Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, became notorious last year for passing a law outlawing any kind of public expression of LGBT identity, LGBT pride, or support for the LGBT community and declaring it “gay propaganda.” Violators of the law can be fined up to 500,000 rubles or even thrown in jail for up to 15 days.
If that wasn’t bad enough, a similar “gay propaganda” law overwhelmingly passed its first reading last month in the Russian State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament. That’s right: Russian leaders want St. Petersburg’s ugly, vicious anti-gay law criminalizing gay pride to go national. And it’s expected to pass (just in time for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics).
This isn’t sitting well with more enlightened, equality-minded citizens and civic leaders in Russia and elsewhere. Courageous Russians have staged protests against the bill, risking harassment and arrest. The EU has condemned the legislation. And the Italian cities of Venice and Milan have both suspended their Sister City status with St. Petersburg over the draconian anti-gay measures.
Perhaps even more notable than the actions taken by Venice and Milan is the fact that so many of St. Petersburg’s other Sister Cities have so far declined to take similar steps. The list of Sister Cities to St. Petersburg includes many of the most cosmopolitan and forward-thinking places on the planet: Paris. Los Angeles. Stockholm. Helsinki. Rio. Barcelona. Rotterdam. Göteborg. Québec City. Melbourne. Hamburg. The state of Maryland, which just legalized same-sex marriage, even has a Sister City relationship with St. Petersburg.
Noted blogger John Aravosis is urging his readers to write to officials and newspapers in St. Petersburg’s Sister Cities and pressure them to suspend Sister City ties for as long as the Russian anti-gay laws are in place. In that same spirit, I’ve set up a Change.org petition asking leaders in selected municipalities that are twinned with St. Petersburg to do the exact same thing. Please click here to sign my petition, and then share it with your friends via email, Facebook, and Twitter.
I haven’t yet been able to add every single Sister City (believe it or not, it can be quite difficult to track down email contact information for some of these mayoral offices!), but I will continue to expand the list of cities targeted by the petition to as many as Change.org will allow.
In my view, municipalities that believe in LGBT human rights have an obligation to suspend their Sister City relationships with St. Petersburg, Russia until these terrible laws are repealed. If you agree, please sign and share my petition.