Activists around the world rallied against a newly passed bill outlawing “promotion of homosexuality” in the Russian city of St. Petersburg yesterday. Members of the global LGBT equality organization AllOut.org staged demonstrations with signs that read, “censor ‘gay’? 300,000 worldwide say, ‘no way!’ in many different languages. Protests took place in Buenos Aires, New York, Paris, Berlin, Milan, Rio de Janeiro and other cities.
“This radical law undermines the great legacy of our city’s past and future…it [is] illegal to mention that famed Russian composer of the 1812 Overture, St. Petersburg native Tchaikovsky, was gay,” said Polina Savchenko, director of Coming Out, an LGBT organization based in St. Petersburg. “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.”
According to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, the bill imposes fines of USD $16,000 on individuals and $160,000 on legal entities who are found guilty of promoting “homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender practices among minors” or disseminating information about homosexuality. The bill effectively bans LGBT rights organizations and Pride events in Russia’s second largest city.
Homosexuality was illegal under Soviet rule, but was decriminalized in 1993 by then-Prime Minister Boris Yeltsin.
AllOut.org reports that world leaders and international human rights groups have condemned the law as a move to silence the freedom of expression, a characteristic of the Soviet era. At the same time, St. Petersburg’s tourism industry hopes to attract Western visitors on the basis of its artistic and cultural history. In addition to its mantle as the birthplace of Tchaikovsky, the city is home to the Hermitage, the largest art museum in the world; baroque palaces dating from the reign of Tsar Peter the Great; and dozens of historical monuments that constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
More than 65,000 people have signed AllOut’s online petition stating they won’t visit St. Petersburg as tourists because of the anti-gay law. “It’s natural that it affects tourism, because people don’t want to go to a city or a country where they might face some outrageous charges,” Coming Out chair Igor Kochetkov told the St. Petersburg Times.