THE BLOG
09/21/2013 12:06 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Russia: What It Means

OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images

I've visited this issue a few times, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, last year I wrote up a primer on all those countries where LGBTQs should not go. I went continent by continent. When I hit Europe, astute readers noted that the further east one went, the more hateful the countries got. From sunnily dispositioned Spain and Belgium, things got cold in the old Warsaw Pact countries, and downright Ice Agey in the former Soviet Union. It goes without saying that Russia has since gone from the Ice Age to deep freeze, and as a luxury gay travel organizer, my advice is simple:

Do.

Not.

Go.

It case you've been living under a particularly heavy rock, Russian President Vladimir Putin (who is very quickly becoming a convincing stunt double for Josef Stalin) pushed through what is formally called Article 6.21 of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses. For all practical purposes, it outlaws talking positively about homosexuality and is a backslide of historic proportions. In the end, what it proves is that Russia, which has always tried to prove itself a respected power in the eyes of Europe and the West, has once again only really just cornered the market on despotism. Again.

PolicyMic.com has an excellent summary of the law. The following is an excerpt taken from author Innokenty Grekov's analysis of the statute:

Propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.

If you're Russian. Individuals engaging in such propaganda can be fined 4,000 to 5,000 rubles (120-150 USD), public officials are subject to fines of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles (1,200-1,500 USD), and registered organizations can be either fined (800,000-1,000,000 rubles or 24,000-30,000 USD) or sanctioned to stop operations for 90 days. If you engage in the said propaganda in the media or on the internet, the sliding scale of fines shifts: for individuals, 50,000 to 100,000 rubles; for public officials, 100,000 to 200,000 rubles, and for organizations, from one million rubles or a 90-day suspension.

If you're an alien. Foreign citizens or stateless persons engaging in propaganda are subject to a fine of 4,000 to 5,000 rubles, or they can be deported from the Russian Federation and/or serve 15 days in jail. If a foreigner uses the media or the internet to engage in propaganda, the fines increase to 50,000-100,000 rubles or a 15-day detention with subsequent deportation from Russia.

If you thought the wording was a little vague, Grekov agrees. Because the law is spelled out so broadly as to what counts as "propaganda," literally anything that's even the remotest positive or even neutral reference to homosexuality is suspect. It could be two women holding hands as much as it could be a debate on the relationship between Alexander the Great and Hephaestion. Paintings of Jupiter abducting Ganymede could be seen as corrupting.

And don't think for a second that foreigners are exempt. No matter whether you agree with it or not, a visitor is always subject to the laws of the country he or she is in, be it Russia or the United States. To prove the point, Russian authorities already incarcerated three Dutch tourists in the Arctic city of Murmansk who were making a documentary on LGBTQ rights in Russia. They found out quick, needless to say.

Of course, this has castigated Russia by press both inside and out. I mean, my God, even National Geographic got in on the act, throwing up a list of the most deadly countries in the world for gays and lesbians -- and when was the last time you heard of that magazine jumping on the political bandwagon? I just got it for the pictures.

The really sad part about this is that Russia is a beautiful country. After the roller coaster ride it went through after the U.S.S.R. collapsed, the world was discovering its charms all over again. St. Petersburg was built from the first brick to be a spectacular city, and indeed, it is. Lake Baikal is a natural wonder. The holy city of Vladimir is a true hidden gem. But then Russia decided to yank Ukraine back into its orbit by starving it of fuel, and then it invaded the country of Georgia, and then it supported Assad's psychotic regime in Syria. And we're supposed to line up for the Olympics/World Cup/Miss Universe? Fuck, no. Don't go there, don't spend your money there, and don't give them the time. Personally, I would love to see delegations unfurl the rainbow flag during the Parade of Nations and have Anderson Cooper report it bare-chested while wearing a pair of strap-on angel wings, but let's face it: Neither is likely to happen.

So don't go. Slovakia and Bulgaria, while by no means gay paradises, are still havens compared with Russia and provide Slavic vacations with the best of them.

And when in comes to the Olympics -- and I'll bet it is this that becomes a PR nightmare for Putin and his myrmidons (and proves the last thing Russia has is "respect") -- here is a tip: If you want thrilling sports action that is LGBTQ-friendly, try Cleveland, Ohio. That city throws the Gay Games next year, and as a traveler, may I say that the city the natives call "CLE" (see-el-ee) is a hell of a lot friendlier than Sochi.

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