The Russian regions that are banning "gay propaganda"

This legislation essentially prohibits the public discussion of homosexuality. The British press is

This legislation essentially prohibits the public discussion of homosexuality. The British press is depressingly silent.

By the week's end, the St. Petersburg Assembly hope to make it illegal for any person to write a book, publish an article or speak in public about being gay, lesbian or transgender. Campaigners are currently attempting to prevent such a move. It's too late for Arkhangelsk and Ryazan, those regions already having criminalised what is termed "gay propaganda".

It would be easy to be unaware any of this was happening -- considering the complete lack of coverage it has gained from mainstream British media. The Bill is now said to be stalling -- though as a result of "technical difficulties" in applying the law, rather than foreign pressure. When referring to a law that seeks to bind the mouths of minorities, there's a bleak irony in our own press falling silent -- particularly since they are doing so willingly. This is not Russia, where the murders of outspoken journalists go unsolved and independent media outlets are shut down. The British press has the freedom to report this news but simply chooses not to. As his ruling party sought to continue on its path to wipe out "unapproved" voices, the story that filled the news was Putin being jeered at a sporting event. Nothing else appeared to matter, the Russian-reporting quota filled by the image of the PM posturing his way into a martial arts ring.

Slowly but surely -- and without much notice -- regions of Russia are hoping to pull off their most brazen attempt yet, taking a national crisis in freedom of speech and aiming to fully silence a specific group. What they are seeking to criminalise is not even active dissent, but simply a divergence from the "norm" that the authorities are desperate to protect.

It's apparent with the quickest glance at what is being proposed. The exact wording of the law prohibits the so-called propaganda of "sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism, and pedophilia to minors." In comparing consensual adult acts to child abuse, it is in fact the Regional Assemblies that are attempting propaganda, exacerbating the general public's fear of "homosexual perversion".

It was only in 1993 that homosexuality was de-criminalised in Russia. Eighteen years isn't much time to overcome a culturally engrained history of arrest and torture. The first gay pride parade in Moscow was banned and same-sex relationships were deemed "satanic" by its Major. Gay rights activists are making huge strides, though, and it cannot be underestimated how detrimental laws like this are to the fight for progress.

The proposal waiting to be passed in St. Petersburg contradicts every law, convention and decree Russia has signed up to -- from their own Federal Law to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also contradicts basic logic, demanding (as it does in practice) the ability to exclude under-18s from events running in open public places. This is, of course, all part of the tactic: the authorities are making it impossible for anyone to promote ideas of tolerance to any sort of audience.

If they can't come for you for the relationship you're in, they come for you for the words that you write and the things that you say. As another Russian region votes on whether to bring out the gag, the British press should look at the silence falling from their own lips.

Frances Ryan is a freelance writer and political researcher at the University of Nottingham. She blogs at Different Principles and tweets@frances_ryan

Frances Ryan is a journalist and political researcher. She writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman, and others on disability, feminism, and most areas of equality you throw at her. She has a doctorate in inequality in education. Her website is here.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.