Terminology
2 min

Russian city imposes a gay tax, and a global gay rights campaign kicks off

BY ROB SALERNO – The Russian city of St Petersburg passed a law that imposes fines on “propaganda of homosexuality” among minors. Under the bill, anyone conducting a “public act” promoting homosexuality, bisexuality or transgenderism to minors would be fined about $100, while organizations could face fines of up to $1,600.

Since the law doesn’t define what a “public act” is, or what “propaganda . . . to minors” is, the law could have the effect of criminalizing any open display of homosexuality in public, including holding hands or kissing one’s partner in any place where a minor might see, like a park or on the bus. The law doesn’t propose any criminal penalty — homosexuality was decriminalized throughout Russia in 1993 — so this could effectively be a tax on being gay in St Petersburg.

The bill also bans propaganda of pedophilia and bestiality, essentially equating those acts with homosexuality.

Last month, I reported on how the nearby Russian oblast (province) of Arkhangelsk banned gay pride marches for a similar reason. 

Meanwhile, a new group called the Human Dignity Trust is launching a coordinated legal campaign to erase laws in 80 countries that still criminalize gay sex. For now, it appears to be focusing on the 40 former British colonies that inherited anti-gay laws from the old empire, and it’s backed by high-ranking British lawyers, including a former attorney general. 

The strategy appears to be to use legal challenges to overturn those laws on human rights grounds — some of the former colonies still use the British Privy Council as the final court of appeal (as Canada did until 1949). One such country is Belize (formerly British Honduras), where gay activist Caleb Orozco is fighting with the HDT’s help against a law that penalizes gay sex with a sentence of up to 10 years.

In coming months, the NDT plans appeals in Jamaica and Turkish North Cyprus (which, although technically a former British colony whose citizens are EU members, is only formally recognized by Turkey), with new challenges in as many as five to 10 countries every year.

In a related story, the Guardian has a fantastic profile on Cameroonian lawyer Alice Nkom, who is working to overturn that country’s anti-gay laws. Nkom is also being supported by HDT and is continuing her work in the face of death threats:

"The minister of justice took me to the bar council; he said I was promoting
homosexuality and should be struck off. I know there’s a risk, but when you are
doing something that is right, you just do it and take care,” she says. “Someone has to do
this."

Good for her.

If you want to help, the Human Dignity Trust is another great organization that could use your holiday donations.


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