'Gay Gag Rule' Now Law in St. Petersburg

An anti-gay law has gone into effect in St Petersburg, Russia, prompting fresh concern from gay rights advocates that it will be used to promote hate crimes against homosexual and transgender individuals.

The new law penalizes what proponents say is the promotion of homosexual activity among children, but detractors say it is part of a wider effort to persecute homosexuals in Russia's second largest city.

The law, which took effect Sunday, in part prohibits "the propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia among minors." Gay rights activists say it would criminalize even reading, writing or speaking about gay, lesbian, or transgender people. Violations carry hefty fines up to $16,700.

"This law has little to do with protecting minors," said Polina Savchenko, director of the St. Petersburg LGBT organization Coming Out, in a statement today.

The law has prompted large protests in front of Russian embassies around the world in recent weeks. Homosexuality was outlawed during the Soviet Union and was only decriminalized by President Boris Yeltsin in 1993, though it remains highly taboo today.

Activists are quick to point out that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the famed composer and St. Petersburg native, was gay and suggest that even mentioning that fact is now illegal.

"We are offended and outraged by this act by city authorities and will continue fighting for the rights of LGBT citizens until the barbaric law is repealed," Savchenko said.

She said she fears the law will only "encourage hate" towards the LGBT community.

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