by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
A new Russian law that would effectively forbid any public discussion of LGBT issues has provoked a diplomatic spat between Russia and the U.S. State Department.
The United Nations also got into the act, announcing that its Human Rights Committee would hold hearings on the law in July 2012.
The so-called 'Don't say Gay' law was sponsored by the United Russia party led by President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It has already been enacted in the cities of Ryazan and Arkhangelsk and is due to be enacted in St. Petersburg.
The law forbids all 'public actions aimed at propaganda of pederasty, Lesbianism, Bisexuality, and Transgenderism among minors.' Offenders may be fined as much as 50,000 rubles ($1,598).
The measure has been challenged in Russian courts, but the country's Constitutional Court ruled that it was lawful.
LGBT activists warn that it could be used to ban campaigns for Gay rights, or any public discussion of LGBT issues.
On November 25, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was asked about the law in a news conference. While she said she had not heard of the measure, she went on to reaffirm U.S. support for LGBT rights.
'I think you know the principled stand that the United States Government takes on this issue and that the Secretary of State in particular takes on this issue, which is that gay rights are human rights and human rights are Gay rights,' Nuland said.
'And so I don't think the Russian Government could have any question about where we would stand on such an issue.'
The State Department later issued a statement saying it was 'deeply concerned' by the law.
'Gay rights are human rights and human rights are Gay rights,' the State Department statement repeated.
'We have called on Russian officials to safeguard these freedoms, and to foster an environment which promotes respect for the rights of all citizens.'
On November 29, a top Russian diplomat sharply criticized the U.S. for those remarks.
'We view with bewilderment the American side's attempts to interfere, what's more, publicly, in the lawmaking process,' Russia's foreign ministry representative for human rights, Konstantin Dolgov, told the Interfax news agency.
Dolgov dismissed as 'inappropriate' the U.S. State Department statement of concern.
On November 30, the LGBT rights group GayRussia announced that the United Nations Human Rights Committee had agreed to hold hearings against the 'Don't Say Gay' law.
'GayRussia has been informed today by the Human Rights Committee's secretariat at the U.N. that the case of Irina Fedotova who is challenging her arrest for 'propaganda of homosexuality to minors' in Ryazan, against Russia will be considered during the Committee's July 2012 session in Geneva,' GayRussia said in a statement.
'In accordance with the rules of the Committee, there will be no public hearing,' the statement added.
Fedotova is one of GayRussia's 'longstanding activists,' they said. She and her wife were the first couple to challenge Russia's ban on same-sex marriage at the European Court. They were able to legally register their marriage in Toronto in October 2009 but were denied the right to do so in Moscow.
The official registration of their marriage in Russia was GayRussia's 2009 campaign.
'We would like to express our deepest thanks and gratitude to all those who supported our campaign, asking the U.N.'s Human Rights Committee to consider the case of Irina Fedotova,' said Nikolai Bayev, acting head of GayRussia.
'The fight continues, and we hope the European Court of Human Rights [will] follow the U.N. and open a similar case of Nikolai Bayev v. Russia, as this is technically the only way to reverse the decision of the Russian Constitutional Court which held the ban of homosexual propaganda to minors constitutional,' said Nikolai Alekseev, founder of GayRussia.
On November 28, Human Rights Watch condemned the law as 'draconian.'
Same-sex relations were decriminalized in Russia in 1993, and by 1999 being Gay was no longer classified as a mental illness.
Homophobia is still widespread, however, and permits to hold Pride marches have been routinely denied by Russian police.
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