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Q&A on antigay legislation in Russia

Riot police guard gay rights activists who were beaten by antigay protesters at a rally in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June. 

Associated Press

Riot police guard gay rights activists who were beaten by antigay protesters at a rally in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June. 

MOSCOW — Russia's law on "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors" was signed by President Vladimir Putin on July 29. Originally titled the law on "homosexual propaganda," the bill criminalizes public expression of support for nontraditional relationships. Russian lawmakers say the law doesn't outlaw homosexuality but merely discourages discussion of it among people younger than 18. However, the law has outraged Russian liberals and some sectors of the international community just six months before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in the Russian city of Sochi.

What is propaganda?

The definition of "propaganda" is vague and hinges on intent. Anyone who distributes information with the "intention" of persuading minors that nontraditional sexual relationships are "attractive" or "interesting," or even "socially equivalent to traditional relationships" could be accused of breaking the law.

The law does not outlaw gay sex, which was legalized in Russia in 1993. It does not explicitly ban participation in gay pride parades or the promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality online, but anyone wearing a rainbow flag on the street or writing about gay relationships on Facebook, for instance, could be accused of propagandizing.

What are "nontraditional relations"?

They are not defined by law. However, in an interview with REN-TV, Yelena Mizulina, one of the bill's authors, said there are four kinds: "men with men, women with women, bisexuality and being transgender."

What are the penalties for violating the law?

The law sets fines of up to $150 for individuals and $30,000 for organizations. Punishments are more severe for propaganda on the Web or in the media — up to $3,000 for individuals and up to $30,000 for organizations. Foreign citizens are subject to fines of up to $3,000, up to 15 days in prison, and deportation and denial of re-entry into Russia.

Has the law been enforced?

No one has yet gone to court under the federal law. Six LGBT activists were detained after one of them unfurled a banner reading "Being gay is normal" near a children's library in Moscow, but so far the participants have not been brought to trial.

How will the law impact LGBT rights?

While most activists believe that the law will not be widely enforced, it effectively gives any local government carte blanche to ban gay pride events and will discourage people from discussing LGBT rights publicly and online.

How have Russians reacted to the law?

While the legislation outraged Russian liberals and activists, a poll by the independent Levada Center in Russia found that 73 percent of respondents supported any government efforts to curb homosexual propaganda. Four out of five Russians say that they do not have a single LGBT acquaintance.

How has the rest of the world reacted to the law?

The law sparked a boycott of Russian vodka in gay bars across North America and vodka dumps in front of Russian embassies and consulates. There have been scattered calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi, but no country or athlete has yet declined to attend. Most officials, including President Barack Obama, have called a boycott unnecessary.

What about the Olympics?

That's unclear. The Interior Ministry, which controls the police force, said Monday that the antigay law will be enforced during the Olympics. But the Russian Olympic Committee said the law will be suspended during the Games.

Q&A on antigay legislation in Russia 08/12/13 [Last modified: Monday, August 12, 2013 11:17pm]
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