The State Department briefly addressed an anti-gay propaganda law now being considered in St. Petersburg, Russia during a press briefing on Tuesday. The measure — which passed first reading earlier this month and is now being slightly altered before a second reading on November 30th — would fine groups and individuals for “public actions aimed at propaganda of pederasty, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.” Human rights advocates from around the world allege that the discriminatory proposal is in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights, to which Russia is a signatory.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland promised to take these concerns to the Moscow Embassy and reiterated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s strong support for LGBT equality around the world:
QUESTION: Just one quick one on Russia. I don’t know whether you have anything on this, but there’s apparently a bill that’s supported by Putin’s party which would — it’s in two major Russian cities — that would criminalize almost all activity that is related to LGBT equality, equating any discussion of that issue with pedophilia. Have you heard about this? Is this anything that the State Department would be interested in taking up?
MS. NULAND: I have not heard about that one, Jill. I’ll certainly ask our Embassy in Moscow whether they have been active on this issue. I think you know the principled stand that the United States Government takes on this issue and that the Secretary of State in particular takes on this issue, which is that gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights. And so I don’t think the Russian Government could have any question about where we would stand on such an issue. But let me take it and see whether we’ve been active at all.
The bill was developed by Russian President Medvedev’s and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s “United Russia” party and may serve as a model for imposing federal restrictions on LGBT people. Two regions of Russia — Arkhangelsk and Ryazan — have adopted similar anti-propaganda laws that have been upheld by the Russian courts. Opponents see this latest push as a way to distract voters “from the unresolved economic and social problems, and simply shift focus” to so-called “enemies” against a minority group.
Russia classified homosexuality as a mental illness until 1999 and decriminalized homosexual behavior in 1993, but homophobic attitudes remain. According to a recent study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, Russian support for gay people has declined since the Soviet era, making Russia one of only four nations — along with Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Latvia — to see a reduction in tolerance towards homosexuality. Fifty-nine percent of the Russian population “felt that homosexual behavior was wrong in 1991 compared with 64 percent in 2008, the study showed.” In another poll from last year, when asked “Whom wouldn’t you like to have as your neighbor?” respondents said alcohol and drug addicts, former criminals, and homosexuals.