Earlier this year, St. Petersburg joined several other Russian cities by passing a law banning homosexual propaganda directed at minors. Since then, exactly what that means for LGBT activists–what counts as propaganda–has been unclear. Can they hand out pamphlets about famous historical figures who were gay? Are rainbow flags propaganda? What about a feminist literary journal including poetry and essays with LGBT-related content?
Not recommended for viewing by individuals under 18 years of age.
Earlier today, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation seems to have slightly clarified the law’s reach in a case brought in connection with the propaganda law in Archangelsk:
Запрет пропаганды гомосексуализма не препятствует реализации права получать и распространять информацию общего характера нейтрального содержания о гомосексуальности, проводить публичные дебаты о социальном статусе сексуальных меньшинств (via RosBalt)
The ban on propaganda of homosexualism* does not preclude the exercise of the rights to receive and distribute information of a general character and neutral content about homosexuality, to hold public debates about the social status of sexual minorities (rough translation mine)
In other words, LGBT groups can hold public events, advocate for equal rights, wave flags and so on, according to the court. The activist quoted, Igor Kochetkov, describes his impression of what the law actually forbids:
Оказывается, это только прямые публичные призывы к несовершеннолетним вступать в гомосексуальные отношения. Случаев такого рода “пропаганды” лично я не встречал.
It turns out that [propaganda] is only direct public calls to minors to enter into homosexual relationships. Incidents of that kind of “propaganda” I, for one, have never seen.
This seems in line with the fears expressed by proponents of such laws–they seem to worry that expressions of homosexuality in the public sphere will attract young people to homosexuality. From this point of view, though, the court has clarified nothing about what ‘propaganda’ is or is not. Merely allowing a ‘gay pride’ parade to exist on the street is propagandizing homosexuality. Among those I’ve talked to who are opposed to LGBT rights, many have used the example of a parade as precisely what they’re concerned about. They often suggest it would be better to have more order in public spaces, to have some limits on what it considered acceptable for the public–and especially for children–to see (or be confronted with) when they’re out in the city or watching tv.
On this level, then, I don’t know that the court has resolved the basic conflict over who should be allowed to be visible in the public sphere. One person’s political expression is another person’s propaganda.
*I retain “homosexualism” here rather than the more neutral “homosexuality” (гомосексуальность) because it seems to carry a similar negative, distasteful kind of tone in Russian use as in the (now kind of archaic) English term.