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Russia Gay Propaganda Ban: Speaking in Defense of Gay Rights Now a Crime in Putin's Russia

On Tuesday, Russia's parliament passed a discriminatory new law which bans the spread of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" amongst minors, essentially making it illegal to promote LGBT rights. The bill, which was given preliminary approval in January, passed by a massive 436 votes to 0 in the lower house, with just one abstention. The law would introduce fines for individuals, media organizations, and foreigners found guilty of breaking it. Although Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, many people still oppose the recognition of the LGBT rights and anti-gay sentiment remains strong.

The bill must still pass the Russian senate and be signed by President Vladimir Putin before it becomes law. There is no indication, however, that it will not succeed given that the measure is part of an effort by the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church to "to promote traditional Russian values as opposed to Western liberalism," which they see as "corrupting Russian youth and contributing to the protests against President Vladimir Putin's rule."

The wording of the bill originally read "homosexual propaganda," but was softened to read "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations," which supporters of the measure reportedly defined as "relations not conducive to procreation." Despite the change in wording, however, the target of the law is still clear: anyone seeking to promote LGBT rights and equality. According to the law, 'propaganda' is defined as:

"... spreading the information in order to form non-traditional sexual desires in children, describing such relations as attractive, promoting the distorted understanding of social equality of traditional and non-traditional relations and also unwanted solicitation of information that could provoke interest to such relations."

The BBC reports that following the passing of the bill, there were violent clashes outside parliament between supporters of the ban and LGBT activists. According to police, around 20 people were detained.

Video credit: BBC News

If approved, the law would impose fines of up to 100,000 roubles on individuals who equate straight and homosexual relationships, distribute material on LGBT rights, and/or take part in LGBT pride parades. Media groups would face fines of up to 1 million roubles, and could be shut down for up to 90 days, while foreigners could be fined up to 100,000 roubles, and also be detained for up to 15 days and deported. Graeme Reid, the LGBT rights program director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), has criticized the law and the supposed justification for it, saying "Russia is trying very hard to make discrimination look respectable by calling it 'tradition,' but whatever term is used in the bill, it remains discrimination and a violation of the basic human rights of LGBT people."

LGBT rights activists in Russia said that while the decision was expected, they will continue to fight for equal rights. This will be an uphill battle, however, with the BBC reporting that recent polls have shown that over half of Russians opposed equal rights for LGBT people, while Russia Today reports that the overwhelming majority of Russians, 88%, support the ban passed on Tuesday.

Coupled with the violent reaction to the recent legalization of same sex marriage in France and other protests against LGBT equality, the bill in Russia is further evidence that despite the progress that has been made in advancing LGBT rights around the world, there is still much to be done to change entrenched prejudice.

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