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Slava Mogutin

Russian politicians want to ban gays from kissing in public

The country’s parliament will be debating a bill on whether or not ‘being gay’ in public should be illegal and come with a fine – that includes hugging, wearing dresses or holding hands

It won’t be news to regular Dazed readers that Russia isn’t exactly the best place to be LGBT. From banning gay emojis, to stopping trans people from driving, President Vladimir Putin has been described as “the most influential LGBT figure in the world” — but he’s not exactly a force for good.

It’s just been announced that the Russian Parliament will be debating a bill later this month that would effectively make it illegal to be gay in public in Russia. The bill, which is scheduled for the 22nd January, proposes fines for “the public expression of non-traditional sexual relations, manifested in a public demonstration of personal perverted sexual preferences in public places.” 

What this means in practice is that if a gay couple was caught hugging in public or — god forbid, holding hands — they could be stung for a fine of up to 5000 rubles (£45). And if gay people were found guilty of being “perverts” near schools or playgrounds, they could also face up 15 days in jail. 

The bill wouldn’t just single out gay people for discrimination. It would also make it possible to send people to prison for behaviour that’s seen to be non-gender-conforming, putting Russia’s trans community further at risk. Put simply, anyone doing anything which didn't fit in with received gender norms would be at risk — which rules out any men wanting to wear dresses on the streets of Moscow in homage to David Bowie, for example. 

A petition is circulating online calling on the Russian Parliament to reject the bill, which would “punish” people “just because they are different”. So far, the petition has been signed by nearly 27,000 people. Meanwhile, Russian newspaper Meduza has published an interview with the author of the bill, Ivan Nikitchuk from Russia’s Communist Party, which is so mind-bogglingly offensive it’s really worth reading in full. 

Some hateful gems include “bearded men kissing is nothing but nauseating”, and his view that “only sick, perverted people” can believe it’s wrong to send two people to jail for the fact they’re gay. He also stated that “I do not think it’s possible” for two men to be in love, and that the Russian Parliament had a responsibility to protect its citizens from displays of “demonic desires”. 

“If gay people were found guilty of being “perverts” near schools or playgrounds, they could also face up 15 days in jail”

While Nikitchuk is reliably deranged, his comments highlight the very real problems faced by the LGBT community in Russia, who face almost daily threats to their existence. A spokesperson for Stonewall told me that “the bill is incredibly worrying, and demonstrates just how much work there is left to do until lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are safe, and free to be themselves, across the world.” We interviewed Heather McGill, a Russia researcher for Amnesty International, to find out how likely it is that this bill will become law. 

“Initially we felt that the bill wouldn’t get passed, but unfortunately now it’s not looking like it would be a completely mad thing if it was. It probably will be changed, but it’s not completely out of the question that it will become law”. 

I ask her what the reaction to the bill has been like. “Unfortunately there are very strong homophobic views in Russian society. And in his [Nikitchuk’s] proposal for this law he also strikes another chord which reverberates in Russian society, by saying that calling for acceptance of different lifestyles is a Western plot against Russia. So, unfortunately he is not just a fringe lunatic. These views are something that chime with a lot of the Russian population, and it’s something we’re taking very seriously.” 

One hope is that the bill will be rejected as unconstitutional by the Russian Parliament. “That’s possible, because you could argue it’s against the Russian Constitution – specifically the right to freedom of expression and association.”

Meanwhile, the situation for LGBT people in Russia remains dire. “We’re seeing homophobic attacks which are the police are failing to investigate – such as a recent attack against an LGBT organisation called Maximum, in Murmask. I’d say that the situation for LGBT people in Russia is as bad as it’s ever been”.