By Melanie Nathan, 02/29/2012,
Today, lawmakers in St. Petersburg adopted a bill that would impose fines of up to $16,700 for the “promotion of homosexuality.” The bill, if signed in to law by the City Governor in the next 14 days, will criminalize reading, writing, speaking or reporting on anything related to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Pride parades, literature, theater, or NGOs which openly serve LGBT people will be criminalized, and pushed underground. Several ruling party’s officials have also voiced their interest to push the law nationwide.
This could set the stage also to provide legitimacy to other countries seeking to halt the so called “promotion” of homosexuality – a term that is a misnomer, as in essence homosexuality, a natural born orientation, cannot be “promoted'” but can be “understood” with the elements the new law seeks to ban!
On Tuesday dozens of human rights organizations around the world held demonstrations at Russian embassies including Argentina (Buenos Aires), USA (New York), France (Paris), Germany (Berlin and Hamburg), Italy (Milan), Portugal (Lisbon), Belgium (Antwerp) and Brazil (Rio de Janeiro).
In solidarity with the coalition of Russian human rights organizations opposing the law, the flash-mobs delivered 300,000 signatures collected worldwide that demonstrate the level of global opposition to this proposed law, and employ creative visuals sending a loud and clear message to the Governor of Saint Petersburg, who has the power to veto the law: “Don’t Go There Saint Petersburg.”
“This radical law undermines the great legacy of our city’s past and future. If it passes, it would be illegal to mention that famed Russian composer of the 1812 Overture, St. Petersburg native Tchaikovksy, was gay,” said Polina Savchenko, director of Coming Out, an LGBT organization based in St. Petersburg. “This law installs a culture of censorship in what was once Russia’s most cosmopolitan city and is a huge blow to the freedom of expression in Russia. At a time when people all over the world are opening up and coming out, this law puts Russia back in the closet.”
Conservatives in Saint Petersburg insistent on passing the “gay gag rule” have ignored calls from world leaders and the country’s own international treaty obligations respecting freedom of expression. But Russia is not immune to global public opinion. The government recently announced that it wants to spend $11 billion dollars in five years to attract international tourists, and Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, thrives on its reputation as Russia’s cosmopolitan “window to the west” to attract visitors from around the world.
PARIS, FRANCE: Guillaume Bonnet, AllOut.org – “Today was a great day of global solidarity for LGBT rights. More than 60 people gathered at the Stavinsky Fountain in front of a giant piece of art, representing a man making a sign of silence. Today we showed, in the face of persecution, we will not be silent.”
PARIS, FRANCE: François Zimeray, the French Ambassador for Human Rights. “I never understood how public figures in the world would decide to forbid people to be who they are and love who they want. Our century is facing other stakes and challenges, and it deserves better! France publicly called the Saint Petersburg’s Assembly to ask them to respect the International treaties that Russia signed. It’s our honor and duty to closely insure that they are respected.”
ANTWERP, BELGIUM: Björn Pius, Outrage – “In Belgium, we are lucky to have protection by law against discrimination. But what happens in Saint-Petersburg shows us that we have to stay vigilant about our rights, for they can be taken away again when we let down our guard. Today, we have not only shown support for the LGBT in Russia, shown our outrage to the policy makers there, but also made a clear sign that we will keep on fighting for our rights and we will not back down.”
NEW YORK, USA: Joseph Huff-Hannon, AllOut.org – “”Two dozen of us dropped in on the Russian Mission to the United Nations at lunchtime, and delivered a strong message with a soundtrack from Tchaikovsky (via boombox), a one-time Saint Petersburg resident – and gay man. Extremists around the world should take note — our solidarity is global too, and together we will fight tooth and nail for full equality for everyone, everywhere.”
MILAN, ITALY: Yuri Gualana, Segretario – “Human rights know no borders and that was what we demonstrated in Milan. There were many passers of different nationalities, genders and ages who stopped to ask why we were there and when we explained them our reasons they decided to join us in support.”
RIO DE JANIERO, BRAZIL: Flavia Sosinho, AllOut.org – “ It was a great moment when the Ambassador himself came downstairs and spoke with us. He was trying to convince us that this anti-gay law was ” good for children”. But when I asked him if my stepdaughter, who was in this protest with me, would become a lesbian for supporting human rights, he was muted. We delivered him All Out big poster, but it was clear that Russia is still believing in censorship for LGBT people.”
The “Gay Propaganda” bill inspired an international outcry when first proposed in the fall of 2011, and over 270,000 around the world have signed AllOut.org’s petition denouncing the initiative (http://www.allout.org/russia_silenced), resulting in European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton committing to take up the issue with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
In less than a week over 65,000 have signed AllOut.org’s “I won’t go there” letter to the Governor of Saint Petersburg: http://www.allout.org/stpetersburg-dont-go