By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – In the latest showing of Russia’s struggle with homosexuality, international pop star Lady Gaga has run afoul of “homosexual propaganda” laws in St. Petersburg. During her Sunday concert in the city, Lady Gaga made a call for respect for gay rights, attracting the ire of Putin ally and United Russia deputy Vitaly Milonov, who spearheaded the St. Petersburg ban on homosexual promotion.
Milonov, a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, promised to lodge a formal complaint with St. Petersburg prosecutors, accusing Lady Gaga of encouraging 12-year-olds to support the LGBT cause. He told a Russian paper “We will contact prosecutors and the law enforcement agencies to carry out a thorough investigation of the situation. . . When people tell kids ‘you must support sexual minorities’, that can create a false equivalence for them between traditional and non-traditional relationships.”
Attempts were also made, but failed, to place an under-18 ban on concert attendance. Lady Gaga told local media offstage that she’d been threatened with arrest or heavy fines if she mentioned gay rights.
The controversy surrounding Lady Gaga invokes a comparison to a case involving Madonna earlier this August, who, after a concert in St. Petersburg, was charged with “inciting religious hatred and offending cultural traditions” and faced a potential fine of $11 million. A district court dropped the charges this November after a trial in absentia, but only after the pop celebrity had spent $10.7 million in legal fees.
The law in St. Petersburg, passed last March, criminalizes “public action directed at propagandizing sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism, and transgenderism among minors.” St. Petersburg is one of three major cities to have recently passed such a law, which primarily imposes fines. However, the scope of what constitutes “propaganda” is not clear, although gay rights protesters have been arrested under the law. The United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled this and similar laws discriminatory and a violation of freedom of expression. Advocates say that the few human rights hard won for the LGBT community are disappearing under the law. Although homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993, hostility against gays and lesbians remains widespread in Russia.
“This law will be applied against people who take to the streets, against journalists who write things that displease authorities, against those who simply defend their rights,” says Igor Kochetkov, the head of the LGBT Network, a gay-rights group in St. Petersburg.
Furthermore, on December 19, the Duma (the lower chamber of Russia’s national legislator) will consider similar legislation that would impose fines for promoting homosexuality to anyone under 18. Russia’s Code of Administrative Law Violations would be amended so that individuals found responsible for “propaganda for homosexuality among minors” could be fined up to 5,000 rubles (US$160), and organizations could be fined up to 500,000 rubles (US$16,000). However, the legislation fails to define “propaganda,” “homosexuality,” or “among minors.”
Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT program at Human Rights Watch, explains that “[t]he draft law’s language is so vague that it could undermine any public efforts to address rampant discrimination of LGBT people in Russia.”
Dittrich further comments: “The proposed provisions attack the fundamental right to free speech, deny LGBT people equal rights, and violate Russia’s obligations under international and Russian law.”
Russia’s own Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, has voiced his opposition to the legislation, saying that “not all relations between people can be regulated by law.”
On Saturday, before her “promotional” concert in St. Petersburg, Lady Gaga tweeted to say she thanks the PM for “not standing by your party’s anti-gay propaganda law.”
For further information, please see:
St. Petersburg Times – Art Exhibition Sparks Outcry – 12 December 2012
Global Post – Russian Lawmaker Goes after Lady Gaga on Gay Rights –11 December 2012
Human Rights Watch – Russia: Reject Homophobic Bill –10 December 2012
Moscow Times – Lady Gaga Thanks Medvedev for Opposing Anti-Gay Laws – 10 December 2012
RFE/RL – Being Gay In St. Petersburg Gets Even Harder – 25 June 2012