March 22, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Activist: Russia LGBT rights record continues to deteriorate
Tarya Polyakova, gay news, Washington Blade

Tarya Polyakova (Photo courtesy of Tarya Polyakova)

A Russian activist earlier this week said the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record has continued to deteriorate since the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi ended.

Tarya Polyakova – a journalist and human rights advocate who is a member of a prisoners rights organization that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina of Pussy Riot founded – said during a conference call with reporters on March 19 that authorities recently charged the founder of an LGBT youth group under the country’s law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

They later dropped them.

“She thinks that this was pure luck,” said Polyakova.

Polyakova said a student who was recently attacked at school was beaten up by her parents after Russian child protective services told them she is a lesbian. The advocate further noted her friend last week lost her job after her boss discovered on her Facebook page that she was dating another woman.

“With this piece of legislation, our government basically gave [its] consent to treat people based on their personal characteristics, not on their criminal behavior,” said Polyakova, “and allow any homophobe out there to attack anyone who dares to come out as a gay person.”

Polyakova is among the 10 LGBT rights advocates police arrested in Moscow’s Red Square on Feb. 7 just before the Olympics’ opening ceremony as they tried to sing the Russian national anthem while holding rainbow flags. She said they remained in a local police station for several hours – and officers beat some of the advocates while in custody.

“The police were filming us on their mobile phones the whole time we were sitting in that cage like we were some sort of animals in a zoo,” said Polyakova.

Polyakova and the nine other LGBT rights advocates arrested in Red Square were scheduled to go on trial on Feb. 19 for unauthorized public assembly and incorrectly singing the Russian national anthem. Prosecutors have delayed their court appearance.

“I won’t be surprised if they charge me with treason or something,” said Polyakova. “This is Russia.”

Polyakova said several of her friends who participated in protests against Russia’s possible incursion into Ukraine and the annexation of the country’s Crimea region were taken into custody earlier this month. She said they spent two days in jail before they were “immediately dragged to court” and given 10 day sentences – they were released from detention earlier this week.

“All the LGBT activists are really concerned about the conflict in Crimea and we’re really standing up against war and military intervention in Ukraine,” Polyakova told the Washington Blade in response to a question about whether the ongoing conflict has worsened the Kremlin’s LGBT rights crackdown. “They cut us down when we try to raise our voices, but now we [have] temporarily stopped because we were charged.”

Russian LGBT rights advocates with whom the Blade spoke before and during the Olympics expressed concern their U.S. and European counterparts will no longer pay attention to their plight after the games end.

Retired Olympic diver Greg Louganis and the more than 300 others who participated in the Russian Open Games in Moscow that ended on March 2 faced bomb threats and other efforts that sought to disrupt the event. Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First, who traveled to Sochi last month with gay Olympian David Pichler, said his organization continues to anticipate the reintroduction of a proposal in the Russian Duma that would allow authorities to take children away from their LGBT parents.

Lithuanian parliamentarians last week postponed the final vote on a bill that would have imposed fines on those who denigrate the “constitutional value of family life.” Lawmakers in neighboring Latvia and Kyrgyzstan have also proposed measures similar to the propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed last June.

“It is really important that we don’t keep our eyes off of Russia and the LGBT community there,” said Gaylord.

Pichler and Gaylord during the conference call also discussed efforts in support of the campaign that urges the International Olympic Committee to add sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s non-discrimination clause. They said the Obama administration and members of Congress are among those who have endorsed the effort.

Pichler added he feels the IOC should also take into account a potential host country’s LGBT rights record during the selection process.

“They should need to look into places when these issues come up and should never have an Olympic games in a location like this,” he said as he discussed Russia.

The conference call took place two days after President Obama issued an executive order authorizing U.S. officials to freeze the American assets of Yelena Mizulina, a state Duma deputy who sponsored the propaganda bill, and six other Russian officials over their country’s incursion into Ukraine that includes the annexation of Crimea.

The anti-gay lawmaker on Twitter said the White House’s decision to sanction her is revenge over the propaganda bill she introduced. Polyakova said another female member of the Duma announced she will support Mizulina and nobody is “going to back down on this law.”

“Regardless of the reason that she ended up on this list, we obviously think if the U.S. is going to respond to human rights concerns that we’re glad that she’s among the people who are facing this kind of response, regardless of how it may have come about,” said Gaylord.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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