non-traditional sexual orientation.” And in a case that received some international attention, Vladislav Tornovoy, a 23-year-old, was killed by his "friends" who tortured him, sodomized him with beer bottles, and smashed his head with a stone after he admitted he was gay. Police said, “Four young people were drinking … And one of them already knew, he’d heard from others, that he [the victim] was of an untraditional sexual orientation. He asked him the question and the victim said yes ... After that, one of them hit him, he fell to the floor, and then they brutally beat him, set fire to the clothes he was wearing, slashed his anal area and then stuck three bottles in there, again beat him and then threw a 20-kg (44-pound) stone onto his head.”
There are no official figures on anti-gay crime in Russia. Nikolai Alexeyev, a Russian LGBT-rights advocate, said most hate crimes are unreported, or are not classified as such by the police: “Such crimes are committed around Russia every day... As a rule, all these crimes are categorized as something ordinary — they argued over a bottle of vodka, or there was ‘personal animosity.’ The real motive of hate is not mentioned.” And Maria Kozlovskaya, a lawyer who works with Russia's LGBT community, noted that in a poll conducted in 2012, 15% of the approximately 900 Russian LGBT people interviewed, said they had been physically attacked at least once in the previous 10 months prior to the survey. Another poll conducted last year found that nearly 50% of Russians believe homosexuals should be given medical or psychological treatment, and 5% said they should be “destroyed.” A recent Pew poll determined that only 16% of Russians think homosexuality should be accepted by society. And the acceptance of homosexuality in Russia has decreased, not increased, since 2007.
Putin's personal life and stance on homosexuality make him a hypocrite. Once you factor in the spate of violence and increased intolerance, they make him irresponsible, to say the least. To be fair, he's not alone: In Russia, the president, the parliament, and the Church all have blood on their hands.