The infamous St. Petersburg gay gag rule may now be upstaged as Russia’s lower chamber on Thursday saw the introduction of a copycat nationwide measure.
The bill calls for fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($16,500) for “spreading homosexual propaganda” among minors.
The legislation was submitted Thursday to the State Duma by lawmakers from the central Novosibirsk region who blamed media for promoting gay lifestyles as “normal behavior.”
The legislation’s attached notes emphasize that its supporters believe the legislation is necessary to guard against exposing young people to the idea that homosexuality is normal, saying that the younger generation needs to be protected “from the effects of homosexual propaganda” and that it is especially dangerous for children and adolescents who cannot critically evaluate such information.
The sponsors of the bill offer that, in this regard, the bill is a matter of child welfare and therefore should not be treated as being a threat to citizens’ rights.
According to a BBC report from the region the fines break down on a sliding scale similar to that of the St Petersburg law, going from 4,000 rubles for individuals, up to the 500,000 rubles for legal entities.
The Duma rejected a measure like this in 2009, but the political climate in Russia is now very different and rights groups fear that the bill may this time gain traction.
Indeed, Interfax reports that the Speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, Sergei Naryshkin, promised that, if such a bill was forwarded to the State Duma, deputies would treat it “very seriously.” The report notes, however, that lawmakers feel the issue is “sensitive.”
GayRussia activist Nikolai Alekseev has indicated that from a legal point of view he believes the law to be dangerous given that the three regions that have enacted similar laws have done so with no agreed definition on what the law actually bans, and this legislation fails to offer any such explanation. He warned BBC Russia: “It gives law enforcement agencies and the courts the right to independently and freely interpret what ‘promotion of homosexuality among minors’ [means].”
Other LGBT rights leaders have also voiced their concern. Reports On Top Magazine:
Polina Savchenko, director of the St. Petersburg-based gay rights group Coming Out, said the new law would make it illegal to mention the sexuality of famous gay Russians.
“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 Savchenko. “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.”
European leaders have already censured Russia for such legislation, saying they “strongly” condemn such laws.
St. Petersburg Governor Gregory Poltavchenko signed the region’s gag rule earlier this month.