Russian Police Can Arrest, Detain Gay Tourists

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Friday July 12, 2013

Openly gay tourists who are planning a visit to Russia may want to rethink their stay as the Canadian travel website Travel and Escape reports that foreign tourist can now be subjected to the highly controversial "homosexual propaganda" law that fines and sentences citizens for exposing minors to LGBT materials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the new measure into law on June 30, which fines individuals up to 20,000 rubles (around $6,000 US) for "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations." In addition, the law has a provision that allows the government to arrest or detain gay, or pro-gay, foreigners for up to two weeks before they would be expelled from the country.

The site attempts to explain what "pro-gay" actually means but the law's language is vague. The site suggests that "gay-affirmative" speech, displaying the rainbow flag, or same-sex couples holding hands are outlawed.

According to the travel site Skift, there were recently complaints in southern Russia against Elton John and his stage outfits. Some argued that his wardrobe fell under "gay propaganda" and that he should be subjected to the law's fines.

Putin claims the law does not discriminate against LGBT people but is in place to "protect children from pedophilia," Travel and Escape reports.

Nevertheless, some are concerned that the law may impact LGBT athletes participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Sochi, Russia. Last month, officials from the International Olympic Committee said it will embrace out athletes during the games, despite the anti-gay law.

"The IOC would like to reiterate our long commitment to non-discrimination against those taking part in the Olympic Games," the spokesman said in a statement. "The IOC is an open organization and athletes of all orientations will be welcome at the Games."

Human Rights Watch reports that IOC Director General Christophe De Kepper said, "Human Rights Watch's long-standing position is that there cannot be a successful Olympics where there is discrimination or human rights abuses ... Foreigners -- possibly including athletes -- who violate the law, including possibly by speaking about their sexual orientation in public, run the risk of being fined, arrested for up to 15 days, and deported from Russia."

Putin also signed another measure that effectively limits adoption of Russian children by people for countries that allow same-sex marriage, the Associated Press reported.

Several celebrities have stood against Russia's anti-gay legislation, including Madonna and Lady Gaga. More recently, Academy Award-winning actress Tilda Swinton defended the LGBT community by proudly holding a rainbow flag in front of Moscow's Kremlin. The image went viral and blew up social media websites, including Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

"In solidarity. From Russia with love," Swinton said in a statement.

Though gay and human rights activists have sharply criticized Russia's laws, some American conservatives lauded the measures' passage.

"You admire some of the things they're doing in Russia against propaganda," said Austin Ruse, president of the U.S.-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. "On the other hand, you know it would be impossible to do that here."

Ruse plans on traveling to Russia this summer to meet with government officials and civic leaders, the AP reports.

"We want to let them know they do in fact have support among American NGOs (non-governmental organizations) on social issues," he said.

Other ultra-right conservatives also support Ruse and the laws, including Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexualiy.

"Russians do not want to follow America's reckless and decadent promotion of gender confusion, sexual perversion, and anti-biblical ideologies to youth," LaBarbera said.