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Ignoring global protest, St. Petersburg governor signs law that silences gay people

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Despite an international outcry, Georgiy Poltavchenko, the governor of St. Petersburg's regional government, has signed into law the controversial bill that will essentially silence the LGBT community and levy stiff fines against those who defy the order.

Russia's best-known gay-rights activist Nikolai Alekseev of Gay Russia reports that the bill was signed on March 7, but just announced over the weekend. He said LGBT groups would protest outside schools.

The law 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.

Fines of up to $16,700 can be slapped against those convicted of "promoting homosexuality."

Meanwhile, a top official with the Orthodox Church of Russia called for a national law against spreading "gay propaganda" among minors.

"The determination displayed by representatives of sexual minorities and their desire to continue rallying outside children's establishments indicate the timeliness of this regional law, which should, without delay, be given federal status, this, however, is the task for State Duma lawmakers," Hieromonk Dimitri Pershin, the Russian patriarch's representative on youth issues, said in a statement.

Human rights activists say the law will have a chilling effect on the LGBT community in Russia by equating speech about gay and transgender issues to committing acts of pedophilia. In St. Petersburg, Russia’s most cosmopolitan city, home to some of the country’s most established gay rights organizations, it is now a criminal offense punishable by heavy fines to publish or distribute anything LGBT-related.

AllOut.org organized a petition campaign, and more than a quarter-million people around the world signed the online petition. Andre Banks, executive director of AllOut.org, condemned the law.

“By validating a new regime of censorship and intolerance, Governor Poltavchenko has diminished the reputation of his city with the stroke of a pen," Banks said.

"100,000 people have promised not to visit the 'new' St. Petersburg after this law goes into effect. Travel companies are considering revising their scheduled trips to the city. St. Petersburg's sister cities have even begun to put pressure on the Governor to reject this law. Together, we have sent a very clear message to Poltavchenko and leaders around the world: There will be a high price to pay for advancing the cause of bigotry and intolerance," he said.

"AllOut.org continues to stand with our partners in Russia and will work through diplomatic channels, creative online campaigns and offline events to ensure that this law is repealed and that others like it never see the light of day,” Banks said.

Alekseev said St. Petersburg now joins three others Russian communities that have strict anti-gay laws:

* Ryazan (2006): Challenged by us at the European Court of Human Rights (case not open yet) and the UN Human Rights Committee (decision to come this July). Russian Constitutional Court dismissed our appeal and judged this law constitutional.

* Arkhangelsk (2011): Challenged by us (currently in appeal stage, expected to reach the European Court in two months).

* Kostroma (2012): We initiate a legal campaign tomorrow.

* St. Petersburg (2012): Will come into force by the end of this month. Campaign to follow.

Alekseev said the four communities represent 5.5% of the population of Russia. Observers believe that this trend will continue in Russia, and that Moscow could be the next major city to take up a similar law.

"Practically, we believe these laws contradict the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the UN though this has yet to be confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Committee of the UN," Alekseev said.

"Officially, the Russian Constitution judged the Ryazan law NOT contradictory to the Russian Constitution," he said.

Polina Savchenko, general manager of Coming Out, an LGBT organization in St. Petersburg, issued this statement over the weekend:

"Today it became known that the governor of St. Petersburg Georgiy Poltavchenko signed the homophobic law, imposing administrative fines on the so-called "propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgenderism" and paedophilia to minors.

"Authors of the law maintain that it is designed to "protect children from information that can harm their physical, intellectual, moral, and
spiritual development". The term "propaganda" is defined as any uncontrolled and targeted distribution of information through any
accessible means to minors that can [...] form an incorrect perception of social equivalence between traditional and non-traditional conjugal
relations". Authorities project "traditional values" and clerical rhetoric onto politics, and prioritize "interests of majority" over the value of
human individuality. We realize that today, fascist-like rhetoric in Russia is becoming basis for legislative activity.

"In fact, this law has little to do with protecting minors. Today, neither homosexual people, nor human rights defenders, nor lawyers can answer the question of how this law is going to be applied in practice, due to its vague nature and non-legal terminology. To talk about existence of homosexuality, to publicly denounce homophobic violence, to develop sense of self-awareness and dignity in homosexual people, to promote tolerance - all of these acts can fall under the "propaganda" law. This law will serve directly to further isolate and marginalize the gay community and encourage hate towards a social group.

"60 years ago philosopher and founder of totalitarianism theory, Hannah Arendt, said that in a totalitarian state, citizens are 'either victims or
executioners and the movement by its ideology seeks to prepare them to fill either role.' Handing out of roles has begun: Russian authorities
legalized discrimination of homosexuals. What will come next?

"We are convinced that no authority can deprive people of their right to dignity, to respect of private and family life, to freedom of expression
and to protection from discrimination and violence. We are offended and outraged by this act by city authorities and will continue fighting for
the rights of LGBT citizens until the barbaric law is repealed."