Anti-Gay Violence Surging in Russia

Ever since the passage of the controversial new law banning homosexual "propaganda", the upsurge in anti-LGBT violence, apparently with cooperation from the Russian government, is endangering the safety of those few protestors courageous enough to speak out.   The law, which passed unanimously in the Russian Duma on June 11, is based on  legislation already in place in cities such as St. Petersburg and extends it to the entire country.   While not banning homosexuality outright (it was decriminalized in 1993), the law imposes fines on anyone providing "propaganda on non-traditional sexual relations" to minors.  Not only is it now illegal to speak openly about gays and lesbians to young people, but any public demonstrations, including Gay Pride marches, are now banned as well.   News kiosks are also refusing to carry magazines with gay content and even gay-positive posts on Twitter and Facebook have come under attack as well.

While Gay Pride events in Russia have typically been marked by violence ever since the first Moscow Pride event in 2006,  the rise in anti-gay attacks has received little mention in the Russian news media.   Just this month alone, the deputy director of an airport in Russia's Kamchatka region was killed and his body set on fire,  reportedly because he was gay.   According to Vladimir Voloshin, the editor of Russian gay magazine Queer,   the new legislation is likely to be used as a justification to avoid prosecuting such attacks.  "It is one of the perverse consequences of the new law that criminals claim to have acted out of aversion to gays, because their lawyers assume that it will be considered as a mitigating factor during sentencing," he said.   "The worst part is, it works."

Though attacks on gay protesters typically involve ultra-Orthodox counterprotesters, there is little by way of assistance from police who are more likely to arrest pro-LGBT activists for trumped-up charges than provide protection.   There is also fear about how the new legislation will be enforced or whether something as basic as hanging a rainbow flag might be successfully prosecuted.   The fines under the new legislation are much more than the average Russian can afford, ranging from 100 to 11,700 euros (approximately $133-15000) depending on the infraction.  One recent conviction involved St. Petersburg resident, Nikolai Alexeyev who was prosecuted in May for holding up a sign saying, "Homosexuality is not a perversion."    It also means that web sites can be blocked without a court order and even reporting on anti-gay violence may be deemed criminal. 

Young activists are still fighting back though their activism is largely limited to Internet campaigns.   In one recent initiative called "The Children-404", a picture series of young LGBT Russians is shown with posters to hide their faces.  One of these posters read, "I refuse to be invisible! Love is stronger than hate."     But the hate remains deeply rooted in Russia, with the full blessing of Vladimir Putin's government.   What impact this will have on the already high suicide rate among LGBT youths is likely to be severe.   Especially since reporting on new deaths will probably be considered illegal.

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