Russian newspaper accused of violating anti-gay propaganda law
|Alexander Yermoshkin * Photo via VK.com|
By Brody Levesque and Mark Singer | MOSCOW -- An interview with a middle school grade 8 geography teacher has led to a Russian regional newspaper to be warned about violating the new federal anti-homosexual propaganda law.
Journalist Irina Severtseva, writing for the Khabarovsk region's Molodoi Dalnevostochnik newspaper, had done a profile piece on Alexander Yermoshkin, who had been fired from his job after a group of 678 residents of Khabarovsk, calling itself the Movement Against Sexual Perversions, formally complained to School Number 32 where he had been employed asking for his termination.
The group asked for Yermoshkin to be fired because he could exert a negative influence on the children and make them think that "nontraditional relations are as normal as traditional ones."
Yermoshkin, an 18 year veteran of the teaching profession was also known locally for his gay rights and environmental activism in the city, holding "rainbow flash mobs" on Khabarovsk's central Lenin Square since 2008.
According to Yermoshkin, the authorities never bothered him until last spring, when during a May "rainbow flash mobs," at which he and approximately 100 other LGBTQ activists would gathered on Khabarovsk's main square to released rainbow-colored balloons in a show of LGBTQ pride, was interrupted by a local Russian Neo-Nazi group.
The Stoltz Khabarovsk group showed up, threatening and insulting the participants, which prompted local law enforcement to step in and the resulting publicity created the push to fire him, which was strengthened by passage of the national law in June which banned LGBTQ events such as the rainbow flash mobs.
Yermoshkin spoke with the paper about his dismissal after he was notified that he was terminated from his teaching job in early September. The paper then ran the profile story on an inside page not long afterwards.
In the article, the paper noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had given public assurances that the anti-gay law would not affect LGBT people's job prospects, claiming "the rights of people with nontraditional orientation are infringed upon neither in terms of profession nor salary level."
But, the paper then wrote,"Putin's statement does not appear to be accurate. In a recent poll conducted by the Russian group LGBT Network, 38 percent of respondents said they had experienced difficulties at work due to their sexual orientation."
The far eastern branch office for the Russian Federal media watchdog agency, the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service, received several complaints about the article and profile piece which had been entitled;"History of Gay-ography." But, the paper had in fact printed the obligatory notice of caution about the article on its front page that the content (the article/profile) was for readers who were ages 16+.
Investigators took exception to the factual aside on questing the Russian president's statement coupled with a statement that Yermoshkin himself had made in the interview. Severtseva had reported his quote, "My very existence is effective proof that homosexuality is normal."
Galina Yegoshina, a specialist from the watchdog's agency's regional branch claimed,
"This statement goes against logic. By offering it to underage readers, the author is misleading them about the normality of homosexuality. According to the author's logic, it would be possible to call normal and even effective the existence of rapists and serial killers."
Molodoi Dalnevostochnik's editor-in-chief responded to the agency's investigation, noting the article shows the negative sides of being a homosexual and cited constitutional provisions outlawing discrimination. The paper also offered Yermoshkin an opportunity to write an ecology-related column for the paper.
Should the agency's report result in a charges for the paper, it faces a potential fine of up to a maximum penalty of 1 million rubles and shutting down its presses for 90 days.
Yermoshkin is now suing the school officials claiming discriminatory treatment against him which resulted in improper termination of his employment. He told the paper he never received any official reprimands as a teacher, and his former students, who apparently were not aware of his sexual orientation before his firing, have expressed support for him. The city's young people also support his efforts by gathering about 11,000 signatures for a petition sent to Khabarovsk's education department asking for his reinstatement.
"There is already a saying in Khabarovsk: What is scarier than being a gay teacher in Russia? Being a gay teacher who also works on environmental issues," Yermoshkin joked. "Now they think that I will cease my activities, but in fact the opposite is true: now I will have more time to act," he said.