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Russian school kids are being investigated for gay propaganda

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Russian police seized several drawings from a school art exhibition to investigate possible violations of the country’s ban on gay propaganda after parents complained that they depicted same-sex couples. Russia outlawed “gay propaganda” among minors in 2013, a move that allowed courts to ban gay pride events and was followed by a surge in anti-LGBT sentiment in the country.

The drawings were made by students of a school in Yekaterinburg for an art contest marking the UN’s international day of tolerance. The police said they seized 17 drawings from the competition to investigate complaints that they contain gay propaganda, Interfax reported.

The the 5th- to 11th-graders had portrayed gay couples in their drawings. One drawing attracted attention for depicting the silhouettes of a female couple, a male couple and a mixed couple. “Around 10 other posters hang next to this picture showing a rainbow (a symbol of the sexual minority movement), planets and people of different nationalities,” a Russian news site wrote. “Another work contains the motto ‘We’re for peace! We’re for tolerance!’”

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Russia’s first gay married couple had to run for their lives

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Yevgeny Voitsekhovsky and Pavel Stotsko aren’t just a married gay couple — they were the first married gay couple in Russia after their January marriage was officially recognised by a government official. But their bliss was short lived, and they were quickly forced to flee the country in fear for their lives. The couple has been staying ever since in a small town in the Netherlands.

Although gay marriage is illegal in Russia, Voitsekhovsky and Stotsko took advantage of a loophole earlier this year after discovering the government recognises foreign marriages. They wed in Denmark in January, seven years after they first started dating. On their return to Russia, they took their internal passports to a government office to be officially registered. To their surprise, registering at the municipality office went off without a hitch.

“They just took our marriage certificate and stamped our passports. At the time, the woman that did it saw that there are two men before her, but she wasn’t in any way shocked. She acted by the order they have that marriage registered abroad is recognised in Russia”.

The trouble came afterwards, when the couple went on television to talk about their status as Russia’s first married gay couple. Over the next few days, they say, they were harassed by police and had their domestic passports containing their marriage stamps confiscated and cancelled.

On the advice of lawyers — and with the financial support of LGBT activists — Voitsekhovsky and Stotsko fled to Amsterdam, without even saying goodbye to their family. They declared themselves as asylum seekers to police at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, and have been living as refugees ever since. Last week, after six months of uncertainty and adjustment to life in a place very different to Russia, they received their permanent resident cards.

“We went to gay parade in Amsterdam and there we could hold hands in public for the first time in the street because we saw same sex couples — females, males — who were also walking holding hands without any problems,” said Yevgeny Voitsekhovsky. “No one was abusing them by shouting insults behind their backs. No one was threatened physically. We know that we are in a safe environment.”

First Russian Teen found guilty under Gay Propaganda Law

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On August 7, a 16-year-old Russian teenager became the first minor found guilty under the country’s absurd “gay propaganda” law. The boy was accused of publishing homoerotic pictures on the Russian social network VKontakte. But the Russia LGBT Network suspects that his conviction is actually connected to the teen’s LGBTQ activism rather than the photos themselves.

According to the Russia LGBT Network, a July 24 report filed by the Commission on Minors and the Protection of Minors’ Rights said that the teen published “some pictures of young men whose appearance (partly nude body parts) had the characteristics of propaganda of homosexual relations according to the expert opinion.” The teen was fined 50,000 rubles ($762 US) as punishment.

The Network suspects Russian law enforcement agencies of paying special attention to the teen because last May he helped stage a public performance entitled Gays or Putin. The performance attracted public attention and was even discussed in the Russian federal legislative assembly.

The boy had submitted 12 applications to city administrators for permission to stage the performance. The city refused to grant him a permit. He also tried to organise a local Pride parade.

He was reportedly denied access to a lawyer after his arrest and, as a result, refused to testify at his trial. The Network says that the trial failed to prove that he posted the photos in question. They also add that an appeal is under consideration.

In 2013, Russia passed it infamous national law banning any public displays of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships.” The gay propaganda law caused a massive outcry as Russia began to crackdown on LGBTQ activism online and off.

In addition to the gay propaganda law, Russia has an ongoing campaign of kidnapping, torturing and murdering occurring against LGBTQ citizens in Chechnya.

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