The ACLU of Southern California and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center are urging Los Angeles city leaders to sever sister city ties with St. Petersburg, Russia, following the passage there of increasingly repressive laws directed at the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The organizations made the request Tuesday to Los Angeles city council members in a letter which also asked them to re-evaluate relationships with other cities on L.A.'s list of sister cities, especially Lusaka, Zambia. In response, Councilmember Bill Rosendahl later introduced a resolution to suspend the relationship.
“Los Angeles and St. Petersburg just aren’t in the same club,” said James Gilliam, director of the ACLU/SC’s LGBT Project. “Truly global cities like L.A. celebrate their diversity and protect the rights of all residents. By passing its so-called anti-propaganda law, St. Petersburg has shown that it’s not the same sort of place, and has sent a chilling message to LGBT youth both in Russia and abroad: hide yourself, don’t speak up. Now it’s time for the mayor and the city council to show St. Petersburg and the world that our city has nothing in common with that sort of intolerance.”
The city of St. Petersburg passed an ordinance in March, 2012 banning "public action aimed at propagandizing sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism, and transgenderism among minors.” Police have arrested dozens of people under the law since its passage and officials have even sued Madonna and launched an investigation of Lady Gaga for pro-gay statements the pop stars made during tour stops in the city.
“The passage of this resolution will send a strong message that the City will not tolerate discrimination against our LGBT brothers and sisters in a sister city relationship,” said Rosendahl, the only openly gay elected official in city government. “We must stand together and continue to fight for our basic civil and human rights for all human beings on this earth.”
Los Angeles has been a sister city of St. Petersburg since 1993. The Italian cities of Venice, Milan and Turin have already ended their sister city links with St. Petersburg. Sister Cities International is a non-profit organization that aims to create “opportunities for cultural and educational exchanges, economic partnerships, and humanitarian assistance.”
“Los Angeles should have no ‘familial’ relationship with any city that promotes discrimination against a minority group and certainly not with a city that aggressively targets a group of people with legislation that reads as if it’s an edict from Hitler himself,” says L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri L. Jean. “St. Petersburg’s anti-gay bill could make it a crime for LGBT people just to assemble, to publish a newsletter, or share information regarding safer sex.”
Nine Russian regions have passed similar “anti-propaganda” laws since 2006. Gay pride marches in Russia have been attacked by ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazi skinheads. Last year Moscow’s highest court imposed a 100-year ban on gay pride celebrations, a move that earned worldwide condemnation and a fine from the European Court of Human Rights. A federal ban similar to St. Petersburg's is currently before the Russian parliament, the Duma.
Los Angeles is not the only international LGBT hub among St. Petersburg’s sister cities; others include Barcelona, Paris, Stockholm and Rio de Janeiro.