Madonna’s St. Petersburg Concert Reignites Criticism of Anti-Gay Law
’Protecting Children’ As an Anti-Gay Weapon
"I’m sorry to say this," Denber said, "but instead of authorities leading citizens towards tolerant attitudes and to a greater openness for LGBT people, they are trying to bait people with what could be someone’s prejudices."
Lawmakers emphasized pedophilia because the topic of homosexuality is still taboo in Russia, Gusovsky added. "They don’t want to create a perception that this is normal," she told EDGE. "They think it’s a lifestyle that goes against nature and they do not want young people to be attracted to it."
Vitaly Milonov, the law’s principal drafter and an outspoken supporter of Russia’s Orthodox Church, has called gay people "perverts" and has accused gay rights activists of launching a campaign to convert Russia’s children. "This is a declaration of Russia’s moral sovereignty," Milonov said in a quote as reported in the New York Times.
On the other side, the head of the Russian L.G.B.T. Network, Igor Kochetkov, called the law "absurd. You can also adopt a law against turning off the light of the sun, but no one has the ability to do this," Kochetkov told the Times. "Even if someone wanted to, no amount of propaganda is going to turn a heterosexual gay. This is a law that can be used, and will be used, to conduct searches of organizations and prevent public actions."
’Sliding Towards a New Totalitarianism’
Activists in ComingOut, the leading St. Petersburg LGBT rights group, warned that "this law would legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia. The history of Europe shows that all totalitarian regimes here began with similar repression of LGBT people."
The law, he ominously added, "could signal that Russia is sliding towards a new totalitarianism."
Since the fall of the old Soviet Union, Russia has passed several laws that are a step backward, Gusovsky added.
"The law does not just limit LGBT people but really all those who support the community," she said. "There was someone holding up a sign that said his family friend is a lesbian and that they treat her the same and that she is equal to them. Under the law, that would not be considered acceptable, either."
The real goal is to "put people back into the closet," according to Denber. "That to me is the message that these initiatives are implementing," she said.
Urging a Boycott of St. Petersburg
In order to have the law repealed, some gay rights groups and activists, including All Out, have urged people to avoid traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia’s most popular tourist destination.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Masha Gessen asked for tourists to cancel any vacation plans to the city. Gessen called for major businesses to pull out of any deals they have with the metropolis and for Madonna to cancel her concert.
For her part, Denber is hopeful that ordinary Russians will try to get the measure repealed. "People are pressing the limits," she said.
People will fight back. They are pushing boundaries and challenging authorities on ridiculous laws, many people are upset."
Not so fast, Gusovsky countered.
"I don’t see it happening anytime soon, if at all," she said. "In fact I see other cities adopting the measure. Repeal would be very difficult and could probably only come about with a change in leadership."