In late December last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning Americans from adopting Russian children. The move—considered retaliation for a human rights bill President Obama signed two weeks earlier aimed at Russian human rights abusers—left adoptive parents and children in the lurch and heartbroken. But anti-American politics were more important. There was talk at the time of a bill to remove children from same-sex parents in Russia. That didn’t go anywhere then—but now it’s back.
This new threat—as well as the law banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" that’s become the center of an international firestorm before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi—was no doubt part of the discussion today as Obama met with LGBT activists at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at the Pulkovo International Airport before leaving the G20 summit in St. Petersburg to return home. The White House says the president will hold a Civil Society Roundtable with a number of groups, including Russian LGBT leaders. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters:
"Given our serious concerns with some of the recent laws that have been passed and restrictions on activity for gays and lesbians within Russia, we felt it was important to ensure that we were including their voices in a discussion with the president....
In Russia, in particular, we’ve seen negative trends in terms of the freedom of action for civil society in recent years, so it’s important for the president I think to demonstrate that the United States and many in the international community believe strongly that a vibrant civil society is a significant asset for all countries."
According to the White House pool report, Obama met with nine members of NGOs in Russia sitting around a horseshoe with Susan Rice and Mike McFaul. "I got my start as a community organizer, somebody who was working in what would be called an NGO in the international community," Obama said. "I got elected president by engaging people at a grassroots level."
He said the work of such activists was "critically important" to an open society. "I'm very proud of their work," Obama said. "Part of good government is making sure we're creating a space for civil society."
We expect to learn more about what was said at the meeting later today. The participants, according to the White House, were:
1. Igor Kochetkov, Director, LGBT Network
2. Pavel Chikov, Agora Association (Kazan) – Chairperson
3. Yana Yakovleva, Founder, Business Solidarity
4. Yelena Milashina, Investigative journalist, Novaya Gazeta
5. Yevgenia Chirikova, Director, Movement to Defend Khimki Forest
6. Ivan Pavlov, Head, Institute for the Freedom of Information
7. Boris Pustyntsev, Head, Citizens Watch
8. Olga Lenkova, Spokesperson, Coming Out
9. Dmitry Makarov, Member of the Coordinating Council of the International Youth Human Rights Movement
In an interview with the Associated Press before the summit, Putin dismissed concerns that the “propaganda” law was really anti-gay. "I assure you that I work with these people. I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields," Putin said. "We have absolutely normal relations, and I don't see anything out of the ordinary here."
But as Putin and Obama shook hands at the start of the G20 summit, a Russian lawmaker was posting on his website the draft of a bill that equates "nontraditional sexual orientation" with abuse, alcoholism and drug use and mandates the removal of children from the custody of their same-sex parents.
According to the AP, the bill’s author Alexei Zhuravlev “said that homosexual ‘propaganda’ had to be banned not only in the public space ‘but also in the family’” to protect children, though the measure is not deemed as oppressing LGBT Russians. In a note accompanying the draft of the bill posted on his website, Zhuravlyov said, "Harm that could be inflicted on a child’s mental health in case of their parent’s homosexual contacts is immense."
This is precisely the threat that prompted gay journalist Masha Gessen to flee Russia with her children, as she explained to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes:
Gay.ru reports that the bill is based on the widely disputed study by Mark Regnerus—which he walked back himself—that implies children of gay parents do not do as well as those raised by heterosexuals. Based on that study, the bill says that "gay parenting distorts a child’s sexual orientation and increases suicidal tendencies, social ineptitude and risks of catching venereal disease," Ria Novosti reports.
Here's a translation of Zhuravlev's interview with SLON about the proposed bill—under the scary photo of a supposedly gay dad and baby:
Alexei Zhuravlev: "Homosexuals should not raise children"
Today, State Duma deputy, member of the "United Russia" faction, and leader of the "Homeland" party, Alexei Zhuravlev, introduced legislation to the lower legislative house to consider the termination of parental rights based on non-traditional sexual orientation. Specifically, he proposes to a new paragraph to Article 69 [sic] of the Family Code in which the fact of non-traditional sexual orientation among one or both parents would be grounds for the termination of parental rights. By his reckoning, around 5-7% of the population have a non-traditional sexual orientation, and at least a third of those have children. SLON questioned the author of the controversial bill on how the deputy plans to identify homosexuals, and where to send their children.
Alexei, you are a member of the Duma's Committee on Defense. Why did you decide to amend the Family Code, and in particular in regards to homosexual couples?
The fact is, I'm first of all a deputy of the State Duma, and this very problem occurred when I was, during our parliamentary recess, driving through many regions from Vladivostok to my hometown of Voronezh.
Did you experience this personally?
No, people who didn't know what to do appealed to me. A woman had divorced her husband because he had confessed to non-traditional orientation. But he was an influential man, and the court gave him custody of their child, because currently the Family Code establishes no restrictions of this kind. So, I had an idea. If we have a law that prohibits the promotion of homosexuality among minors, then the Family Code should be amended that if a one of the spouses confesses to a non-traditional sexual orientation, he should be deprived of parental rights. In order to limit the impact of this man on his own children.
In your opinion, how do you prove that someone is homosexual?
If a person conceals his orientation and no one knows about it, it would be difficult to prove anything. The law would work only in cases where information about the parent's sexual orientation came out in some kind of public way. And that's fine. If someone hides his sexual orientation, that's his problem, and he remains alone with that sin. It has little effect on society.
So the law is really directed against those who publicly defend the interests of homosexuals?
I'm sorry, but these people actually make up five percent overall. That's five hundred thousand in Moscow. If you gave them the green light, they'd all come out with signs. But you have to understand, we're not trying to catch anyone. We're not authorizing the police to identify those citizens. We're just putting the law on the side of children who should not be exposed to the propaganda of parents who profess this. As for identifying such people, we have schools in which the children are studying, they have their circles and groups. And sooner or later it will come out.
How? Will you be going to schools with special questionnaires about who their parents meet up with at night?
For what purpose? I don't think anyone would find out anything. We're talking about clear evidence of such actions. If there are clear signs, a decision will be made. If a person is hiding it it won't affect anyone, but if that person comes out with a protest poster and openly talks about his orientation and promotes it, then he certainly should be restricted.
What are the telltale signs?
The clear signs are simple enough. You don't understand this? Ask a sex therapist, and he'll explain it to you. I'm not a doctor. One way or another you always catch a thief. I'm not an expert on this issue.
Does this mean that investigative and law enforcement agencies will be required to form special commissions to determine who's gay and who's not?
If there is a need for it, sure. But if it's not necessary, then no. We're just making changes to the Family Code. It's not on the side of the child, which is necessary to limit the influence of the parent. Currently the judge makes a decision on termination of parental rights on the basis of other criteria. But if there are clear signs, the judge should stand by the side of the parent with traditional sexual orientation.
Alexei, it's not secret that a great many women who are very resentful of their husbands after a divorce want revenge. Are you not afraid that if your amendment is approved, then every divorced mother will announce that her former spouse is homosexual?
Wait a minute, you can just as easily replace that with thief or murderer. It's absurd. Currently the courts try to keep families together. Even if a person doesn't pay child support for ten years and then suddenly pays 300 rubles, he doesn't lose his parental rights. And I'm certain that a judge won't deprive someone of parental rights based on simple hearsay. Only if there are clear signs.
Currently there are 74,000 children living in orphanages. Have you thought it through, that if we take children away from homosexual parents, there will be hundreds of thousands of children in Russia without parental care?
Don't worry yourself so much about what the state will do. First of all we need to raise a healthy generation.
Even in orphanages?
What, the state is going to throw children in orphanages? No, such cases will be extremely rare. After all, how unlikely is it that both parents would be gay? Such cases are extremely rare. If one parent is deprived of parental rights, the other parent would be able to take care of the child.
And if a single mother who is homosexual is raising a child? Should we still deprive her of her parental rights?
Of course, we should definitely take away her rights to her child. And don't doubt that we will. Homosexuals should not raise children. They'll corrupt them. They'll inflict much greater damage than if the child were in an orphanage. This is my deep conviction.
In many European countries the parliaments are now moving in the opposite direction, toward allowing same-sex marriages. Don't you think your bill will become another obstacle against visa-free travel between Russia and Europe?
And we look at Europe like Sodom and Gomorrah. We don't have to explain to them how we live; let them live how they want, but we don't need to explain ourselves. And if talks toward free-visa travel are connected with allowing gay pride marches on ours streets, then I'm categorically opposed to this kind of international relationship. And I will make a stand on this.
Who else among the "United Russia" faction has supported you?
Right now everyone is coming back from the break and we'll discuss it. I'm sure I'll find support in the chamber.