John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Plus, Tucson kills its Mexican American Studies program to comply with state law; Gulfport, Mississippi, clears out lawn couches; a meat thief is banned in Britain.
Welcome back to our weekly look at what's been outlawed in cities across the world:
• St. Petersburg has outlawed any kind of behavior that promotes gay lifestyles around kids. That means it's now illegal in Russia's second-largest city to talk about homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender issues around children in anything but a negative light. Individuals will be fined $168 for violating the new ban while legal entities can be charged $16,800. According to the RT network, the new law is intended to prevent people from “spreading information that can damage the health and moral development of underage children, and make them believe that both traditional and gay relationships are normal.”
St. Petersburg has had a difficult time accepting gay folks, as you can surmise from the above photo of a man punching a gay-rights protester in the face in 2011. And the struggle spreads beyond the city, too: Last month in Sovetsk, police detained several runners gathered for a marathon after mistaking the event for a gay-pride parade. All this despite Russia having perhaps the a leader who's been hailed as a gay icon.
• The school board of Tucson, Arizona, is killing off its acclaimed Mexican American Studies program to comply with a state law prohibiting "ethnic studies." Nevermind that the program graduated 100 percent of its high-school students and placed 82 percent of them in college – Mexican culture is dangerous! The law was passed by Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010, and in January Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne declared the program to be illegal. By agreeing, the school district will not lose about 10 percent of their state funds each month. Students wishing to read poet Martin Espada's Zapata's Disciple in a school library, meanwhile, will have to travel out of state.
• Inveterate meat thief Neil McKay has been banned from every supermarket in the U.K. township of South Shields. McKay had already been forbidden to heist meat, but on Monday he slipped into a Marks & Spencer to ghost away several packets of steak worth about $32. The repeat offender's arrest was just the latest blow against a greasy-fingered horde of meat robbers bedeviling groceries worldwide. Because of its portability and high value, meat has consistently taken top place for the most-shoplifted grocery item. Offenders typically sell the slabs later on the street or in bars for drug money, although McKay told a judge he wanted the meat money to "buy a wreath for his dad’s grave."
The phenomenon of meat burglary has inspired at least one movie project: John Waters says he plans to direct a Christmas film about a boy growing up in a family of meat thieves. As he explained to the Chicago Tribune: "We have them in Baltimore. They come knock on your door and say, 'Meat man!' and you say, 'I'll take three porterhouse steaks and a ham.' They shoplift it and bring it back, and you pay half the price that's on the label."
• It is no longer legal to pop a squirrel with an air rifle in the city of Chesterfield, Missouri, just west of St. Louis. The city council voted on Monday to nix killing the tree-loving mammals, as well as birds and other small animals, with such a weapon within 150 yards of a residence. However, blasting squirrels with BB guns nowhere near residential areas is still considered fair play under the law.
The origins of this ban are fairly juicy. The city took up the issue after residents complained about former council member Gene Schenberg shooting squirrels in his yard with an air rifle. Schenberg promised to follow the new law "at least until it's invalidated." During the vote, according to the local Fox affiliate:
Mark Perez brought a stuffed squirrel up to the podium during his chance to speak. He said he killed the squirrel because they chew through wiring, damage homes and carry disease.
Perez told the council a law won't make a difference, "You can pass a law, but people still do things that are totally stupid."
• Teachers in a small town in south Swaziland are no longer allowed to wear jeans, T-shirts or "takkies" at school. Hlatikhulu principal Nomkhosi Kunene says the ban is reasonable because "pupils lose concentration in class if a teacher conducts lessons wearing clothes that expose his or her body parts like breasts."
• The city council of Gulfport, Mississippi, is weeding out all the gross sofas that people place on their lawns. "Furnishings not designed for use outdoors, such as interior furniture, may not be stored outdoors," reads the new ban. What's sticking in the craw of the city's wizened leaders appears to be upholstered furniture in particular, which visitors to the Deep South can sometimes spot in front yards growing mushrooms as they decay gently back into the mother earth. It's unknown how this prohibition will affect couch surfing:
Top photo: A man attacks a gay rights activist during a June 2011 gay pride parade, which was unsanctioned by the city authorities, in St. Petersburg. REUTERS/Stringer Russia