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April 01, 2014

Turnabout in Russia: An anti-LGBT Pol May Face Sanction

By Dawes Cooke

Vitaly Milonov, a deputy in Saint Petersburg’s Legislative Assembly and the principal sponsor of a citywide anti-LGBT propaganda law, believes it’s sometimes necessary to teach LGBT Russians a lesson. In an interview with Internet news site Fontanka last year, Milonov said “perverts” and “sickos” deserve whatever reaction they provoke. His words were so vitriolic that the Saint Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office may file criminal charges against him.

In November, The Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality coordinator Natalia Tsymbalova and LGBT activist Anna Prutskova sent a copy of Milonov’s statements to the Prosecutor’s Office along with a request to sue him under Article 282 of Russia’s Criminal Code, which bans the incitement of hatred against any social group. They are receiving legal support from Ksenya Kirichenko, coordinator of the Legal Aid program of the LGBT organization “Vykhod.”

Initially, the request was denied. However Tsymbalova was recently informed that the lawsuit had been forwarded to the Investigative Committee, which overturned the denial. The case is now back in the Prosecutor’s hands and the results of an expert examination will be ready later this week. A request by Milonov himself to initiate criminal proceedings against the activists for presenting misleading information was flatly dismissed.

Even a positive answer from the Prosecutor does not mean an immediate victory for LGBT activists. As a city deputy, Milonov enjoys immunity that can only be stripped by a recommendation from the Prosecutor and a vote from the Legislative Assembly. Additionally, the court would have to recognize the LGBT community as a social group for Article 282 to apply to Milonov, which they have so far been reluctant to do.

However, successfully prosecuting Milonov would be a major step toward slowing the momentum of anti-LGBT legislation in Russia. It would set a precedent recognizing the LGBT community as a legitimate social group deserving equal protection under the law, and it would hold one of Russia’s most virulently homophobic politicians accountable.