Russia Says It Will Arrest Openly Gay Tourists

 
10 July 2013

Russian president Vladimir Putin has passed a draconian law that calls for the arrest of anyone who is openly gay or supportive of gay rights.

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Amanda Lee

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UPDATE: First tourists have been arrested under Putin’s anti-gay law. Read more.

Thinking of taking a vacation to Europe this summer? If a trip to iconic city of Moscow or the edgier St. Petersburg is on your bucket list, an anti-gay law recently passed in Russia may have you thinking again. It is now outlawed to be ‘out and proud.’

In a throwback to the country’s authoritarian ruling, Russian president Vladimir Putin has signed a controversial law that punishes people for “homosexual propaganda.” The law fines people—including tourists—up to 200,000 rubles ($6,240 CDN) for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” For Canadians—where same-sex marriage is legal—it is unfathomable that Russia’s laws permit the government to arrest and detain gay, or pro-gay, foreigners for up to 14 days before they would then be expelled from the country.

So what is considered pro-gay? Anything from gay-affirmative speech to hand-holding; even displaying a rainbow flag alongside a maple leaf on your backpack is illegal. Recently in southern Russia, there were complaints that Elton John’s stage outfits fell under “gay propaganda.” While LGBT are being told they are unwelcome in Russia, with such vague definitions, one wonders if anyone who even looks like they might be gay could also be fined or deported from the country.

According to Voice of Russia, any display of affection between same-sex couples could cause a “distorted understanding” that gay relations and heterosexual relations are socially equivalent, and risk spreading Western liberalism. Putin claims the law doesn’t discriminate against LGBT people, but rather—in an argument riddled with faulty logic—is there to “protect children from pedophilia.”

With Gay Pride celebrated around the world, from Sydney, Australia, to Toronto, and with same-sex marriage currently legal in 13 countries with still more countries, including New Zealand and Uruguay, following suit, it is difficult to imagine a country voting to enact such uncompromising and harsh laws.

And how are these new laws going to impact tourism and the world’s spotlight on the upcoming 2014 Winter Games in Sochi? Will LGBT visitors—or anyone who embraces the gay community—want to visit the games? While Russia’s laws stigmatize and target the gay community, Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism is working to encourage the LGBT community to visit. Brazil, which is hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, as well as the 2014 World Cup.

Fortunately, for LGBT travellers looking to take a vacation, there are other parts of the world more receptive to welcoming them with open arms—or at least not promising your vacation could wind up with jail time. Air Canada has gay and lesbian travel packages to places as diverse as Aruba and Tel Aviv, and promotes Copenhagen, Denmark as one of the first countries in Europe to legalize same-sex marriage. Or closer to home, New York’s Out NY Hotel advertises itself as “straight friendly.”

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Amanda Lee

Originally a small-town gal from Australia, Amanda Lee has swapped sunscreen for snow boots and now lives in Toronto. She considers Thailand one of her favorite places in the world and still has a critical case of wanderlust. Her freelance writing has been published in the Toronto Star, up! magazine, Today’s Parent, Ryerson’s White Wall Review and online.