ACTOR Stephen Fry attacked Russia's gay rights record today and met the lawmaker behind St Petersburg's ban on homosexual "propaganda", the model for a proposed national law that critics say could be used to discriminate against gay people.
Homosexuality, punished with jail terms in the Soviet Union, was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, but much of the gay community remains underground and prejudice runs deep.
Fry, a gay actor and comedian with five million followers on Twitter, was visiting Russia to film a documentary about gay people's experiences around the world.
He spoke in St Petersburg to lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, the architect of a city law imposing fines for individuals and firms spreading what it calls "propaganda" that could "damage the health, moral and spiritual development" of children.
Fry said he had a tense debate with the lawmaker. "Milonov doesn't seem to believe there are teenagers bullied and tormented for being gay, he thinks they make it up ... He regards liberals as the destroyers of Europe," he said on Twitter.
Milonov, who says Orthodox Christian values are the basis for the St Petersburg law, said he understood Europe had the right to choose its own values, but that "these gentlemen do not acknowledge the same right for us".
The bill, passed last year by lawmakers in Russia's second-largest city, has been denounced as "medieval" by some human rights activists. They fear because it did not spell out what would amount to unlawful propaganda, it might be used to ban gay rights demonstrations.
It is the model for a draft law being discussed by the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament. The Duma has given initial approval to the bill and it is expected to be passed in May.
Veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva said it was intended to appeal to conservative voters after months of protests that have sapped President Vladimir Putin's popularity.
Officials from Europe and the United States, who are at odds with Putin over a range of human rights issues, have voiced concern about the measure.