News / Europe

Russian Laws Keep Gay Life Behind Closed Doors

James Brooke
MOSCOW — Saint Petersburg has long been seen as Russia’s most liberal city.  But now it may be leading a national movement to ban public displays of gay life across Russia.

When gay rights activists recently released a rainbow of balloons from a Saint Petersburg park, the predictable happened.  City police herded activists into a waiting bus.  Then, black-shirted nationalists attacked the bus.

In March, Saint Petersburg, Europe’s fourth largest city, banned any public display of “gay propaganda.”  Now, Russian legislators are debating adopting a nationwide ban.  The goal is to keep gay life behind closed doors, out of the sight of children.

A gay pride march last month in Berlin shows Russia is a target of the international gay rights movement.  As 700,000 Berliners watched or paraded, a cannon shot a rainbow of colored confetti at Russia’s embassy.

But 1,300 kilometers to the east, here in Saint Petersburg, no one is laughing.

Artem makes a specialty of tracking down gay rallies and breaking them up.

To him, gay parades and posters, gay-themed talk shows and art shows all add up to undermining traditional Russian society with the gay lifestyle.

He says that Russia will never permit open displays of what he calls “filth.”

Once Artem is out of sight, Olga and Irina step from behind the bushes to talk. Olga says that she and her partner of seven years are not recruiting converts.  They are simply looking for tolerance, equal rights and the ability to get married.

With no tolerance for gays on the horizon in Russia, Olga and Irina plan to move next year across the Gulf of Finland, to Helsinki.  There, this couple of seven years can register their partnership and legally adopt a child.

Downtown, Olga Lenkova works with Vykhod, or Coming Out, a gay rights group. She says the new law is changing life for gays in Saint Petersburg, long seen as Russia’s most liberal major city:

“Part of the community just goes back into the closest and tries to hide even more than they did before.  And, part of the community becomes more active than they ever were, or becomes active for the first time,” Lenkova said.

For now, the gay movement’s biggest allies are from outside Russia.

Early this month, Lenkova was one of several Saint Petersburg activists who met with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Next it will be Madonna, who gives a concert here on August 9.  In advance, the American pop star has denounced Saint Petersburg’s “gay gag law” as “a ridiculous atrocity.”

But with polls showing big majorities of Russians backing bans on public displays of gay life, Russian police may be breaking up gay rallies for a long time to come.

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Comment Sorting
by: Augis
July 18, 2012 9:36 AM
Homophobia is ubiquitous in Russia. Actually, this is official agenda in modern Russia. The interesting thing not mentioned in this post is that in Saint Petersburg the same law imposes fines for "gay propaganda" and "propaganda of pedophilia" - that is in the same legislation homosexuality is equaled to pedophilia.

Also notable are recent comments of Sergey Lavrov (Minister of Foreign Affairs) who said that Russian society will never accept homosexuality -

by: Lara
July 17, 2012 12:34 PM
Don't argue,guys!people in Russia will soon have no rights,anyway!thanks to Tsar Putin.

by: Bruce from: Ann Arbor, MI
July 16, 2012 11:29 PM
Is Trinidad as homophobic as people say?

by: Sergey from: Dallas
July 16, 2012 10:57 PM
I love it how people like to speak for the entire nation. Such laws are governments decision no the peoples. In the west no one knows what common Russians think of same sex marriage but people sure love to make stuff up. Last two generations of Russians are very evolved far beyond their government. They do not care enough about gay rights to make a big deal about it, however many are not against it. Some of the older generation with in the government and ruling elite allow their personal believes to cloud over their judgement in this pursuit of ban on gay marriage. Really it's almost like in any other western country. Only deference is that the west got a decade or two of head start.

by: Bruno from: trinidade
July 16, 2012 8:52 PM
Mike they have equal rights. They have the right to private life behind close doors. You speak of democracy then why are against the majority of Russians in support of such laws? They may happy seek life style they wish in west. Russia on other hand does not want it openly

by: Mike
July 16, 2012 4:52 PM
Tsar Putin's authoritarian Russia will never allow gays to have equal rights with other citizens of the country. Similarly, there were Nazis in Hitler's Germany and the communist authorities in the Soviet Union, where homosexuality was a crime. When Russia becomes a democratic country, then gays will be able to live a normal life in this country.

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