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Q&A on Russia’s Anti-Gay Law

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The bill on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors” was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin on July 29. Originally titled the bill on“homosexual propaganda,” the law criminalizes the public expression of support for “nontraditional” relationships.

MOSCOW, August 12 (Laura Mills, Associated Press) – The bill on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors” was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin on July 29. Originally titled the bill on“homosexual propaganda,” the law criminalizes the 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” (in this context) is vague and hinges on intent. Anyone distributing information with the “intention” of persuading minors that “nontraditional” sexual relationships are “attractive,” “interesting,” or “socially equivalent to traditional relationships,” could be accused of breaking the law.

It 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 LGBT equality online, but anyone wearing a rainbow flag on the street or writing about gay relationships on Facebook, for instance, could be accused of promoting – or propagandizing – homosexuality.

What are “Nontraditional Relations”?

“Nontraditional relations” is not defined in law. However, in an interview with Russian TV network REN-TV, one of the bill's authors Yelena Mizulina, listed four kinds of sexual activity that would be classified as “nontraditional.” They are: “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 5,000 rubles ($150) for individuals and 1 million rubles ($30,000) for organizations convicted of violating it. Punishments are more severe for promotion on the web or in the media: up to 100,000 rubles ($3,000) for individuals and up to 1 million rubles for organizations.

Foreign citizens found to have violated the law can be punished with fines of up to 100,000 rubles, up to 15 days in prison, deportation and denial of the right to reenter Russia.

Has the Law Been Enforced?

No one has yet gone to court under the federal law. Six LGBT activists were detained after one 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.

Four Dutch citizens working on a documentary about gay rights in the northern Russian town of Murmansk were the first foreigners to be detained under the new law. They were fined and forced to leave the country, but were not tried. There have been six cases in which individuals have been tried for “propaganda” under regional laws.

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 a 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 law outraged Russian liberals and activists, a poll by the independent Levada Center in Russia found that 73 percent of respondents supported 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 calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi, but no country or athlete has yet said they will not attend for this reason. Most officials, including President Barack Obama, have called a boycott unnecessary.

What About the Olympics?

This is unclear. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said foreign athletes would be expected “to respect the country’s laws,” but some lawmakers and the Russian Olympic Committee said the law would be suspended during the Games. Last week, the International Olympic Committee urged Russia to clarify its stance.

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