Alice Arnold: ‘Britain’s homophobia needs to be tackled before Russia’s’

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Former BBC Radio 4 newsreader Alice Arnold says “Britain’s homophobia needs to be tackled before we turn to Russia’s.”

The gay journalist and writer has commented on this week’s revelations that scores of schools in England and Wales have had polices in place targeting the “promotion” of homosexuality, in language reminiscent of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.

Section 28 banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools and was repealed in 2003.

Alice Arnold believes there are parallels with Russia’s anti-gay censorship laws and writes online in the Telegraph: “There seems to be some confusion over what the anti-gay laws in Russia actually comprise so the Human Dignity Trust has commissioned an unofficial translation. It is from this that I have managed to highlight some of the clauses that cause the most concern.

“The act says: ‘It is essential to put in place measures which provide for the intellectual, moral and mental wellbeing of children, including a ban on any activities aimed at popularising homosexuality…including instilling distorted ideas that society places an equal value on traditional and non-traditional sexual relations.

‘However, it would not be an offence to be a person of homosexual orientation but only to promote homosexuality to minors’.”

Arnold adds: “Scarily this law reads very much like Section 28 brought in by Margaret Thatcher 25 years ago and removed by Tony Blair’s government.”

A federal bill banning gay “propaganda” was signed into law by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in June.

It prescribes fines for providing information about homosexuality to people under the age of 18 – ranging from 4,000 roubles (£78) for an individual to 1m roubles (£19,620) for organisations.

Earlier this month, the Kaleidoscope Trust told that there’s been an increase in violence against LGBT people in Russia following the passing of the legislation.

Having recently met a Russian expat, Arnold says: “Jana Bakunina was born in Ekaterinburg and grew up in one of the largest cities outside Moscow. She is adamant that as a child she was never aware of homophobia but now her views have changed. Jana goes back to visit her family every year and has recently been horrified by the homophobic attitudes she has encountered.”

Turning her attention to the 2014 Russian Winter Olympics, Arnold says: “The International Olympic Committee generally ignores human rights when considering the awarding of venues. Can we do the same? If we do make a protest, what form should that protest take? Will the law be quietly ignored while the country is under the international spotlight?

“Meanwhile before we get up in arms about this we need to look in our own backyard. I like to think while talking to Jana, that the attitude to homosexuality in this country is different. Indeed the law is different but that doesn’t mean that attitudes are. Sadly I am not yet confident that in certain circles a discussion about homosexuality in the UK wouldn’t also lead people to say that we should all be burnt. I only have to look at the Twitter feeds of some young (mostly) males to have my view confirmed.”

Arnold, the civil partner of BBC Sport presenter Clare Balding, concludes: “Before we get vexed about the murky situation in Russia, we need to put our own house in order. We need to exert pressure on our sport’s governing bodies to ensure that our gay and lesbian athletes feel safe and supported. The same goes for our broadcasters. We need to be visible. We need to demonstrate our equality in law to all other countries, not just Russia and we need the support of straight people to do this.”