TO RUS­SIA WITH LOVE

LGBT rights in Rus­sia

Pride Life Magazine - - CONTENTS -

“The knock-on ef­fect of the leg­is­la­tion has seen ho­mo­pho­bic hate crime more than dou­ble in the last cou­ple of months”

Imag­ine if all of the gay equal­ity leg­is­la­tion for which we’ve fought so hard over the past four decades sud­denly came tum­bling down around us. That Pride marches were banned and that just by turn­ing up to one you run the very real risk of be­ing beaten un­con­scious by the po­lice, be­fore they ar­rest you and throw you in prison. That adults sud­denly find them­selves un­able to come out at work for fear of los­ing their jobs and young­sters can’t come out at school be­cause teach­ers are suc­cess­fully preach­ing to peers that be­ing gay is dis­gust­ing and un­nat­u­ral. That LGBT teach­ers are be­ing forced out of their jobs in a widen­ing witch hunt.

Sud­denly try­ing to meet fel­low gay peo­ple be­comes a terrifying and para­noid prospect. Is the per­son you are chat­ting to in the clan­des­tine un­der­ground bar re­ally gay, or a mem­ber of a gang sent to lure you into a vi­o­lent am­bush? Is the hot date you ar­range to meet on a chat site ac­tu­ally a trap by a far right group who are plan­ning to kid­nap you and film you be­ing tor­tured, be­fore post­ing the film on the in­ter­net with­out fear of pros­e­cu­tion?

Same-sex mar­riage is out of the ques­tion, while gay adop­tion is swiftly banned out­right. Not only that, but the gov­ern­ment is plan­ning to in­tro­duce terrifying laws that mean they can re­move chil­dren be­ing brought up by same-sex par­ents. Gay or­gan­i­sa­tions like Stonewall could be shut down at any sec­ond, while the pub­li­ca­tion of LGBT mag­a­zines like this one are ef­fec­tively out­lawed. Books with gay ref­er­ences could soon be edited or banned, while the ex­is­tence of fa­mous gays from your na­tion’s past might soon be erased from his­tory books.

Sounds like some sort of dystopian Or­wellian night­mare? Wel­come to life for gay peo­ple in Rus­sia in 2013.

Of course, none of this is news to any­one who is even vaguely po­lit­i­cally aware or spends even the odd mo­ment on Twit­ter or Face­book. While Rus­sia is just one of dozens and dozens of coun­tries where gay peo­ple are be­ing per­se­cuted across the globe, the seem­ingly dire sit­u­a­tion in the for­mer Soviet Union has re­ceived a huge amount of cov­er­age over the last cou­ple of months thanks to the power of so­cial me­dia.

Peo­ple from across the globe have been gen­uinely shocked by the sto­ries pour­ing out of Rus­sia, not only be­cause the new anti-gay law in­tro­duced in June of this year co­in­cides with the coun­try host­ing the Win­ter Olympics at the start of next year, but also be­cause they are graph­i­cally wit­ness­ing gay lib­er­a­tion work­ing in re­verse.

While gay sex was ac­tu­ally de­crim­i­nalised in Rus­sia back in 1993, an equal age of con­sent in­tro­duced in 2003, and trans­sex­u­als have been able to change their le­gal gen­der since 1997, it has been claimed that gays were bet­ter treated back in the Soviet Union era when ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was il­le­gal.

The law in ques­tion bans the dis­tri­bu­tion of “pro­pa­ganda of non-tra­di­tional sex­ual re­la­tions”, a par­tic­u­larly bit­ing turn of phrase, as the law it­self is in ef­fect a nasty piece of pro­pa­ganda that makes that age-old and un­founded link be­tween ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and pae­dophilia. The law has been com­pared to the old Sec­tion 28 in the UK, although the Rus­sian leg­is­la­tion is much worse.

The law also makes it an of­fence to “hold any sort of pub­lic demon­stra­tion in favour of gay rights, speak in favour of gay rights, dis­trib­ute ma­te­rial re­lated to gay rights, or state that gay re­la­tion­ships are equal to het­ero­sex­ual re­la­tion­ships.” As a re­sult of the leg­is­la­tion, civil rights ac­tivist Peter Tatchell started a cam­paign called Love Rus­sia, Hate Ho­mo­pho­bia aimed at op­pos­ing and de­feat­ing Pres­i­dent Putin’s es­ca­lat­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and ho­mo­pho­bia and show­ing sol­i­dar­ity with the LGBT com­mu­nity in Rus­sia.

Tatchell has had first hand ex­pe­ri­ence of ho­mo­pho­bia and vi­o­lence in the coun­try, hav­ing been bashed and ar­rested for par­tic­i­pat­ing in suc­ces­sive Moscow Pride pa­rades from 2006 to 2011, in­clud­ing be­ing beaten almost un­con­scious in 2007 when he was left with mi­nor brain and eye in­juries. He calls Pres­i­dent Putin the “Czar of Ho­mo­pho­bia” and de­scribes the leg­is­la­tion as one of the most sweep­ing and harsh laws against LGBT free­dom of ex­pres­sion any­where in the world.

“In prac­tice, LGBT marches, fes­ti­vals, posters, mag­a­zines, books, films, wel­fare ad­vice and safer sex ed­u­ca­tion are likely to face crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion,” Tatchell ex­plains, “as will in­di­vid­u­als who iden­tify them­selves as gay in pub­lic. Any state­ment that ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is nat­u­ral and nor­mal will be­come crim­i­nal, as will the pro­vi­sion of gay-af­fir­ma­tive coun­selling or safer sex in­for­ma­tion to LGBT youth.

“This law is ef­fec­tively a blan­ket cen­sor­ship of any pub­lic ex­pres­sion of same-sex love, gay iden­tity and LGBT hu­man rights. It could re­sult in the purg­ing of books, films and plays with LGBT char­ac­ters and story-lines from li­braries, gal­leries, the­atres and cin­e­mas, in­clud­ing many clas­sic works of art and lit­er­a­ture. Putin seems hell-bent on forc­ing LGBT peo­ple back into the closet and lock­ing the door.”

The knock-on ef­fect of the leg­is­la­tion has seen ho­mo­pho­bic hate crime more than dou­ble in the last cou­ple of months, with vigilante groups feel­ing em­bold­ened as they see the new law as both jus­ti­fy­ing and pro­tect­ing their ac­tions. Sick­en­ing videos of gay teenagers be­ing tor­tured, in­clud­ing hav­ing urine poured on them and be­ing raped by beer bot­tles, have ap­peared on­line. The vast majority of ho­mo­pho­bic at­tacks go un­re­ported, as Rus­sian law doesn’t out­law dis­crim­i­na­tion based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

Un­der­stand­ably, Rus­sia has re­ceived wide­spread con­dem­na­tion from around the world for the anti-gay laws that are not only a vi­o­la­tion of the Rus­sian con­sti­tu­tion, but also the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Hu­man Rights, which the coun­try signed and pledged to up­hold. Ev­ery­one from the United Na­tions to Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has called for the law to be re­pealed, while the leg­is­la­tion is clearly in­com­pat­i­ble with the Olympic Char­ter, which pro­hibits any form of dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Civil rights and gay ac­tivist groups have been in­cred­i­bly ef­fec­tive in their protests call­ing for a boy­cott of the 2013 Win­ter Olympics next Fe­bru­ary in the Rus­sian re­sort of Sochi, so much so that ma­jor spon­sors like McDon­alds and Coca Cola are said to be get­ting in­creas­ingly jit­tery about the back­lash.

Other cre­ative protests have in­cluded a ze­bra cross­ing be­ing painted rainbow colours out­side the Rus­sian Em­bassy in Stock­holm, Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tre­garo paint­ing her fin­ger­nails in rainbow colours at the Moscow World Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships, and drag queen Dolly Belle­fleur singing a bril­liant par­ody of Boney M’s Rasputin at an Am­s­ter­dam demon­stra­tion: “Stop stop stop Putin — Drop your law at the Krem­lin — Love is no crime, it’s not a dis­ease.”

In Septem­ber this year protests took place in 43 ci­ties across the world, from Buenos Aires to Bu­dapest, and hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple have signed a pe­ti­tion against Rus­sia’s anti-gay crack­down. Protests have in­cluded the boy­cotting of Rus­sian vodka with many gay bars pour­ing it down the drains, as well as Coca Cola — although ban­ning both vodka and Coke simultaneously may be a step too far for many gay peo­ple! If noth­ing else, th­ese protests have gar­nered huge amounts of in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion.

Celebri­ties have also been quick to use their in­ter­na­tional pro­files to support the cause. Ac­tress Tilda Swin­ton made a very pub­lic protest when she held up a rainbow flag in front of St Basil’s Cathe­dral in Moscow, risk­ing up to 15 days in jail. Mean­while, Madonna was sued for £7 mil­lion by anti-gay groups in Rus­sia last year for violating a lo­cal gay law in St Peters­burg when she spoke out in favour of gay rights in a con­cert. The law­suit was later thrown out of court.

Lady Gaga used her con­cert last De­cem­ber to say, “Tonight, this is my house, Rus­sia. You can be gay in my house.” She later took to Face­book to say, “The rise in gov­ern­ment abuse is ar­chaic. Hos­ing teenagers with pep­per spray? Beat­ings? Mother Rus­sia? The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment is crim­i­nal. Op­pres­sion will be met with revo­lu­tion. Rus­sian LGBTs you are not alone. We will fight for your free­dom.”

The ques­tion whether stars should per­form in the coun­try is a sim­i­lar one to whether we should com­pletely boy­cott a coun­try like apartheid-era South Africa, or in­flu­ence the coun­try by con­tin­u­ing to travel to it, show­ing our sol­i­dar­ity for the LGBT com­mu­nity within. It’s the Cher or El­ton de­bate. Cher has ap­par­ently turned down an open­ing cer­e­mony per­for­mance at the Win­ter Olympics in protest against the leg­is­la­tion, while El­ton John says of his De­cem­ber con­cert, “I’ve got to go.”

“I’ve got to think about what I’m go­ing to say very care­fully,” John ex­plained in the Guardian. “There’s two av­enues of thought: Do you stop ev­ery­one go­ing, ban all the artists com­ing in from Rus­sia? But then you’re re­ally leav­ing the men and women who are gay and suf­fer­ing un­der the anti­gay laws in an iso­lated sit­u­a­tion. As a gay man, I can’t leave those peo­ple on their own with­out go­ing over there and sup­port­ing them. I don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen, but I’ve got to go.”

El­ton John has a unique re­la­tion­ship with the coun­try, be­ing the first western rock star ever to per­form on the other side of the iron cur­tain in a se­ries of con­certs in 1979. The res­o­nance of what he could say on stage could there­fore be huge. Other stars have taken a dif­fer­ent ap­proach. Stephen Fry wrote a typ­i­cally in­tel­li­gent and thought-pro­vok­ing open let­ter to David Cameron ask­ing for the Olympics to be re­lo­cated to Van­cou­ver.

Ul­ti­mately, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers like Cameron and Obama have been de­cid­edly non­com­mit­tal on the topic, per­haps wor­ried about fur­ther ten­sions aris­ing on the back of the Syria cri­sis be­tween them and the fifth largest eco­nomic power in the world. And the coun­try that con­trols a rather im­por­tant gas pipe­line. Obama did meet gay ac­tivists dur­ing a de­cid­edly frosty G20 Sum­mit, at least sug­gest­ing some sol­i­dar­ity, while Cameron tweeted that he “raised con­cerns” dur­ing a 2am meet­ing with Putin.

Other po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have shown more balls on the sub­ject. The Mayor of Reyk­javík Jón Gnarr is plan­ning to break off the cap­i­tal’s po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural re­la­tions with the Rus­sian cap­i­tal — Moscow and Reyk­javík were made sis­ter ci­ties in 2007. There is cur­rently no news on whether the Mayor of the de­light­ful Glouces­ter­shire town of Chel­tenham Spa will break ties with their twin city of Sochi, fondly known as Mafia-On- Sea.

Mean­while the In­ter­na­tional Olympic

Com­mit­tee (IOC) and Rus­sia seem to have be­come un­easy bed­fel­lows. Both have been caught on the back foot by the grow­ing protests. Putin un­der­es­ti­mated the im­pact of the gay rights is­sue on his pet pro­pa­ganda project, while the IOC seems more con­cerned with warn­ing ath­letes that they can’t protest dur­ing the games (in vi­o­la­tion of Rule 50 of the Olympic Char­ter) than they are with up­hold­ing the part of the Char­ter that pro­motes tol­er­ance. For both of them, putting on a tri­umphant and fi­nan­cially suc­cess­ful spec­ta­cle seems to be more im­por­tant than the spirit of the Olympics and up­hold­ing ba­sic hu­man rights.

It took lengthy ne­go­ti­a­tions with UN rep­re­sen­ta­tives to per­suade Rus­sia to re­word its ver­sion of the sym­bolic Olympic Truce. Rus­sia’s draft promised to in­clude “peo­ple of dif­fer­ent age, sex, phys­i­cal ca­pac­ity, re­li­gion, race and so­cial sta­tus,” but not sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. While the Olympic Truce hasn’t pre­vi­ously men­tioned gay rights, the UN wanted this in­cluded in light of the re­cent ho­mo­pho­bic leg­is­la­tion in Rus­sia. While still not ex­plic­itly men­tion­ing LGBT peo­ple, the re­vised text now prom­ises “pro­mote so­cial in­clu­sion with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion of any kind”.

Sadly, this is just the in­tro­duc­tion to what prom­ises to be an on­go­ing saga in Rus­sia. We can only hope that it has a happy end­ing rather than be­com­ing a story that is wiped out of the coun­try’s his­tory books. Be­cause we all know where the de­struc­tion of books can lead.

Please con­sider mak­ing a do­na­tion to All Out and their Rus­sia 4 Love cam­paign. The first half will go to help peo­ple in Rus­sia pur­sue pros­e­cu­tions of anti­gay at­tack­ers and reach out to young peo­ple who most need support. The rest of will grow their mas­sive global cam­paign to stop Rus­sia’s anti-gay crack­down. www.all­out.org/Rus­sia-4-Love

“Lady Gaga: ‘ Tonight, this is my house, Rus­sia. You can be gay in my house.’”

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP FAR LEFT: TILDA SWIN­TON IN MOSCOW; DEMON­STRA­TION AGAINST RUS­SIA’S ANTI- GAY LAWS;

PETER TATCHELL

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP FAR LEFT:

“KISS IN” OUT­SIDE THE RUS­SIAN CON­SULATE IN AN­TWERP, ONE OF MANY AROUND THE GLOBE; DEMON­STRA­TION IN LONDON; PETER TATCHELL IN MOSCOW; PETER TATCHELL IN­JURED IN MOSCOW; PETER TATCHELL WITH PAUL O’GRADY IN LONDON; TO RUS­SIA WITH LOVE; DEMON­STRA­TION AT LONDON GAY PRIDE

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