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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Some comment on Russia and The Gays

Anonymous posters appeared this month in St. Petersberg quoting SS Heinrch Himmler on Gays

Since there's such vast verbiage on Russia and The Gays ATM I'm restricting myself to points which seem to be getting little or no airing.

The Red Menace

Richard Smith has rightly pointed out that Americans would have a particular thing with the Russians now wouldn't they?

It's not like they're running boycotts of products from Cameroon, or Tanzania, or numerous other places with active LGBT crackdowns/backlashes. Of course they'd have a thing for the special evilness of the commies Russians.

That may well be right but it's not the whole story. See this interview (video after jump) of the playwright and legend Harvey Fierstein talking on Chris Hayes show.

What I hear from Fierstein, whose New York Times fierce pro-boycott editorial started much of the furore, is a righteous anger that comes from many who lived through HIV/Aids. He sounds like Larry Kramer. It's a very particular New York style which comes from a 'no turning back' history, Russia is just the current place on the receiving end.
Fierstein told Hayes on his show Wednesday, “What’s going on in Russia is absolutely frightening. Even in your intro just now you talked about one law. There are three laws that have already come out, one saying that gay couples or singles may not adopt all. The other says that nobody in any country that allows gay marriage can adopt out of Russia. The third is the propaganda. The fourth law which was not passed which is rumored by the press to have been ready to be passed was one that said that children would be removed from gay and lesbian households.”

Hayes protested, “There are horrible laws discriminating against LGBT folks everywhere in the world.”

“You remember when the AIDS crisis first hit,” Fierstein said, “I would have people say to me, why are we spending so much energy on AIDS, there’s cancer too? One doesn’t negate the other.”

Fierstein went on to offer Hayes a history lesson.

“You must fight injustice wherever that injustice is,” he said. “You cannot just ignore evil. When evil shows its face you have to answer. When you don’t answer, look what happens. You were talking about Hitler, so we went to the Olympics in Germany, right? Yes, they took down the anti-Jewish posters for two weeks, and what happened? Owens won a gold medal and then 6 million Jews were killed.”

What do the Russkies think?

Talking with the author of this very useful Daily Kos post, 'Understanding Russia's Homophobia' we agreed that the repetitive drone in Western discourse on seeking Russian approval was mostly for Western benefit.

You often hear that Russian opinion is blah as if Russian Gays are all paid up 'community' members in some democratic centralist body handing down the group think. Since we've heard both pro and anti boycott Russian voices shouldn't people just stop with this argument? Those in the West disagreeing with others in the West  just picking out the natives they like?

Pico pointed out that "some of the groups and major figures are barely on speaking terms", which should sound familiar.
That doesn't give us much of a blueprint for moving ahead, unfortunately.  And it's even harder when our movements - themselves a mishmash of ideologies and personalities - don't speak the language and aren't sure what they're getting into.  I do think it's important to listen closely to what locals are saying because the context of homophobia in Russia is so different, but I also understand what you're saying, about some people using that as a cudgel to beat down suggestions they don't like.  That's frustrating.  The boycott has its mix of supporters and opponents from within Russia; cherrypicking one or the other isn't very productive, I don't think. 
It is interesting that three big ol' Jews I can think of (Stephen Fry, Harvey Fierstein and Melanie Nathan) all say 'Boycott!':  Nathan's argument is the most rooted in big time activism but all three haven't exactly failed to think it through or relate their argument to their heritage. You can disagree but don't resort to 'they failed to consult!', let alone 'my Russian friend's more important than yours'. Nathan points out there were disagreements among South African activists over the boycott under apartheid. I recorded disagreements from the 'Global South' over David Cameron's foreign aid threats. Often, voices who disagree get drowned out or shouted down. Deal with the argument and make a better one, don't outsource.

I think 'Boycott!' fails as a tactic because its aim isn't clear. What's the result supposed to be? It's a  reaction and not a plan.

Practical support

Any change will eventually come from within and that means Russia's movement and its supporters.

Although there has been some reporting on activism and community building there's been little thus far on how people might help. For example the AllOut campaign to support the group Vykhod when it was fined as a 'foreign agent' got almost no coverage.

I understand that with hostility and a complicated legal situation, how that support can happen needs time to think through, however the obvious wave of Western keenness to help doesn't seem to be being tapped. Who do people donate to? Who do they send proceeds from benefits to?

Seems like a bit of a leadership failure there.

Source worth noting that the supporters in Russia don't have enough profile. Thinking especially of Ksenia Sobchak, a rich IT girl turned dissident who has 750k followers on Twitter. Sobchak has been one of the main targets of the author of anti-gay laws, Yelena Mizulina (a star turn at the next CPAC conference?). Why is she not in our news?

There are others. And I agree with keeping dialogue open with others and talking - business, professional, entertainment connections - to encourage support  from possible or actual friends of The Gays. 'Back channel' activism has form elsewhere as working.

Is the homophobia soft or hard?

It is also worth noting, as Alexander Kondakov explains at openDemocracy, that the received opinion that Russians are extremely homophobic may not be all it seems. He suggests that actual opinion, based on his reading of polling, shows a population actually much closer to Western opinion - 'not bothered', 'leave them alone' - than assumed, though due to ignorance and an absence of any information.

So if the laws can become seen as somehow burdensome then maybe those evangelically believing in and prosecuting them can be isolated, as a minority. This is a familiar trajectory in many countries.

Change the rhetoric

Something I rarely hear except from the Russian state is 'international human rights norms'. The Russian Embassy in London talks of convenants on the rights of the child, why don't we hear more about the same international agreements Russia breaks?

Others have pointed this out with Russia and there is history with what the Ugandans have done, and urged others to do, which is to make central that there's a international human rights norms context to operate within. Connect the dots. LGBT aren't they only minorities under attack in Russia. There's lots suffering in and around Sochi. It's never just the Gays.

It needs repeating that both Brazil and South Africa stand up for the Gays. That Russia's allies in efforts in international bodies to codify religious 'protections' and 'attacks on the family' are the Vatican and Islamic countries.

And you don't pick and choose which international human rights norms to defend, to focus on. And you don't set one against another and, especially, you don't push some to the back of the line (or bus).

Almost forgot, the athletes!

There are some really odd 'creative ideas' floating around about Sochi activities. Some people actually want a well known designer to create a 'yay! the Gays! outfit for the Big Opening Ceremony.

Have they seen the sort of fashion crimes which athletes get forced to wear? And they want to force athletes to wear some big statement outfit, whatever DF that means?

As a coach points out on Outsports, now is precisely the time when athletes do not want to be thinking about fashion statements. If a big Gay/Gay Mates athlete is actually going to live the dream some seem to have that one wins a gold and stand proudly on the podium being loudly Gay/Gay Mates and whatever else is in this fantasy fiction then has anyone asked them?

Athletes have to focus 101%. Any doco on gold winners will tell you that. Endless pain, little chance for vodka.

Then there's the fact that doing anything in Sochi may well get you banned forever. Even obliquely visible support could be dangerous. Not just the two African Americans in Mexico City who made the famous black power salute suffered, the bronze medalling Australian who just wore a badge did too. Before Sochi, the coach points out, team selection can be political. Sports people may be understandably quiet as "too much is at stake".

The Russians may fail to arrest anyone, making themselves look good whilst under the spotlight - the repression would come from Olympics officials.

Even if you could, in Sochi, get away with doing something then exactly what, where is the line, how might it work? This needs some really careful and some secretive planning and lobbying not just of the IOC. Is any of that actually happening?

You think Russia's bad?

I haven't read this anywhere.

In Russia LGBT groups are already a major target for 'foreign agents' laws, but neighbouring Belarus is about to label LGBT activism a 'terrorist threat'.

Some people you might want to look at

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