A while ago, I had a visit from a friend from Moscow. No, it was not Vladimir Putin, who has arrived to the Netherlands today to mark off the 400 year anniversary of Russian-Dutch relations. But both visits had something in common: they both reminded me of the situation Russian gay people are in. My friend came to the Netherlands with his ‘girlfriend’. I know that he is gay and that the whole relationship is a big fake. This might not strike you as something very newsworthy, as gays pretending to be straight is quite common even in Holland. But there is a crucial difference here. Russia is not a safe place for people to be gay and my friend did not hide his sexuality because of shame or whatever, but because he feared for his life. This is not so strange, given Russia’s history. During the Soviet time, gay people were actively prosecuted. And today, the 8th of April 2013, people are protesting Putin’s arrival in the Netherlands because of the new ban on ‘gay propaganda’.
The ‘gay propaganda’ bill passed its first reading in the Russian Parliament and although it still has some way to go before it is made law, it is already stirring up emotions around the world. So what does this bill entail exactly? The problem is that this question is hard to answer, as the bill is quite vague on what exactly is considered gay propaganda: what about a public kiss or walking hand in hand on the boulevard? Sure is that it would be illegal to inform minors about homosexuality, transgenderism and the like. Gay parades would be illegal and the fines for offenses will range from about € 100 for individuals to € 12.000 for corporations.
Russia is not known for her fierce commitment to human rights, even though Russia is a member of the Council of Europe. But how does Russia defend the bill? Well, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov does not see the bill as incompatible with human rights at all. He stated that “the ban on gay propaganda among minors (…) does not infringe on human rights – unlike gay propaganda itself”. According to Lavrov children deserve to be protected against the promotion of homosexual values.
Sadly, this ban is but one of the worrying development for the LTGB community in Russia. Far less prominent in Western news are the new guidelines which call for psychological examination of army recruits. Officers are advised to talk with recruits about their sex lives and ask them about their girlfriends. Most bizarrely, they are also advised to check for certain types of tattoos which could reveal ‘low cultural or educational level’ and homosexuality. It has to be noted that many officers have rejected these guidelines for being impractical.
Who are then pushing for this kind of legislation? The Orthodox Church surely has an active role in this. But the measures are also appealing to nationalists, as they see gay rights as imported liberties from the West. I am curious to see what shape the demonstrations against Putin will take today, how many people will show up. However, I fear that all these protests will not impress the KGB man very much.
Still, Amsterdam, waive that rainbow flag! Let’s remind everyone in the world about Dutch tolerance, where everyone is free to show his or her true colors.