On June 6, 2015 LGBTI initiative “Comming Out” presented in Saint Petersburg its report on cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2014. The annual report was presented by Ksenia Kirichenko, a member of the initiative group, while lawyer Dmitry Bartenev reported on the practice of implementing international regulations by Russian courts aimed at defending rights of LGBTI persons and representative of Saint Petersburg ombudsman’s office Olga Shtannikova spoke about the progress in the defense of LGBTI persons’ rights in Saint Petersburg.
Among the sources of the report were interviews with victims of violence or discrimination or the witnesses of such cases, as well as results of monitoring of mass media, blogs and discussion groups, reports and publications by various organizations.
This report will be further presented to international organizations, while information about violations of rights of LGBTI persons is annually provided to Saint Petersburg ombudsman’s office. The report is also used for work with mass media. Ksenia Kirichenko reported on positive results of presenting a common report together with ADC “Memorial” to the UN Committee on child rights in 2014, which included among other things a recommendation to abolish homophobic legislation and explanation of its negative effect on children.
The report featured the following main types of human rights violations which were faced by LGBTI community in Saint Petersburg in 2014: hate crimes, hate speech, problems in relations with the police, consequences of the adoption of the law “against propaganda of homosexuality”, persecution of LGBTI persons related to outing, refusal to provide services to LGBTI persons, as well as some problems of transgender persons. Reported hate crimes include those related to public activities (public events, events held in various offices and other locations) and those not related to public activities (for example, cases of expressing intimate feelings in public spaces). Separate attention was devoted to false dates set up by homophobes. The main problem related to hate crimes is the lack of proper investigation. Criminal cases based on Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code (“Inciting hatred or humiliation of human dignity”) are very seldom opened because, LGBTI not being considered a social group, the act is not properly qualified to be a criminal offence.
In spite of the fact that the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation has acknowledged in its statement № 24-П dated September 23, 2014 that LGBTI persons belong to a particular social group and that in 2015 the UN Committee of Human Rights stressed in its recommendations the necessity of qualifying hate-provoking actions against LGBTI persons as aimed against a social group, local Russian courts disregard these instructions and continue their traditional discriminatory practices. LGBTI persons are often themselves charged guilty with the attacks that they were subjected to, while homophobic actions are justified as mere conflicts between two parties. In a recent court case concerning an attack using a traumatic pistol against a LGBTI person, while the culprit was sentenced to 2 years of XXX imprisonment, he was later acquitted by the court of appeal. In another case, a criminal investigation was opened concerning an attack on an LGBTI event as a result of which one person, Mr. Chizhevsky, had lost his eye, but the perpetrator of the crime was never found.
The problem of hate speech also continued to be an important one in 2014 as a great number of hate expressions was registered on behalf of journalists and politicians. Ksenia Kirichenko stated that Saint Petersburg city legislator Mr. Milonov continued to be one of the biggest hate speakers. Legal mechanisms of fighting against hate speech have proven to be ineffective: neither Article 282 of the Criminal Code, nor Articles 5.61 (Insult) and 5.62 (Discrimination) of the Code on administrative violations were used by courts to defend the rights of LGBTI persons. The attempt to initiate an administrative case against Mr. Milonov failed due to lack of mechanism for lifting parliamentary immunity. Even attempts to defend personal non-property rights and the right for protection of private life, which are provided by the Civil Code, have no proper results.
In some cases extra-judiciary methods of defending rights provide good results. Thus following an appeal to the Public collegium on mass media issues resulted in a ruling that journalists should not support negative attitudes towards LGBTI persons, while professional qualification of journalists guilty of such offences should be considered improper.
Concerning relations between LGBTI and the police, LGBTI group “Comming Out” has stated that while holding public events was safer in 2014 than before, the problem of effective defense against already perpetrated attacks remains. The report also featured a description of a case of blackmail by police officers against an LGBTI person based on sexual orientation.
Cases of persecution of LGBTI persons following outing were also reported in Saint Petersburg in 2014. School and university teachers are especially vulnerable in this respect. Many of them were forced to quit their jobs following pressure on them, while those who refused to quit were laid off on the grounds of “immoral actions incompatible with a particular job” (Article 81 Section 8 of the Labour Code) as was the case in Saint Petersburg school No.585.
Ksenia Kirichenko noted that LGBTI persons were often refused services in renting apartments or renting halls for public events. Problems were also reported in some banks and state offices when LGBTI people had troubles because their actual looks were different from the photos in their official documents.
It is often impossible to defend the rights of transgender persons, as the main violations registered in Saint Petersburg are related to the legal procedures for changing sex, as well as protection of personal data of transgender persons.
Lawyer Dmitry Bartenev stressed the importance of working to improve the situation of LGBTI persons not only in one country, but also on international scale. “The problems that initiative group “Comming Out” aims to solve have long been registered by the ECtHR and are of importance not only to the Russian society and Russian authorities, but are essential for improving and developing standards for human rights defense“, he said. Dmitry Bartenev also spoke about the limits and responsibilities of state concerning protecting public events held by LGBTI community: should the state not only investigate the crimes against LGBTI, but also take positive measures in protecting participants of these events? Mr. Bartenev believes that the aim of LGBTI human rights defense should be not only the implementation of ECtHR’s recommendation in Russia and “instruction for judges” about human rights approaches, but also a general progressive development concerning human rights.
In spite of the rather difficult situation in Russia concerning the defense of rights of LGBTI persons, initiative group “Vykhod” selflessly continues its work in this area. We hope that the next monitoring report on the situation of LGBTI persons in Saint Petersburg will not only be published, but will also result in improvement of legal norms and practices. ADC “Memorial” supported this work for a number of years and will continue to monitor the issues related to the rights of LGBTI persons. Only cooperation and joint efforts of human rights defenders and activists can change the situation for the better and provide persons belonging to minorities equal rights both in form and in practice.