Hoooooo, boy, has it been an interesting week or two on this front. For those of you new to this story, I've been following the recent policies in Russia to stifle its LGBT community (see here for a quick primer) and a few new shoes dropped this week, including condemnation from Europe and doubling-down in the most ludicrous way by one of the nation's most notorious theocrats.
As an added bonus, we get to discuss one of the silliest court rulings imaginable, on whether children's toys have a legal right to protest. You read that right.
Умом Россию не понять...
First, the proposed legislation to fine people for being gay anywhere where children may be present (!) has been chalking up new successes wherever it's been introduced. Led by the Orthodox Church's right hand bigot Vitaly Milonov, St. Petersburg is preparing for final passage of the text, after concerns over ambiguity briefly derailed the process. Domestic activists have been working overtime and facing hostility on just about every front. Maybe you heard about the Aeroflot flight attendant who was forced to marry a woman in order to keep his job?
The European Parliament wants Russia to know it is not amused. In a resolution passed last week, the parliament addressed the proposed anti-LGBT policies as part of a larger complaint about Russia's reaction to its pro-democracy protests. Here's the relevant clause:
15. Strongly condemns the adoption by the Legislative Assembly of St Petersburg of a law against propaganda on sexual orientation; equally condemns similar laws adopted in the Ryazan, Arkhangelsk and Kostroma regions; calls on all Russian authorities to stop restricting freedom of expression in relation to sexual orientation or gender identity, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; calls on the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative to convey the European Union’s opposition to these laws;I particularly liked this statement by Sophie in ‘t Veld, the Intergroup on LGBT Rights Co-president: "Tchaikovsky and Constantinovich must be rolling over in their graves. Such laws are simply unacceptable." (To which we could also add a long list of both famous and less widely-known but significant figures like Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Chicherin, Kuzmin, Parnok, Klyuev, and trust me, I can go on all day. Russia's LGBT history runs richly and deeply.)
In addition it seems our State Department has been working behind the scenes on this issue, too. The ambassador to OSCE released the following statement, which is light on specifics but suggests that there are some backroom discussions going on. We'll see how this plays out: Russia is not Uganda and doesn't rely on anything from the U.S, and in fact takes pleasure in sticking it to Western diplomacy. I should also note that foreign criticism against Russia's policies isn't just coming from on high: last week protesters gathered at the embassy in Berlin to chant their opposition to Russia's hard anti-LGBT turn.
The new twist in the lead-up to the finalizing of St. Petersburg's anti-LGBT law are letters that have been circulated from mothers with gay children. I'll translate portions from one of them so you can get the flavor of how these letters are framed:
We have an excellent relationship with our son. He has many friends, he was a good student. Those close to us understand and accept him. And everything would be great for him, if you were not taking up these laws against his inner nature and offending him (like all of the LGBT community), by putting it on a par with such a terrible phenomenon as pedophilia. I have no medical or psychological education, but even I can tell you the difference between homosexuality and pedophilia. Is it really that hard to understand?! Homosexuals do not hurt anyone either physically or mentally. These are independent adults who are building lives with other independent adults.It's a passionate, detailed letter, and it ends with a request that she be allowed to testify at the upcoming reading of the odious law. Naturally such request was denied, but that's not enough for our crazy theocratic friend: he's issued one helluva statement in response.
You say that you want to protect children. But you seem to have forgotten that we all come from childhood. What do you do with homosexual children and adolescents (my son knew who he was since he was 8 years old), when they hear our legislators on the news saying that this is a perversion and it should stop? Who will protect and support these children (would you say that they are second-class citizens and society doesn't give a damn about them)? ... If in a homophobic society (which legislators like you create) gays are humiliated, beaten, killed, or they commit suicide, then the lives of their family and friends who are heterosexual (for you, apparently, this is extremely important characteristic of a person) are destroyed, too. So who do you end up protecting?
I've heard that you are very religious man. I myself believe in God. I know that the Lord has created everyone, and to say that some of these people are faulty means to criticize his work. I think it's clear you have no such authority to do so. And likewise true believers understand that God is love. And you are breeding hatred in society and in the soul. ...
This is not a letter from some fanatical LGBT activist. This is from a heterosexual, God-fearing woman who just wishes for her son and other people like him to have happiness and understanding. ...
Please stop, analyze the situation and leave aside this dangerous path along which you're leading our society. There's still a chance to avoid passing this abusive, unstudied law, whose absurd name I do not wish to repeat.
My son is gay. I do not rejoice in this. I rejoice that he is a talented, intelligent and bright person. And these are all as much components of his personality as his sexual orientation. Am I proud of the fact that he is gay? No, because, in my opinion, to be proud of this would be like being proud of the fact that he has dark hair, or that he is right handed. But I am immensely proud that my son his own man, does not live according to other people's opinions and dogmas, and pursues his own path. And no bill will ever change my views and opinions of thousands of other parents.
Milonov's comments are, even by his standards, awesomely audacious. He not only accuses the letter(s) of forgeries by the gays ("I don't think these were mothers"), but that even if the letters are legitimate, they're a sign of bad parenting that a mother would expose her child to disease, suicide, etc. instead of correcting his behavior. He uses the word "tragedy".
How over the line is this? Even our old friends RT, who in the past have gleefully echoed the Kremlin's claims that Russia's LGBT movement is a product of Western imperialism, seem to be taken back by the legislation. For the first time they're expressing some skepticism about the law and about Milonov's wild accusations. I find this a happy surprise, and I hope that their newfound skepticism leaks into other areas of their reportage, too.
Speaking of which...
It wouldn't be a discussion of Russian law without a foray into the truly absurd, so as promised, we have the year's most ridiculous judicial decision, straight from the Siberian town of Barnaul.
If you've followed my previous diaries on the pro-democracy protests (here and here), you know that Russians all over the country have been gathering, sometimes at great risk, to protest an election so clearly rigged it was more or less decided before a single vote was cast. Activists in Barnaul came up with the most adorable way to channel their anger, by lining up toys with mini-placards not unlike those we saw in the human protests elsewhere. Cute, news-worthy, effective - hats off to the people of Barnaul.
But not so fast! The local police were worried that such a protest might not meet legal muster because the toys did not have permission to assemble on city property. So they challenged the toys' legal jurisdiction, and
the judge a city official came down with this decision:
Neither toys nor, for example, flags, plates or domestic appliances can take part in a meeting.Talk about judicial activism! No one had challenged the rights of domestic appliances, but this judge decides to extend the ban to different categories of inanimate objects, just to stick it to Putin's non-sentient detractors.
Fortunately the people of Barnaul have a wicked sense of humor:
One possibility, said the activist Sergei Andreev, is a solitary picket, which is allowed to take place without permission from local authorities under Russian law.Fucking brilliant.
"We will stand up one [toy] and the rest will sit on a bench not far away," said Andreev.