A member of St Petersburg’s gay community may be flown to Australia by Melbourne City Council to discuss conditions for homosexuals in the Russian city under tough new anti-gay laws.
It follows a public petition by gay rights activist Carl Katter – half-brother of federal MP Bob Katter – calling for Melbourne to end its sister-city relationship with St Petersburg because of the laws targeting the gay community.
More than 9000 people have signed the petition and last Thursday morning lord mayor Robert Doyle called Russian ambassador Vladimir Morozov to his Swanston Street chambers to discuss the gay rights issue.
Cr Doyle said it was a professional conversation with the Russian ambassador, who was in town for the international air show
”I began by saying we have no intentions of interfering with the internal affairs of another country,” he said.
”But then I brought up the St Petersburg laws and I mentioned Melbourne was a very tolerant society and those laws would not be acceptable in Australia.”
Cr Doyle told Mr Morozov the St Petersburg laws could damage that city’s international standing and there were calls for Melbourne to end the relationship with St Petersburg.
He said the conversation was a little frosty and he tried to make it constructive by explaining that he would not recommend the sister-city relationship be ended.
The lord mayor said he would instead push to have the council pay for a St Petersburg resident to visit Melbourne.
He said they could be a member of the gay, lesbian, transsexual or intersex community and they could come for Midsumma or the Queer Film Festival, or appear on Joy FM and discuss conditions in St Petersburg. He said the council would need to be confident there would not be repercussions for the person visiting Melbourne.
Cr Doyle said the council would ”try to have a medium to long-term effect. I am under no illusions that we will have any short-term effect on the laws in St Petersburg.”
The lord mayor took advice on the issue from the Department of Foreign Affairs, which told him any message he passed to the Russian ambassador would reach St Petersburg within 24 hours.