A Vicious Attack in St. Petersburg: Anti-Gay Hostility on the Rise in Russia

The country's sexual minorities face a rash of legal and extra-legal harassment.

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Gay rights activist hold a rainbow flag during an unsanctioned gay pride event in St. Petersburg in June of 2011. (stringer/Reuters)

Russia's embattled gay and lesbian community has had a lot to contend with in recent months. Earlier this year, the country's second city, St. Petersburg, passed a law banning "homosexual propaganda." The law's supporters claimed it was necessary to "protect children." Now, LGBT activists in the city can be arrested and fined for anything that is deemed to promote homosexuality.

Besides slamming the legislation for seemingly codifying homophobic attitudes, critics say it is very vague in its wording and open to abuse by the authorities. Other cities, such as Arkhangelsk and Ryazon, have also adopted comparable laws and a bill to introduce a similar regulation across the entire country has been put before the State Duma.

Rights campaigners maintain that this is legitimizing widespread, often violent, hostility toward same-sex relationships in Russia. "Such a law increases the possibly that people will consider that attacks on homosexuals are justified," Amnesty International's Frederike Vehr told RFE/RL in June. "The fear is there."

Now, it seems this fear has been justified following a frightening attack on a gay bar in Moscow late last week. According to reports, on the night of October 11, around two dozen masked men stormed the popular 7Freedays club and started attacking patrons there who were attending a "Coming Out Day" celebration. RFE/RL's Russian Service reports that the men cried, "So, you asked for a fight?" upon entering, before smashing up the place.

Two armed men reportedly blocked the door so nobody could leave while others started assaulting customers. A barman's face was sprayed with an unknown caustic substance while three others were said to have been hospitalized, including a woman who had a shard of glass in her eye after the attackers broke her spectacles. Several others suffered minor injuries before the attackers left.

Although the police are conducting an investigation, many gay activists are skeptical about whether the culprits will be caught. Prominent blogger Nikolai Alekseyev said on October 12 that the audacious assault was typical of the "sense of impunity of people who commit such crimes. ... Those who carried out the attack yesterday on the gay party knew that not a single person in Russia has been prosecuted for homophobic crimes."

Other LGBT campaigners have suggested that it was no coincidence that the attack on 7Freedays came just a day or two after an Orthodox nationalist organization had called for the closure of all gay clubs in Moscow in order to help prevent the "promotion of homosexuality."

This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.