“These laws are aimed at driving LGBT people back into silence, back underground, back to the invisibility,” Polina Andrianova of Coming Out, a St. Petersburg-based advocacy group, told the Washington Blade. “That’s the whole point of them.”
Andrianova spoke to the Blade from St. Petersburg after an appellate judge in the city on July 25 overturned a lower court’s ruling that fined Coming Out 500,000 rubles or slightly more than $15,000 for violating a 2012 law that requires groups that receive funding from outside Russia to register as a “foreign agent.”
“We were extremely surprised the appeal judge actually dismissed the decision of the lower court and sent our case back for trial,” she said. “Even though it’s clear we’re not guilty of anything, we did not expect that.”
The Coming Out case comes against the backdrop of growing outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record.
President Vladimir Putin in late June signed a broadly worded law that bans gay propaganda to minors across the country. A second statute that prohibits foreign same-sex couples and any couple from a country in which gays and lesbians can legally marry from adopting Russian children took effect last month.
Andrianova told the Blade only a handful of people have been charged and found guilty of violating the gay propaganda law. She said the statute’s true impact, however, is felt outside the Russian legal system.
“The propaganda terminology is so vaguely defined that nobody knows what is right or wrong to do,” Andrianova said. “All I know is it has something to do with me being openly gay. If I am on the streets and I hold hands with my girlfriend or kiss my girlfriend — something that any heterosexual couple can do at any time — I’m afraid now that somebody will call the police. Some mother with a child will call the police and the police will arrest me and harass me.”
Authorities in the Russian capital in May arrested 30 people who tried to stage a Pride march outside Moscow City Hall. Police in Murmansk on July 21 arrested four Dutch LGBT rights advocates who were filming a documentary about gay life in Russia.
St. Petersburg police on June 29 took dozens of LGBT rights advocates into custody as they tried to stage their own Pride event.
Andrianova, who did not attend the gathering, told the Blade that several Coming Out volunteers and clients are among the roughly 50 people whom authorities arrested. She said her organization is representing them in court.
Anti-gay laws way for Putin to ‘gain more conservative support’
Andrianova told the Blade she feels the ongoing anti-LGBT crackdown is part of what she described as a “much wider campaign” for Russia to “define itself and define itself in opposition to the West, Europe and the United States.”
“Russia is defining traditional values and Christian orthodox heterosexual values, patriarchal when a man has a role and a woman has a role with a traditional family with kids,” she said. “Gay people, non-Christian orthodox people, all of them are viewed as kind of dangerous to the traditional values of Russia and so they’re viewed as non-Russian and [have] imported values from the West.”
Andrianova added she feels Putin signed the gay propaganda to minors and adoption bans into law as a way to maintain his popularity within the country, especially after protests erupted after the country’s 2012 presidential election the former KGB officer won.
“He got a bit worried about it,” Andrianova said. “He’s trying to gain more conservative support.”
Andrianova blasts Russian sports minister over Sochi comments
Andrianova spoke to the Blade as concerns over whether Russian authorities plan to exempt athletes and visitors who will visit Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics in February from the country’s gay propaganda law mount.
The Associated Press on August 5 reported the International Olympic Committee is engaged in “quiet diplomacy” with senior Russian officials on the issue.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told a Russian sports website last week the gay propaganda law will apply to those who travel to Sochi for the Olympics. He told reporters during a Moscow press conference on Thursday that the statute’s critics need to “calm down.”
“Does that mean that during all the rest of the time you don’t need to be tolerant and we don’t need to be correct in your behavior towards your own citizens?” Andrianova asked, referring to Mutko’s statements. “This double standard and hypocrisy needs to be picked up and highlighted by the rest of the world.”
All Out and Athlete Ally on August 7 presented a petition with more than 340,000 signatures to the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland, that urges it to pressure Russian officials to protect the rights of their LGBT citizens. Andre Bank, executive director of All Out, on Thursday discussed the issue with Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Cherkin before he met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York.
The Associated Press earlier on Friday reported IOC President Jacques Rogge sought further clarification from the Russian government over the application of the gay propaganda ban during the Sochi games.
Andrianova suggested to the Blade that President Obama’s decision to cancel his meeting with Putin that had been scheduled to take place in Moscow before next month’s G-20 summit in St. Petersburg is among the ways to continue to highlight Russia’s LGBT rights record. She said she does not support calls to boycott the Sochi games.
“It’s going to be much more effective to use the Olympics to raise this issue as loud and as visibly as possible,” Andrianova said. “We should call on the athletes and the sponsors and staff and volunteers to make this issue as visible as they can, to speak as loudly as they can to speak about how shameful it is and how absurd it is for Russia to be acting like this towards its LGBT citizens. That’s going to be more effective and more visible in Russia than some athletes not coming to the Olympics.”