MOSCOW -- Russia's top gay rights activist on Thursday condemned a bill passed in the country's second largest city that prohibits "propaganda of homosexuality" to minors, warning it could be used to ban gay protest rallies.
Nikolai Alexeyev of the GayRussia.ru group described the legislation tentatively approved by lawmakers in St. Petersburg as a "disgrace."
The bill was proposed by the dominant United Russia party and passed Wednesday by a 27 to 1 vote, with one abstention, in the first of three required readings. It calls for a fine of up to $1,600 for "public actions aimed at propaganda of pederasty, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors."
Alexeyev said the bill could become "the main legal reason to deny any public actions by the LGBT community."
"It theoretically allows the ban of anything anywhere where kids could be present," he told The Associated Press.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993 and gay clubs operate in most big cities, but discrimination is still widespread. Most attempts by Alexeyev's group to hold rallies have been thwarted by riot police and activists with Russia's dominant Orthodox Church and pro-Kremlin youth movements.