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Venice objects to St. Petersburg anti-gay law

Venice, Italy, is seeking to break off cultural relations with St. Petersburg because of the Russian city’s legislation curbing gay rights.

The city council invoked Venice’s “history, international prestige and conscience” in a motion unanimously approved this week asking the city administration to refrain from cultural exchanges as long as anti-gay laws are in place.

The motion states, “The city of Venice cannot ignore what is happening in the institutions” and asked officials to communicate the reason for the unilateral action.

The two cultural jewels, Venice and St. Petersburg signed an agreement in 2006 to pursue cultural and other exchanges.

St. Petersburg is one of a number of Russian cities that have passed laws banning what they call “homosexual propaganda.” The Kremlin also is pushing such a law.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration said it was pulling out of a civil society dialogue with Russia to protest the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent and new laws against nongovernmental organizations. It also harshly criticized Russia’s parliament for advancing the legislation against “homosexual propaganda.”

Arrests made under St. Petersburg ‘gay propaganda’ law

Activists in Russia are reporting that arrests are now taking place under the St. Petersburg law prohibiting people from promoting so-called LGBT propaganda.

Two people were arrested over the weekend during a demonstration at a concert hall under the law that prohibits “public actions aimed at propaganda of pederasty, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism among minors.”

Several days before that arrest, two other men were taken into custody for carrying signs that read, according to translations from Russian newspaper reports, “Gay is OK.”

The four men face fines of $170 if found guilty of violating the measure. Businesses and groups prosecuted under the law could face fines of $17,000.

Similar laws exist in Russia’s Ryazan, Arkhangelsk and Kostroma regions, and a bill has been introduced in Russia’s lower house of parliament to create a national ban on LGBT propaganda.

The sponsors said, “Homosexual propaganda has spread widely in modern Russia. This kind of propaganda is distributed both through the mass media, as well as through events that promote the homosexual lifestyle as a normal behavior.”

“This is especially dangerous for children and youth, who are not yet capable of thinking critically about the avalanche of information they see on a daily basis.”

Russian civil rights lawyer Tatyana Glushkova told the Kommersant that the measures do not define “propaganda” and “basically, saying anything positive or even neutral about homosexuality in front of children would be forbidden.”

Some activists have called for celebrities to boycott St. Petersburg over passage of the legislation and Canada has issued a travel advisory warning its citizens about the restrictions in Russia’s second-largest city.

Before St. Petersburg enacted the law, the U.S. State Department raised concerns. A spokesperson said the measure “would severely restrict freedoms of expression and assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, and indeed all Russians. As Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton has said, gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.

“We have called on Russian officials to safeguard these freedoms, and to foster an environment which promotes respect for the rights of all citizens.”

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