Welcome to OutWrite’s “From the Archive” series! This series is designed to provide an opportunity to interact with our organization’s archives, assess the opinions and relevance of our past content, and bring that content into the present. In doing so, this series will applaud, critique, and put into conversation ideas of the past with present ideologies and dialogues. Overall, we at OutWrite hope this new series opens up conversations and helps us reconnect with the past while striving for a better future.
*The following article no longer serves to represent the thoughts of the organization today.*
OutWrite Fall 2013
From Russia With Hate | News/Politics
By Gabriel Hongsdusit
In the film V for Vendetta, a lesbian, named Valerie Paige, recalls her arrest and imprisonment by the totalitarian government for her sexuality. The scene plays out with the resigned Paige sitting in the dark, as men in full SWAT gear raid and arrest. While this dark scene exists as a fictionalized future, for Queer folk in Russia, it may soon become a reality.
Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill banning what the law states as “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” Generally, this “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” includes the public promotion of homosexuality, sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and trans* identities. Yet one of the greatest problems with this bill is the ambiguity in the language of the law. It fails to legally define propaganda or nontraditional sexual relations, providing authorities with the liberty to infer these terms.
The law states that propaganda is the sharing of information accessible to minors that 1) aims at creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations. Yet the law lacks proper definitions for what constitutes sharing information, such as media or demonstrations. Could everyday conversation in public fulfill the sharing of information accessible to minors?
As a testament to its unlawfulness, the anti-propaganda law effectively contradicts multiple laws already in place in the country. Russia’s criminal code disallows the criminalization of propaganda of non-criminal behavior. As the country legalized homosexuality in 1993, the law criminalizes a behavior defined as legal by the [state].
Recently, the Queer rights campaign has erupted in violence. On October 12, around 200 conservative activists confronted LGBT rights protestors observing National Coming Out Day. Fights occurred between the two groups, as the conservative activists blocked the demonstration from entering a park with a war memorial. Police eventually arrived on the scene, detaining 67 protestors from both groups.
The violence against Russia’s Queer community goes beyond the clashing of protest groups. In their mission to protect children from sexual abuse, Occupy Pedophilia produced videos of members harassing and beating gay men, until they confessed their homosexuality. Occupy Pedophilia often posts these graphic and violent videos on VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook. The members of Occupy Pedophilia often bait these men by posing as gay men looking for sexual encounters.
On October 20, 2013, the Russian parliament shelved a bill, which would allow for children to be removed from their Queer parents. The bill would have effectively equated homosexuality to alcoholism, abuse and violence. Representative Alexei Zhuravlyov withdrew the bill for further revisions because, as it happens, the bill would have been placed on the Parliament agenda as soon as February 2014, coinciding with the Winter [Olympics] in Sochi. The withdrawal of the bill only [occurred] due to the controversy of Russia’s anti-queer attitude, and the desire to lessen criticism during this important time for the Russian economy. Since the establishment of Russia’s anti-queer laws, many have spoken against the country, and have even called for a boycott of the Sochi games.
Yet, despite this call for a boycott, no participating or aspiring athlete has refused to attend the upcoming games. In line with this lack of athlete boycotts, the newly developed oppressive climate in Russia casts doubt on the success of the Winter Olympics in 2014. Many Queer athletes and spectators are now fearful of their involvement in the games, as they could easily become victims of discrimination or even unfair detainment. Without strong activism against this climate, not enough attention will be brought to this issue of the games for change to occur.
Unfortunately, members of the International Olympic Committee Coordinating Commission failed to view these new laws as violating [Olympic] non-discrimination policies. “The Olympic Charter states that all segregation is completely prohibited, whether it be on the grounds of race, religion, color, or other, on the Olympic territory,” said Jean-Claude Killy, chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission, at a press conference in Sochi on September 26, 2013, according to the Associated Press. As the laws do not enforce segregation, the IOC remains satisfied with the climate of the games.
While athletes have not refused to attend the games, some have decided to take an active role in confronting these laws. Lee Pearson, a ten time gold medalist in the Paralympic equestrian events, plans to speak out against these anti-queer laws:
“I don’t care if it means I go to prison…in some respects I hope I do because then the prime minister and my country would have to get involved and that would add to the embarrassment for Russia.” said Pearson to the Daily Mail.
Bode Miller, an American five time Olympic medalist, conveyed his displeasure of the anti-queer laws and oppression for the upcoming games.
“I think it is absolutely embarrassing there are countries and people who are that intolerant or that ignorant…it’s not the first time. We have been dealing with human rights issues since there were humans. My main emotion when I hear and deal with situations like that is embarrassment. As a human being, I think it is embarrassing,” said Miller at the U.S. Olympic media summit on September 30, 2013.
The sentiments of embarrassment exist within former citizens of Russia, including dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov, who sums up the issue up quiet plainly:
“My life has been immensely enriched by gay mentors, colleagues and friends and any discrimination and persecution of gay people is unacceptable… Equal treatment of people is a basic right and it is sad that we still have to even speak about this in [the] 21st century” said Baryshnikov to The Advocate.
*Commentary and analysis to come*