Maryland Will Not Sever ’Sister City’ Status with St. Petersburg
The Maryland deputy secretary of state told Metro Weekly Friday that it has no plans to sever its "sister city" status with St. Petersburg, Russia, despite calls from pro-LGBT activists to end relationships with cities in the country due to the Russian government’s recent passage of anti-gay laws and apparent condoning of anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.
The state is currently partnered with the Leningrad Oblast region of Russia, the capital of which is St. Petersburg, through Sister Cities International, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to foster relationships and understanding between different communities across the globe. The partnership has been in place since former Maryland Gov. Donald Schaefer (D) and Alexander Belyakov, the governor of the Leningrad Oblast region, signed an agreement in June of 1993.
As part of the program, both "sister cities" are expected to maintain diplomatic relations; foster the exchange of business, cultural or educational ideas and values; and co-sponsor events aimed at creating and maintaining strong relationships.
On Wednesday, the liberal online organizing group MoveOn issued a press release calling on 27 cities across the United States to end relationships with Russian cities or regions to protest Russia’s recent adoption of anti-gay laws, which include a ban on what the government deems "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" - meaning any statement or action that can be considered favorable toward homosexuality, from counseling LGBT youth to distributing information regarding safe sex between same-sex partners - and a recent announcement by Russia’s minister of sport, Vitaly Mutko, that athletes or visitors at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, will be arrested if they say or do anything perceived as pro-gay under the ban. The MoveOn activists are also speaking out against violence and discrimination directed against LGBT Russians.
The state of Maryland was not included on MoveOn’s list of sister cities, though it maintains this relationship with the Leningrad region.