Saturday, November 19, 2011

Russia's War Against Gays

In college I was a history major with heavy emphasis on British and Russian history. I've always wanted to travel to Russia, but always found it out of the question: I didn't want to travel to the Soviet system, then there was the issue of raising children and a lack of travel and now, there's rising homophobia that makes Russia look far less than welcoming for LGBT tourists. The current war on gays is bizarre given that the Russian Orthodox Church doesn't hold the same power in politics that far right denominations do in the USA. Yet, the legislation against all things gay - "propaganda of homosexuality" is the term - is frightening. For whatever reason, Russian politicians seem to want to drag the country backwards in time. One would thing the effort was being orchestrated by The Family Foundation, a toxic, hate motivated Christianist organization in Richmond, given the parallels between the talk in Russia and Republican circles in Richmond. Whatever the motivation, I won't be looking to visit St. Petersburg any time soon if the anti-gay jihad continues. Here are highlights from the New York Times:

“Propaganda of homosexuality”: the wording sounds almost quaint in English, like a panicky phrase out of the 1970s backlash to the early gay liberation movement in the United States. But in Russia, the phrase is current: This week lawmakers have been talking of banning “propaganda of homosexuality” — whatever the phrase may mean.

The campaign began a couple of months ago, when two provincial Russian cities, Ryazan, in central Russia, and Arkhangelsk, in the north of the country, passed such laws. On Wednesday, St. Petersburg, Russia’s largest city, approved its own ban. The next day, lawmakers in Moscow promised to pass a similar measure in the capital, and the speaker of the upper house of Parliament declared it was time to take the ban national.

The St. Petersburg bill defines the violation as “public actions aimed at propagandizing sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgenderism among minors.” At least one prominent Russian singer has already expressed concern that the law may affect his and other artists’ ability to perform in front of audiences and to market their records.

In saying this he put his finger on what is perhaps the central conflict of this story: Russia’s urban culture of music and film, clubs and caf├ęs, art and fashion, is virtually indistinguishable from that of any contemporary Western European city. . . . . So where do the “propaganda of homosexuality” bans come from, in a secular country with an apparently liberal social culture? A dozen years ago, when Vladimir Putin became Russia’s leader, he set in motion the process of destroying public space. He has succeeded by pressuring the media, heavily restricting political and charitable organizations, and, in effect, banning most demonstrations. The process now seems unstoppable: The restrictive machine cannot help but infringe on the private — as well as venture into the absurd.

[M]y 13-year-old son, who attends a private school with a liberal reputation in Moscow, came home and told me he had removed his new earring after a teacher told him that wearing earrings means you’re gay and is therefore inappropriate.

A few hours later a friend who is active in an L.G.B.T. sporting organization instant-messaged me to say that the group would probably soon be banned from organizing any events. What’s worse, she wrote, when the bills become law, they may be interpreted to apply to gay and lesbian couples who are raising children.

I no longer think the phrase “propaganda of homosexuality” sounds quaint. My partner and I are raising a boy and a girl together, and in February she is due to give birth to another boy.

As I noted before, I've now crossed Russia off my list of travel destinations. I have no intention of traveling to and spending money in a country where I am not wanted. I hope others will do likewise and let the Russian tourism agencies know why Russia is now a destination to be avoided. You can e-mail the Russian National Tourism office here.

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