Are you planning a trip to Russia?
If you're a queer Canadian, you might want to carefully consider where you go. And what you do there.
Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs is warning LGBT travellers about a vaguely worded law in St. Petersburg (which came into effect on March 17) that makes it a criminal offence to publicize acts of male or female homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgenderism. It is purportedly designed to protect minors.
St. Petersburg, one of Russia's main tourist destinations, is the fourth Russian city to enact such a law, following Ryazan, Arkhangelsk, and Kostroma.
A Russian travel advisory on the Foreign Affairs website notes that while homosexuality is legal in Russia (it was decriminalized in 1993), LGBT Canadian travellers should avoid "displaying affection in public, as homosexuals can be targets of violence… Public actions (including dissemination of information, statements, displays or conspicuous behaviour) contradicting or appearing to contradict this law may lead to arrest, prosecution and the imposition of a fine."
Offenders can face arrest, criminal prosecution, and fines ranging from 5,000 to 500,000 rubles ($167 to $16,763).
According to news reports, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird stated that Canada's ambassador has written to the Russian government to express concerns about the law.
Moscow journalist Masha Gessen wrote an article in the New York Times for travellers to avoid St. Petersburg, even pleading with pop star Madonna to cancel her August 9 concert scheduled there.
Upon hearing from Russian students about the St. Petersburg law, Vancouver author Robert Joseph Greene decided to withdraw his story The Blue Door from the forthcoming collection The Gay Icon Classics II and publish it instead as a children's story in protest.
The Blue Door tells the story of a Russian prince who was supposed to pick a woman to be his bride but instead chooses the male archery teacher he fell in love with. He is imprisoned by his czar father, but is later released by his brothers.
Greene plans to distribute a translated version of the book to Russian newspapers and will write to the Russian Embassy in Canada in protest. The book is available at Vancouver bookstores.