By Nigel Warner

In recent years state authorities in Russia have repeatedly tried to prevent LGBT people from campaigning publicly for their rights. This has been most evident in relation to demonstrations. Since 2005 almost every attempt to hold a Pride March, or similar, has been banned. Three such cases were the subject of a 2010 judgment by the European Court of Human Rights which severely criticised the Russian authorities. Despite that, the bans continue.

Now a bill has been introduced into the legislature of one of the Russian regions, St Petersburg, that would prohibit “public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderness among minors”. If enacted, it will almost certainly intensify suppression of freedom of expression, moving from the current situation where individual events are banned on a case-by-case basis, to a blanket ban on events, media coverage and the dissemination of information generally. It is part of a trend: similar laws have already been introduced in two other Russian regions. And there is talk among politicians of this being repeated in the Moscow region, and perhaps even at federal level. Even if this does not happen, the developments in St Petersburg are particularly serious for the LGBT movement in Russia – the main umbrella organisation for the LGBT movement, and some of its most active member organisations, are located there.

It is noteworthy that the Bill was introduced into the St Petersburg legislature by Putin’s party, United Russia. It is widely reckoned that the timing of this initiative was  determined by the general election on December 4, and that it is a cynical attempt to curry favour among homophobic and transphobic voters. This is borne out by the speed with which it is being processed – it was first tabled in committee on 11 November and received its first reading only three working days later, on 16 November.

There are concerns that the St Petersburg bill could have wider consequences in the region. Politicians and religious leaders in much of Eastern Europe regularly call for “propaganda for homosexuality” to be banned. Bills to this effect have been introduced in the Lithuanian and Ukraine parliaments, and we could see more if St Petersburg goes through.

What are the chances of preventing the legislation being adopted? Not great. There is significant international pressure. But the Russian authorities seem to take a particular pleasure in flouting international human rights standards and ignoring pressure from democratic states. US diplomatic cables revealed by Wikileaks advise that Russia has become a virtual “mafia state”. It seems unlikely the present government will take much notice of anybody unless oil prices fall dramatically or the Russian people wake up.

Nigel Warner is a long term activist for LGBT rights, working particularly in the international field.