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WASHINGTON, July 22 (RIA Novosti) – City council members in Lansing, Michigan are deciding whether to end their sister city agreement with St. Petersburg over laws in the Russian city that ban “homosexual propaganda.”
“Sister city relations with St. Petersburg are listed as the first item on the agenda” at a city council committee meeting Monday evening, city clerk Chris Swope told RIA Novosti by phone.
The “committee of the whole can’t take final action on the issue but can make recommendations to the full council,” which is due to meet in one week, Swope said.
Lansing council members who are pushing for an end to the sister city relationship say that a 2012 law in St. Petersburg that bans “gay propaganda” conflicts with an ordinance passed in the Michigan state capital in 2006, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We have long been working on making Lansing, Michigan an inclusive city where everyone’s civil rights are protected,” Councilwoman Jody Washington said in an email published by several local media outlets.
“To be in an official agreement with any part of the world that violates those human rights that we have protected in our ordinances does not make any sense whatsoever,” the email said.
Last year, the Italian city of Milan suspended its sister city status with St. Petersburg in protest at the anti-gay legislation.
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into national law a controversial piece of legislation similar to the law in place in St. Petersburg, banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” among minors. Violators are subject to fines of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,000).
The issue of St. Petersburg’s sister city status was raised in Lansing after a gay pride gathering in the Russian city at the end of last month was shut down by the authorities after clashes between police and anti-gay campaigners, who threw eggs at the pro-LGBT demonstrators.
The Russian LGBT network said on its Facebook page that several activists were beaten up by their opponents during the event, and more than 50 were held by the police.
Local media reported that Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero has spoken out against ending St. Petersburg’s sister city relationship, saying it was “the exact opposite” of how Lansing should handle the situation.
Besides Washington, two more of the eight council members have backed her proposal to end St. Petersburg’s sister city status while a third has advocated for it to be put on hold until St. Petersburg officials change their stance against Russia’s LGBT community.
Lansing and St. Petersburg have been sister cities since 1994, but media reports said that the relationship has been “dormant” for six years.
Lansing also has sister city relationships with Akuapem, Ghana; Asan, South Korea; Otsu, Japan; Guadalajara and Saltillo in Mexico; and Sanming, China.
The sister cities movement in the United States was started by President Dwight Eisenhower as a way to use citizen diplomacy to create bonds between people from different cities to improve and strengthen important global relationships.
Lansing contributed $23,000 towards the salary of the head of its Sister Cities Commission and gave the commission $20,000 to underwrite its activities.