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Russia Drops Anti-Gay Law

May 29, 1993 GMT

MOSCOW (AP) _ Male homosexuality is no longer a crime in Russia, and gay activists hope the repeal of the Soviet-era law will improve Russia’s ability to combat AIDS.

A decree repealing Article 121, which made consensual sex between men punishable by up to five years in prison, was signed by President Boris Yeltsin and approved by lawmakers April 29. It took effect last week.

″This is a wonderful event. We’ve waited a long time for them to change the law,″ said the editor of the Russian gay and lesbian magazine Risk, which was founded in 1990 and has a circulation of 20,000.

He uses the pseudonym Vladislav Ortanov for fear of discrimination.

″It allows people not to be scared to go to the doctor and to openly form gay relationships,″ he said Saturday.

Dr. Irina Eramova, an epidemiologist at Moscow’s Second Infectious Disease Hospital, the country’s primary AIDS center, said the law had forced gay men to seek anonymous sexual contacts which contributed to the spread of AIDS.

Prior to the change, Russia one of the few countries in Europe that considered male homosexuality a crime. Last year, Ukraine repealed a similar ″anti-sodomy″ law.

The repeal did not address gay women since lesbianism was not acknowledged by previous Soviet governments.

Ten men were sentenced for homosexuality in the first half of 1992, according to the latest statistics provided by the Russian Ministry of Justice. In 1989, some 500 men were sent to jail for being homosexual.

″Gays were very scared they would be thrown in jail if they went to the doctor″ for a sexually transmitted disease, said Dima Lychev, editor of the gay newspaper One In Ten.

As a result, he said, many gay men were scared to be tested for the AIDS virus or get treatment. Despite laws that forbid discrimination on the basis of AIDS, most people risk losing their jobs if it is known they are gay or have the HIV-virus that causes AIDS.

This climate of fear has created doubt about official statistics which state that Russia has between 650 to 700 people with full-blown AIDS.

Activists say the actual number is at least 10 times higher - and say the number of people infected through sexual contact is rising rapidly.

The repeal, however, left intact the second part of Article 121, which outlaws male homosexual rape and homosexual sex between minors.

″There is still a lot of homophobia in Russian society,″ said Kevin Gardner, director of the AESOP HIV-AIDS Resources Center, a Moscow branch of the U.S. organization.

″But I think the repeal will help reduce the fear level of gay men, which should translate into making it easier for them to get information and treatment.″