In November, a St. Petersburg court dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Trade Union of Russian Citizens, a small group of Orthodox conservatives and Putin loyalists, against pop star Madonna. The group sought $10.7 million in damages for what it says was "propaganda of perversion" when Madonna spoke up for gay rights during a show three months earlier.
The federal bill's expected adoption comes 20 years after a Stalinist-era law punishing homosexuality with up to five years in prison was removed from Russia's penal code as part of the democratic reforms that followed the Soviet Union's collapse.
Most of the other former Soviet republics also decriminalized homosexuality, and attitudes toward gays have become a litmus test of democratic freedoms. While gay pride parades are held in the three former Soviet Baltic states, all today members of the European Union, same-sex love remains a crime in authoritarian Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
In Russia, gays have been whipsawed by official pressure and persistent homophobia. There are no reliable estimates of how many gays and lesbians live in Russia, and only a few big cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg have gay nightclubs and gyms. Even there, gays do not feel secure.
When a dozen masked men entered a Moscow night club during a "coming out party" that campaigner Samburov organized in October, he thought they were part of the show. But then one of the masked men yelled, "Have you ordered up a fight? Here you go!" The men overturned tables, smashed dishes and beat, kicked and sprayed mace at the five dozen men and women who had gathered at the gay-friendly Freedays club, Samburov and the club's administration said.
Four club patrons were injured, including a young woman who got broken glass in her eye, police said. Although a police station was nearby, Samburov said, it took police officers half an hour to arrive. The attackers remain unidentified.
On the next day, an Orthodox priest said he regretted that his religious role had not allowed him to participate in the beating.
"Until this scum gets off of Russian land, I fully share the views of those who are trying to purge our motherland of it," Rev. Sergiy Rybko was quoted as saying by the Orthodoxy and World online magazine. "We either become a tolerant Western state where everything is allowed — and lose our Christianity and moral foundations — or we will be a Christian people who live in our God-protected land in purity and godliness."
In other parts of Russia, gays feel even less secure. Bagaudin Abduljalilov moved to Moscow from Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia where he says some gays have been beaten and had their hands cut off, sometimes by their own relatives, for bringing shame on their families.
"You don't have any human rights down there," he said. "Anything can be done to you with impunity."
Shortly before moving to Moscow, Abduljalilov left Islam to become a Protestant Christian, but was expelled from a seminary after telling the dean he was gay. He also has had trouble finding a job as a television journalist because of discrimination against people from Dagestan.
"I love Russia, but I want another Russia," said Abduljalilov, 30, who now works as a clerk. "It's a pity I can't spend my life on creative projects instead of banging my head against the wall and repeating, 'I'm normal, I'm normal.' "