(MOSCOW) — Kissing his boyfriend during a protest in front of Russia‘s parliament earned Pavel Samburov 30 hours of detention and the equivalent of a $16 fine on a charge of “hooliganism.” But if a bill that comes up for a first vote later this month becomes law, such a public kiss could be defined as illegal “homosexual propaganda” and bring a fine of up to $16,000.
The legislation being pushed by the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church would make it illegal nationwide to provide minors with information that is defined as “propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism.” It includes a ban on holding public events that promote gay rights. St. Petersburg and a number of other Russian cities already have similar laws on their books.
The bill is part of an effort to promote traditional Russian values as opposed to Western liberalism, which the Kremlin and church see as corrupting Russian youth and by extension contributing to a wave of protest against President Vladimir Putin‘s rule.
Samburov describes the anti-gay bill as part of a Kremlin crackdown on minorities of any kind — political and religious as well as sexual — designed to divert public attention from growing discontent with Putin’s rule.
The lanky and longhaired Samburov is the founder of the Rainbow Association, which unites gay activists throughout Russia. The gay rights group has joined anti-Putin marches in Moscow over the past year, its rainbow flag waving along with those of other opposition groups.
Other laws that the Kremlin says are intended to protect young Russians have been hastily adopted in recent months, including some that allow banning and blocking web content and print publications that are deemed “extremist” or unfit for young audiences.
Denis Volkov, a sociologist with the Levada Center, an independent pollster, says the anti-gay bill fits the “general logic” of a government intent on limiting various rights.
But in this case, the move has been met mostly with either indifference or open enthusiasm by average Russians. Levada polls conducted last year show that almost two thirds of Russians find homosexuality “morally unacceptable and worth condemning.” About half are against gay rallies and same-sex marriage; almost a third think homosexuality is the result of “a sickness or a psychological trauma,” the Levada surveys show.
Russia’s widespread hostility to homosexuality is shared by the political and religious elite.
Lawmakers have accused gays of decreasing Russia’s already low birth rates and said they should be barred from government jobs, undergo forced medical treatment or be exiled. Orthodox activists criticized U.S. company PepsiCo for using a “gay” rainbow on cartons of its dairy products. An executive with a government-run television network said in a nationally televised talk show that gays should be prohibited from donating blood, sperm and organs for transplants, while after death their hearts should be burned or buried.
The anti-gay sentiment was seen Sunday in Voronezh, a city south of Moscow, where a handful of gay activists protesting against the parliament bill were attacked by a much larger group of anti-gay activists who hit them with snowballs.
The gay rights protest that won Samburov a fine took place in December. Seconds after Samburov and his boyfriend kissed, militant activists with the Orthodox Church pelted them with eggs. Police intervened, rounding up the gay activists and keeping them for 30 hours first in a frozen van and then in an unheated detention center. The Orthodox activists were also rounded up, but were released much earlier.
Those behind the bill say minors need to be protected from “homosexual propaganda” because they are unable to evaluate the information critically. “This propaganda goes through the mass media and public events that propagate homosexuality as normal behavior,” the bill reads.