This Dutch Activist Was Arrested For Even Talking About Gay Rights in Russia
President Vladmir Putin’s government took yet another dark turn on human rights last month when Russia’s parliament unanimously passed
a law banning gay “propaganda.” As sweeping in scope as it is troubling in content, the law
criminalizes equating gay and straight relationships and bans distributing material about gay rights, including sharing any “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual relations” with minors. It also imposes hefty fines and other penalties for individuals, non-profit organizations, media groups, and foreigners who break the law. Individuals who use the media or the internet to promote “non-traditional relations” can face fines of up to 100,000 roubles ($3,048), organizations can be fined up to 1,000,000 roubles ($30,481) and closed down for up to 90 days, and foreigners can be fined up to 100,000 roubles ($3,048), detained for up to 15 days, and deported.
The international response to the Russian government’s latest LGBT crackdown has been encouraging, bizarre, and even a bit comical.
The U.S. State Department has said
that it is “absolutely against” the new law and “very concerned by the overall direction in Russia” in regards to treatment of the LGBT community. The International Olympics Committee (IOC), which is preparing for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, claims
that it has “received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the [gay propaganda] legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games,” provoking the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to remind the IOC that it needs to try harder
In the U.S., sex advice columnist Dan Savage has urged
“queers and their allies” to “dump Russian vodka,” leading several gay bars to join the boycott of Russian vodka brands. The boycott, in turn, prompted Stolichnaya Vodka to profess its love
for the LGBT community, while a leading Russian gay activist asserted
that the boycott is “doomed to failure” because it fails to target homophobic lawmakers.
Meanwhile, inside Russia, LGBT individuals and organizations are already dealing with the brutal full force of the new law. Violence
has ensued at several pride rallies and protests across the country, resulting in numerous detentions, injuries, and even deaths, including of a 23-year-old victim
who was “raped with beer bottles and had his skull smashed with a stone.” Just last week, a Russian neo-Nazi group brutally bullied and tortured
a gay teenager after falsely advertising to meet the boy for a date.
Given this dangerous backdrop, one might wonder why even the most dedicated LGBT rights activist would travel to Russia, knowing full well that any discussion of the topic could result in detention, fines, or worse. But Kris van der Veen
, a 33-year-old Dutch LGBT rights activist-turned-filmmaker, decided that the risk of having personal stories untold far outweighed any danger to himself. After being followed, detained
, interrogated, fined, hauled into court, and nearly unable to leave the country, Kris explained to me why he made the trip to Russia on July 17th — and why, even after the ordeal, he wants to go back.