Court Ges­ture

In­ter­na­tional hu­man rights rul­ing of­fers a strong re­buke to Rus­sia’s po­si­tion on LGBT rights

The Moscow Times - - LOOKING BACK - By Matthew Kupfer news­re­porter@ime­

On June 20, the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights (ECHR) ruled that an in­fa­mous Rus­sian law against “gay pro­pa­ganda” vi­o­lated free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

No­tably, only one ECHR judge voted against the rul­ing: Dmitry De­dov, Rus­sia’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the court. In his dis­sent, De­dov wrote that “pos­i­tive por­tray­als of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity have a neg­a­tive im­pact on chil­dren’s de­vel­op­ment and place them at risk of sex­ual vi­o­lence.” But six other judges—from coun­tries as di­verse as Cyprus and Slo­vakia — dis­agreed.

There could hardly be a more demon­stra­tive ver­dict on gay rights in Rus­sia. As the LGBT com­mu­nity racks up vic­to­ries around the globe, Rus­sia in­creas­ingly finds it­self as an out­lier in Europe.

Not that Rus­sia’s anti-gay law was ever main­stream. Passed in 2013 to ban “pro­pa­ganda of non­tra­di­tional sex­ual relations among mi­nors,” the law pro­voked a pub­lic out­cry through­out the West. Prom­i­nent celebri­ties called for boy­cotting all things Rus­sian. Ac­tivists called for their coun­tries to pull out of the 2014 Win­ter Olympic Games, to be hosted in Sochi. The law pro­voked gen­uine fear among some LGBT ath­letes that they could face dis­crim­i­na­tion or ar­rest dur­ing the games.

Ul­ti­mately, the boy­cott ef­fort failed. But the Krem­lin found it­self on the de­fen­sive. Nu­mer­ous Western lead­ers de­clined to at­tend the Olympics, and the U.S. sent a del­e­ga­tion fea­tur­ing prom­i­nent gay ath­letes to Sochi, a sym­bolic re­buke to the Krem­lin.

Sev­eral years later, the “gay pro­pa­ganda” law’s ef­fects on Rus­sian so­ci­ety are still toxic. In April, the in­de­pen­dent No­vaya Gazeta news­pa­per re­vealed that se­cu­rity forces in Rus­sia’s Chech­nya re­gion were de­tain­ing, tor­tur­ing and even killing gay men en masse. One of the rea­sons cited by No­vaya Gazeta for the crack­down was, in part, the anti-gay law.

A group of ac­tivists led by Niko­lai Alex­eyev, one of the plain­tiffs in the ECHR’s cur­rent rul­ing, had been sub­mit­ting pe­ti­tions to hold LGBT protests in cities across Rus­sia. The ac­tivists un­der­stood their ap­pli­ca­tions would be re­jected. They were ac­tu­ally col­lect­ing re­jec­tion letters to build a case in the ECHR against the “gay pro­pa­ganda” law. Un­for­tu­nately, their pe­ti­tions to hold marches in the con­ser­va­tive Cau­ca­sus re­gion, where Chech­nya is lo­cated, pro­voked sig­nif­i­cant lo­cal blow­back. That ap­pears to have led the au­thor­i­ties to carry out “pre­ven­ta­tive de­ten­tions” of gays.

Now Rus­sia must pay Alex­eyev and two other LGBT ac­tivists, Niko­lai Bayev and Alexei Kise­lyov, nearly 50 thou­sand eu­ros (around $55,800) in com­pen­sa­tion each, the ECHR ruled. The rul­ing can­not al­ter Rus­sian leg­is­la­tion, but it does set a prece­dent for fu­ture ECHR cases against Rus­sia over its “gay pro­pa­ganda” law.

It also makes a clear state­ment that Rus­sia’s po­si­tion on LGBT rights is back­ward. In re­cent weeks, Tai­wan’s con­sti­tu­tional court has le­gal­ized same-sex mar­riages. Ire­land’s par­lia­ment elected the coun­try’s first openly gay prime min­is­ter. Last week, even Ser­bia— a Rus­sian ally and Or­tho­dox Slavic coun­try— ap­pointed a les­bian prime min­is­ter.

Mean­while, on June 18, over 2,000 Ukraini­ans marched through cen­tral Kiev in sup­port of LGBT rights. De­spite ag­gres­sive op­po­si­tion from con­ser­va­tive and na­tion­al­ist forces, the Kiev Pride rally went off with hardly a hitch, thanks to the ef­forts of over six thou­sand law en­force­ment of­fi­cers. Among the Ukrainian demon­stra­tors was a small del­e­ga­tion of LGBT ac­tivists from St. Petersburg.

“It is im­pos­si­ble to march in Rus­sia,” ac­tivist Alexei Nazarov told The Moscow Times. “So we can only do it abroad.”

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