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In Russia, St. Petersburg passes law to silence gay people

NEW YORK — Despite a massive international call-in campaign by global LGBT rights group AllOut.org, the Russian city of St. Petersburg today approved a bill that will impose fines of up to $16,700 for the “promotion of homosexuality.”

Several LGBT rights activists were arrested outside the parliament building today while protesting the law.

Earlier this week, thousands of All Out members deluged their foreign ministries with calls, from Washington to Buenos Aires, London to Madrid to Sydney, urging their governments to speak out against the bill to their counterparts in Russia.

More on that campaign HERE.

The bill — if signed in to law by St. Petersburg’s mayor — will criminalize reading, writing, speaking or reporting on anything related to LGBT people, and will make illegal almost all activity related to defending or promoting LGBT equality. Pride parades, literature or NGOs that openly serve LGBT people will be wiped out, or pushed underground.

The bill also inspired an international outcry when first proposed in the fall of 2011. At the time AllOut.org worked closely with activists in St. Petersburg and Moscow to generate a massive online campaign pushing world leaders to speak out in opposition. Over 250,000 around the world signed AllOut.org’s petition denouncing the initiative, which resulted in European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton pledging to take up the issue with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“This bill, which would violate Russia's own constitution as well as any number of international treaties, is an outrageous attack on the freedom of expression for all Russians - straight and gay. It must not be allowed to stand,” said Andre Banks, AllOut.org executive director.

“Last year, 250,000 All Out members around the world raised their voices and stood in solidarity with the brave men and women in Russia, who refused to be used as a political scapegoats and forced into the shadows. Today we will make certain that phones across the world are ringing off the hook — and that the voices demanding equality are louder than those of bigotry and hate.”

This law — if signed by the mayor — will have a deep chilling effect on the LGBT community in Russia by equating speech about gay and transgender issues to committing acts of pedophilia. In Russia’s most cosmopolitan city, home to some of the country’s most established gay rights organizations, it could soon be a criminal offense punishable by heavy fines to publish or distribute anything LGBT related.

Critics have called the initiative part of a cynical election year ploy by the ruling party to distract voters from any number of other issues currently roiling the Russian electorate. This past weekend over a 100,000 Russians demonstrated in Moscow against corruption and rigged elections.

AllOut.org members in major global cities are planning an international day of action in solidarity with LGBT-activists and allies in Russia — tomorrow Thursday, Feb. 09. Rallies and demonstrations are also planned in St. Petersburg.

ComingOut, an LGBT-organization based in St. Petersburg, issued this statement:

"This law would legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia. The history of Europe shows that all totalitarian regimes here began with similar repression of LGBT people. If this law is allowed to pass, it could signal that Russia is sliding towards a new totalitarianism."