Arrests at Russian Protest Reminds World that Russia’s Prohibition on Homosexual “Propaganda” Remains

MOSCOW, Russia – Reports demonstrate that Russian authorities waited until fights broke out before making arrests at a gay rights rally. Nevertheless, attacks on the Russian LGBT community remain high.

Fights broke out at the recent St. Petersburg gay rights rally when an opponent attempted to steal an activist’s rainbow flag. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

In June 2013, Russia’s law banning homosexual “propaganda” directed at minors sparked various protests by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights campaigners, who claim the law diminishes homosexuals’ rights to free speech and assembly. In the light of international attention, activists have called for Winter Olympics participants and sponsors to boycott the Sochi games next year as a form of protest.

For clarification, the International Olympics Committee requested more information on the law and its effects on the Winter Olympics. President Putin has prohibited all demonstrations and rallies for 10 weeks around the games.

In September 2013, police broke up a gay rights protest outside the Winter Olympics headquarters in Moscow.

On 12 October 2013, gay rights activists planned a rally in St. Petersburg at the “Field of Mars”, which allows demonstrations without special sanctions. However, nearly 200 opponents of gay rights arrived earlier than the scheduled rally time, dressed as Cossacks and Orthodox priests.

Many opponents sang hymns and recited prayers. Although heavily outnumbered by opponents, several dozen LGBT rights activists had gathered to celebrate “International Coming Out Day”.

The fights began when an anti-gay demonstrator tore a rainbow flag from a woman’s hands. Immediately, the police rushed in to arrest fighters. Russian authorities arrested 67 participants in fights between gay rights activists and opponents.

Despite Russia’s prohibition on homosexual “propaganda”, St. Petersburg sanctioned the rally.

While homosexuality has been legal in Russia since 1993 and un-labeled as a “mental illness” since 1999, reported attacks against homosexuals have increased sharply. Some attacks involve gay men being lured into meeting people who then attack them. Additionally, homophobia has been suspected in several homicides.

Recently, one group of anti-LGBT campaigners, “Occupy-Pedofilyay” began posting “sinister” videos online of teenagers it suspects of being gay.

Nikolai Alexeyev, the leader of LGBT-rights group Gay Russia, said that despite their frequency, attacks on homosexuals are almost never investigated as hate crimes. “Homophobic hysteria is being increasingly promoted in Russia.”

Citing to recent attacks on homosexuals, the United States Congress sent the U.S. Olympic Committee a letter requesting assurances of safety for athletes and spectators.

Unlike countries in which large portions of the population have come out in support of the LGBT community, with a large outcry against homosexuality, news from Russia suggests the June 2013 law will be difficult to overcome.


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