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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Is Google Maps discriminating against people with disabilities?

Its walking routes are not access-friendly.

“I ended up having to be pushed through a main road in London, which was really scary.” Three weeks ago, Mary Bradley went to London to visit her daughter Belinda, who is just finishing her first year at university there. Her other daughter joined them on the trip.

But what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend with her two children turned into a frustrating ordeal. The apps they were using to find their way around kept sending them on routes that are not wheelchair-friendly, leading to time-consuming and sometimes frightening consequences.

Bradley has been using a wheelchair – when having to go longer distances without a vehicle – for over a year, due to a 45-degree curve in her spine, severe joint facet deterioration in her back, and other conditions.

She lives in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and has made the trip up to London to visit her daughter a handful of times. Each visit, they use Google Maps and the transport app Citymapper to find their way around, as neither of them know London particularly well.


Belinda and Mary Bradley. Photo: Belinda Bradley

“It was just horrible,” says Bradley of her most recent trip to the capital. “We’re following the maps, and we go along, then find we are faced with a footbridge, and realise there was no way I was going to get over it, so we had to go back the way we’d come. At one point, we were faced with a strip of narrow pavement the wheelchair couldn’t go down. That was something we found all weekend.”

While Google Maps did highlight accessible Tube stations, they found that once they had alighted to do the rest of the journey to their destination on foot, “it took us three times as long, because the route that it takes us just wasn’t passable”.

They ended up having to try different routes “having no real idea of where were going”.

“It meant that it took so much longer, the girls ended up having to push me for longer, I got more and more embarrassed and frustrated and upset about the whole thing,” Bradley tells me.

At one point, her daughters had to take her down a main road. “Being pushed on a road, especially in London, is scary,” she says. “It was scary for me, it was scary for the girls.”

When they returned home, Belinda, who is a 19-year-old Writing and Theatre student at the University of Roehampton, was so furious at the situation that she started a petition for Google Maps to include wheelchair-friendly routes. It hit over 100,000 signatures in a fortnight. At the time of writing, it has 110,601 petitioners.


Belinda's petition.

Belinda was surprised that Google Maps didn’t have accessible routes. “I know Google Maps so well, [Google]’s such a big company, it has the satellite pictures and everything,” she says. “So I was really surprised because there’s loads of disabled people who must have such an issue.”

The aim of her petition is for Google Maps to generate routes that people using wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, or pushing prams will be able to use. “It just says that they’re a little bit ignorant,” is Belinda’s view of the service’s omission. “To me, just to ignore any issues that big needs to be solved; it needs to be addressed almost immediately.”

But she also wants to raise awareness to “make life better in general” for people with disabilities using navigation apps.

Belinda has not received a response from Google or Citymapper, but I understand that Google is aware of the petition and the issue it raises. Google declined to comment and I have contacted Citymapper but have not received a response.

Google Maps does provide information about how accessible its locations are, and also allows users to fill in accessibility features themselves via an amenities checklist for places that are missing that information. But it doesn’t provide accessible walking routes.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t take it that bit further and include wheelchair accessible routes,” says Matt McCann, the founder of Access Earth, an online service and app that aims to be the Google Maps for people with disabilities. “When I first started Access Earth, I always thought this is something Google should be doing, and I was always surprised they haven’t done it. And that’s the next logical step.”

McCann began crowdsourcing information for Access Earth in 2013, when he booked a hotel in London that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly – but turned out not to be accessible for his rollator, which he uses due to having cerebral palsy.

Based in Dublin, McCann says Google Maps has often sent him on pedestrian routes down cobbled streets, which are unsuitable for his rollator. “That’s another level of detail; to know whether the footpaths are pedestrian-friendly, but also if they’re wheelchair-friendly as well in terms of the surface,” he notes. “And that was the main problem that I had in my experience [of using walking routes].”

Access Earth, which includes bespoke accessibility information for locations around the world, aims to introduce accessible routes once the project has received enough funding. “The goal is to encompass all aspects of a route and trip,” he says. Other services such as Wheelmap and Euan's Guide also crowdsource information to provide access-friendly maps.

So how long will it take for more established tech companies like Google to clear the obstacles stopping Mary Bradley and millions like her using everyday services to get around?

“You can use them for public transport, to drive, you can use them if you’re an able-bodied person on foot,” she says. “But there are loads of us who are completely excluded now.”

Sign Belinda Bradley’s “Create Wheelchair Friendly Routes on Google Maps" here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.