Straight Russian Man Cleared From ’Gay Propaganda’ Law, Despite Strong Public Support
A Russian judge has cleared a protester from being the first citizen to be charged under the controversial "homosexual propaganda" law, AllOut.com said in a statement. The protester, as it turns out, is not gay himself, but is a straight married man.
Sergey Kondrashov was arrested two weeks ago for holding up a gay rights banner in St. Petersburg, Russia. The banner read: "A dear family friend is lesbian. My wife and I love and respect her ... and her family is just as equal as ours."
But a judge found that there was a lack of evidence and protocols to charge Kondrashov, an attorney, under the city's new anti-gay law.
"The courts are afraid of applying this law and do not want to take responsibility for its further enforcement," Kondrashov explained. "The judge's decision is illogical in a legal sense, and it lacks common sense."
In March, the St. Petersburg legislative assembly passed the law, which fines individuals up to $17,000 for the "promotion of homosexuality" and "pedophilia among minors." A similar bill has been passed in the country's southern region of Astrakhan as well as in Ryazan and Kostroma, which are located in central Russia.
The law defines "homosexual propaganda" as "the targeted and uncontrolled dissemination of generally accessible information capable of harming the health and moral and spiritual development of minors," that could create "a distorted impression" of "marital relations."
Kondrashov was convicted with "disobeying police orders" but the attorney plans to appeal the ruling.
"I was accused only of disobeying the policeman - but all evidence of the supposed "propaganda" I was spreading disappeared from the court record," Kondrashov said.
"This is the beginning of a long fight: I will continue to stand for what is right. I was not an activist before, but now, I am committed to fighting this 'gay propaganda' law. Supporters of the law claim that it would "protect children," but my arrest makes clear the real intention," Kondrashov said.
"This law is really about making lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people disappear in Russia's second largest city," he continued. "And not just LGBT people - the law will muzzle people like me, straight people who care about our LGBT friends and family. Now that lawmakers in the Duma (the federal legislature) are debating a version of the law, this despicable law could go national - unless we fight it now."
AllOut.org is working with Kondrashov to appeal to the law to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to prevent it from spreading across the country.
"This law has brought no good and much embarrassment to St. Petersburg. The law is unenforceable, and it is a violation of long-standing international legal obligations," Andre Banks, executive director of AllOut.org, said. "And the arrest of a straight, married Russian man reminds us that it crushes freedom of expression for all Russians. Today in St Petersburg, an irresponsible legislature was stalled by a responsible judiciary. Prime Minister Putin needs to intervene. This law has no place in modern Russia."
The conservative and Christian website Life Site News reported that there has been an "overwhelming approval from the Russian public" in regards to the controversial law. A poll from the state-run pollster VTsIOM found that 86 percent of 1,600 people surveyed said they backed "a ban on the promotion of homosexual relationships."
The poll also said that 95 percent of Russians said they had never seen any "gay propaganda" but the main source of the materials came from television.
Although the poll claims that the majority of Russians support the anti-gay bill, there are a number of activists that have strongly criticized the legislation. The leading LGBT rights group in St. Petersburg, ComingOut, said the law impacts gays' civil rights.
"This law would legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia," the group said in a statement. "The history of Europe shows that all totalitarian regimes here began with similar repression of LGBT people. If this law is allowed to pass, it could signal that Russia is sliding towards a new totalitarianism."
The law's impact has also reached people across the world. A New York Times article by Masha Gessen urged people to protest the law by boycotting the city. Gessen even asked Madonna to cancel an upcoming concert in St. Petersburg. The pop star later announced that she would use the show as an opportunity to speak against the legislation.
"I will come to St. Petersburg to speak up for the gay community and to give strength and inspiration to anyone who is or feels oppressed," the singer told Bloomberg Businessweek in an email. "I don't run away from adversity. I will speak during my show about this ridiculous atrocity."