On Thursday, prominent gay activist leader Nikolai Alekseyev was arrested on a municipal square in St. Petersburg. Police targeted Alekseyev’s one-man protest in which he unfurled a poster in support of LGBT rights. According to Ria Novosti, the poster read: “Homosexuality is not perversion. Perversion is field hockey and ballet on ice.”
Alekseyev’s arrest comes in the wake of new legislation in a number of regions and cities throughout Russia that affectively ban any Gay Pride or LGBT protest events, actions or speeches. The anti-propaganda laws, which went into effect in March, prevent any slogans, images or language to be presented in public spaces which reflect the sexual orientation of the group.
The Russian Orthodox Church has been one of the biggest proponents of the legislation in Russia to date. This institution enjoys huge political clout and has also been one of the most active anti-gay institutions in the Russian context.
The logic behind this fearful and oppressive legislation rests on the assumption that gay communities, events and expression will harm children and “convert” them. Critics of the measure illustrate that the measure will heighten adolescent depression for youths and adults struggling with their sexuality in a society which generally shuns discussing or expressing thoughts on these issues.
Unfortunately, gay activists will face a long struggle over the coming months. Alekseyev plans to continue his one-man protests indefinitely, returning to the municipal square with a new poster after each of his releases from police custody.
In a shocking and definitive statement, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stood behind the anti-propaganda law on Friday, arguing that sexual minorities should not receive any special rights over other populations.
In a quote from The Moscow Times, Ryabkov argued:
“We consider it inappropriate when, in the name of defending members of so-called sexual minorities, in practice they undertake aggressive propaganda and impose a certain mode of behavior that may offend a significant subsection of society.”
In this formulation, the LGBT community is positioned as the aggressors while institutions, such as the Russian Orthodox Church, are positioned as the victims of minority rights. Ryabkov argues that international human rights protect all men and women and that this specific set of people do not require any special treatment or recognition.
Unfortunately, Ryabkov’s statement does not address the violence and harassment that LGBT activists and citizens experience within the Russian society. His statement also comes in response to the G8 endorsement of gay rights.
Critics of the measure argue that the ban on gathering and protesting also limits the freedom of expression for all Russian citizens. Many Russian leaders have called for these anti-LGBT measures to be passed on the national level while many European leaders, including members of the G8, remain critical of Russia’s stance on the issue.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Gerard M.