Mar 192012
 
Alexander Demianchuk - Reuters

I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities on earth. I have many friends who live there. And I am asking you, please, do not visit it.

I am especially asking you not to go if you are the singer Madonna, who is scheduled to play a concert there on Aug. 9. And if you are Mercedes-Benz or PepsiCo, the two foreign companies that have signed on as partners of this year’s economic forum, scheduled to take place there June 21-23, I am asking you to pull out. And if you are an entrepreneur or an artist or an athlete who has been asked to participate in one of the many conferences and festivals that will take place there this summer, I am asking you to say no. And if you were just planning to visit the city as a tourist during the gorgeous white nights season in May and June, I am asking you to take your vacation someplace else.

The city is St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest and by far the country’s most important tourist attraction. Last Saturday, its law against “homosexual propaganda” went into effect. I wrote about this legislation last November, when it was first proposed. Since then, it was passed by an overwhelming majority of the city council and signed into law by the governor of St. Petersburg, Georgy Poltavchenko, on March 7, when the media in Russia and elsewhere were preoccupied with covering the Russian presidential election.

In its final form, the legislation makes it an administrative offense to engage in “the propaganda of male homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgenderism among minors.” What is propaganda? The law defines it as “the intentional and unregulated distribution in a publicly accessible manner of information that can harm the health or the process of moral and spiritual development of minors, including forming among them the false perception that traditional and nontraditional relationships are socially equal.”

What would fall under the definition of this law? Any book or periodical that contains, say, a mention of same-sex marriage or a same-sex relationship — unless the book or periodical is sold at an adults-only bookstore. Public displays of affection among same-sex couples would also be an offense. For gay or lesbian parents, simply living with their children might be a breach.

Violations are punishable by fines: up to roughly $170 for most individuals, $1,700 for officials — in other words, the legislation makes it illegal to argue against it: a lawmaker who dared say that same-sex relationships are not inferior to heterosexual ones could be fined — and $17,000 for businesses, such as bookstores or, say, counseling centers.

Similar laws have passed in three smaller cities, and many other large cities, as well as the federal center itself, are considering similar legislation.

The St. Petersburg law was passed by a nominally elected city council and signed by an appointed governor. I doubt the law will be applied widely. More likely, it will be an instrument of selective enforcement: it’s enough to punish a few to frighten the many. The intelligentsia has grumbled about the law, but I am sure it is generally popular. Neither the Russian authorities nor the Russian public see that they stand to lose anything by passing blatantly discriminatory legislation.

This is why I am addressing Madonna and anyone else who was planning to go to St. Petersburg. Please help us show them that they do have something to lose. Tourism makes up an important part of the city’s income. The Canadian foreign ministry has already warned tourists to be wary of the law. The international community should take a step further. Do not go to St. Petersburg.

Masha Gessen

Protest St. Petersburg’s ‘Homosexual Propaganda’ Law by Boycotting the City – NYTimes.com

h/t Rex Wockner

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