The father of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law attempted to shut down an LGBTQ film festival in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.
Vitaly Milonov, a lawmaker in the State Duma, attempted to physically block people from entering the commencement ceremony of Side to Side. The yearly film fest, which is scheduled to run until Nov. 1, was planning to screen the Chilean transgender drama A Fantastic Woman.
“Dear citizens, you know yourselves that you are perverts,” he shouted at attendees, as the Moscow Times originally reported. “You need to disperse.”
Milonov further harassed attendees by claiming they’re not really Russian.
“We are Russian people who are on our home soil,” the 44-year-old politician allegedly said. “And you’re not. Your motherland is Sodom and Gomorrah.”
After Milonov proved unsuccessful at preventing entry to the screening, the parliamentarian telephoned local police and claimed there was a hostage crisis taking place inside the Moskva Theater. Authorities evacuated the building to investigate the false claim.
Wednesday night’s programming was subsequently canceled. More than 400 people had reportedly purchased tickets to the Oscar-winning film.
News reports claim Milonov had spent the entire day trying to sabotage the opening. He called the theater owners and alleged the film festival violated Russia’s 2013 anti-gay “propaganda” law, which prohibits the spread of information on “nontraditional sexual relationships to minors.”
As a deputy in the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg, Milonov authored an extremely similar bill widely viewed as an inspiration for the national legislation.
Organizers with Side to Side call Milonov’s claims “false” and “outrageous.”
“There are… plans to send an inquiry [sic] to the ethics committee of the State Duma to initiate a discussion of whether [Milonov’s] behavior was in line with the status of a Russian legislator,” the film festival claimed in a statement.
The event also intends to file a complaint with local authorities, seeking “compensation for the damage caused.”
This isn’t the first time that Milonov — who has called homosexuality a “perversion” and compared LGBTQ relationships to having sex with a “horse” or a “sheep” — has attempted to shut down Side by Side.
In 2016, he showed up at the event with a dozen protesters, but organizers locked the doors to prevent them from entering. Attendees tricked Milonov by pretending to go home but came back for the screening when the anti-gay contingent disbanded.
Milonov again failed to stop the film festival. Organizers claimed the show would go on until its closing day on Thursday.
The disruption took place just days before LGBTQ Russians scored a groundbreaking legal victory when the court dismissed charges against a minor prosecuted under the “propaganda” laws. Maxim Neverov, a 16-year-old student, was fined 50,000 rubles ($760) in August after posting photos of shirtless men on Facebook.
The Biysk City Court of the Altai Territory overturned the conviction on Friday after Neverov’s lawyer, Artem Lapov, cited “numerous procedural violations” during the initial hearing.
Lapov claimed the victory is “a signal to the LGBTQ community that they can, and should, fight for their rights.”
“People often think that there’s nothing they can achieve, but this case shows that they, in fact, can and should,” the attorney told Reuters, noting that the favorable court ruling is the first of its kind.
LGBTQ activists say the decision shows the tide is turning against the “propaganda” law.
“This case shows that the justice system is aware that the implementation of the [gay propaganda] law often goes too far,” Svetlana Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian LGBTQ Network, told the international news wire service.
Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the propaganda law violates the right to freedom of expression and called for it to be overturned.