Russia’s gay rights activists have come under intense fire after the city legislature in St. Petersburg approved a bill to impose fines for the "promotion" of homosexuality.
Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to pass the bill in its first reading on Wednesday, following a similar ban in the southern Astrakhan and central Ryazan regions.
Under the new provisions, conceived by the ruling United Russia party, “public activities promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgender identity” among minors are punishable by a fine of up to 3,000 rubles ($97.50).
An organization could fork out anything between 10,000 to 50,000 rubles.
While the definition of “public activities” is unclear, the same fines are also envisaged for promoting child sex abuse.
The bill still needs to be passed in two more readings to become law. This is seen as a formality, however, because the city council is dominated by United Russia.
Gay rights activists condemned the bill, which means a long-awaited permit to hold a Gay Pride parade in Russia may never come around.
Yelena Babich, a deputy with the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia in the St. Petersburg council, said gay propaganda “puts the Russian people under threat of extinction” and that gay men and women were “sick.”
“The rising popularity of sexual deviations negatively affects our children,” United Russia MP Vitaly Milonov, who drafted the bill, told journalists on Wednesday.
Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament who stepped down recently as governor of St. Petersburg after a string of corruption scandals, said the measure was “correct” and hinted at the possibility of introducing the ban across the rest of Russia.
Igor Kochetkov, the head of the LGBT group Coming Out, said the bill was part of a “concerted political campaign” designed to win the support for United Russia in advance of next month’s parliamentary election.
In St. Petersburg, as well as Moscow - Russia’s two most powerful constituencies - United Russia’s popularity has been falling rapidly.
This ban and the continuing crackdown on Tajiks over Tajikistan’s jailing of a Russian pilot “increasingly look like a political and legal slide towards fascism,” he told RIA Novosti.
“They need to get as many votes as they can, so they are appealing to the least educated, downtrodden section of people who have a lot of phobias, including homophobia,” he said.
Homosexuality was illegal in the Soviet Union and was only decriminalized by President Boris Yeltsin in 1993. Almost twenty years on, anti-gay sentiment is still widespread and social attitudes are often very hostile.
“Such flirting with the most aggressive group of the electorate is fraught with very negative consequences for the party itself,” Kochetkov said. “Tomorrow these people can go and support the real fascists.”