Another homophobic witch hunt under way

The recent sensational legislative initiative aimed against “coming outs” refers to public demonstration of any relations, which the deputies who had proposed this draft law, find “perverted”. Any means are thought to be appropriate for them in order to justify the need for additional repressive measures against LGBTI persons, while they talk about the need to protect children, express concerns about demographic situation, are worried about physical and mental health of the population or fear possible damage to traditional unshakable cornerstones of the nation and religious values. In early January 2016 it was reported that employees of some kindergartens asked parents to sign a petition in support of this homophobic draft law, which is supposedly aimed to “protect the younger generation from the corrupting influence of public display of non-traditional sexual relations on the still developing children’s and adolescents’ psyche”. By acting this way the deputies behind the draft law managed to create yet another pretext for further spread of homophobic rhetoric as their statements were publicized by the media and became the subject of heated discussions, while their statements became increasingly negative and radical. Russian legal practice demonstrates that it is almost impossible to prosecute government officials for hate speech through legal action (for example, the court considers the legal appeal against St.Petersburg deputy Vitaly Milonov for insulting participants of LGBTI column during last year’s May Day demonstration for more than half a year now without much progress).

Over the last four years there is a clear tendency of further growth of homophobia in Russia. Large-scale campaign against LGBTI persons started with the proposed draft law “On protecting children from information harmful to their health and development”. It is noteworthy that a lot of hate speech aimed against LGBTI persons is registered in the media immediately before the consideration of these draft laws by the Russian parliament.

The draft law proposes introduction of new Article 6 Section 12 Part 1 into the Russian Code of Administrative Violations, which will deal with “Public expression of non-traditional sexual relations” and will be placed next to articles of the code dealing with prostitution, drug consumption, trafficking and propaganda of drugs. It was also proposed to introduce changes into Chapter 6 of the code containing a list of administrative offenses, which trespass on the health, sanitary and epidemiological welfare of the population and public morals. A fine of Rb4,000-5,000 is proposed as a punishment for “public expression of non-traditional sexual relations” in public places, which include educational and cultural institutions, as well as various bodies of authority dealing with minors and youths (in the latter case an even more severe punishment is proposed – not only fines, but also arrest of up to 15 days).

The proposed draft law ignores the right to privacy, as outlined in the Russian Constitution (Article 23) and the ECtHR Convention (Article 8). The European Court of Human Rights back in 1981 stated in its judgment: “Although members of the public who regard homosexuality as immoral may be shocked, offended or disturbed by the commission by others of private homosexual acts, this cannot on its own warrant the application of penal sanctions when it is consenting adults alone who are involved”. (Dudgeon v. UK, 1981).

As if responding to international human rights organizations, the Duma deputies stated in the Explanatory Notes to the draft law (January 2016) that “aggressive promotion of homosexual relations, often under the guise of human rights, has a clearly provocative nature”.

Russian MPs see particular danger of “non-traditional” sexual relations in the supposed threat of homosexuality to the demographic situation, although the actual “care” of Russian authorities for the population expressed itself this year in a significant reduction of budget spending on healthcare and social welfare. Other rationale for the introduction of the new article into the Code of Administrative Violations for “public expression of non-traditional sexual relations” is equally impressive: in addition to “the obvious threat posed by the United States”, which supposedly expresses itself in “struggles for the rights of sexual minorities abroad”, “open demonstration of non-traditional sexual relations leads to intentional overthrow of the national culture and the basis of human relations”, as the authors of the draft law put it.

The authors of the draft law imposing liability for “coming outs” give scandalous and outrageous interviews filled with hate speech, which we further find even in the official documents attached to the draft law. This legislative initiative itself does not meet the requirements for legal norms, such as the criteria of certainty, clarity, non-ambiguity, as was pointed out in the official response by the State Duma Committee on constitutional legislation and state affairs.

Homophobia, which is justified by concerns over demographic situation and supposed violation of natural processes, is not limited to unacceptable remarks in the media and social networks, but finds its way into other spheres of social life. Similar homophobic speeches are now also heard from the scientific circles: even the recent “Concept of strategy and development of convergent technologies” did not bypass discussing “concepts that are contrary to the natural” in the course of human transformation into so-called “service human”.

While the Duma deputies desperately struggle on paper for public health and traditional social values, members of LGBTI community in Russia are exposed to real, not imaginary threats to their health and safety. Over the last half year a series of attacks was reported in St. Petersburg, while clearly not all such attacks become known. On October 26, 2015 Dante Theodore was beaten by a homophobic attacker on the subway after he had refused to remove his rainbow scarf and leave the train. On the evening of August 8, 2015 an unknown person verbally assaulted transgender persons and then attacked Richard Blake. LGBT activist Alexey Beskotovayny was attacked on 22 November, 2015 as he was leaving LGBT film festival “Side by side” in St.Petersburg. One of the LGBT activists, who made a legal appeal after being attacked, posted on the social media a response he got from a police officer: “You are well aware that the attackers won’t be found”. Despite the fact that in all cases the beatings were officially reported by the medics and police officers were forced to start investigating the cases of attacks and damage to health, the perpetrators of these attacks were not yet found and they are unlikely to ever be punished for their deliberate attacks motivated by hatred.

Homophobia on the streets is directly related to what is happening in the media.

Whereas the attackers act with impunity and commit crimes against peaceful LGBTI activists, the latter are constantly harassed. Sergey Alekseyenko, an LGBTI activist from Murmansk, is being prosecuted for supposed administrative violation for a year now after he had published a statement “Being gay means being a courageous, confident, dignified human being” on one of the social networks.

Artyom Vechelkovsky, an open gay and a former Orthodox priest, who was forced to emigrate from Russia after his coming out, gives another example of how attitudes of ordinary people towards LGBTI people change after coming out: “My mother has changed her attitude towards my homosexuality as a result of propaganda. In the past we discussed my boys with her … but lately she has become a supporter of Putin and now says that we should have Stalin for people like me”.

This intentionally created hysteria around LGBTI persons leads to clearly negative consequences, increasing the level of violence in society. If the Russian MPs are so concerned with the well-being of the population and public morals, they should start giving example by their own behavior, by avoiding intolerance and learning how to analyze the possible implications of their legislative initiatives, which constitute real risks to life and health of entire social groups. Spread of homophobic rhetoric among citizens results in a shift of public interest from the real social problems to some flimsy and artificial themes.

The only way to avoid deterioration of the situation is to prevent the spread of prejudice, not to broadcast homophobic rhetoric, not to be carried away by provocative actions of politicians, not to consider people’s sexual orientation a problem and to learn to respect human rights in order not to succumb to the new subjects for mass hysteria.

Inessa Sakhno