This is how Conde Nast has decided to greet the Sochi Olympics. Send one of our best investigative reporters to Russia to examine life under Article 6.21, the "homosexual propaganda" law (because we all must remember that Russia has NOT outlawed deviant sexual relationships. At least not de jure). It's worse than we've seen from news outlets who have Moscow bureaus and can go only so far in reporting before Russia closes the bureau and expels the reporters. Sharlet has some fairly chilling quotations from Russian gays that should make those of you who think it's better if you don't show your orientation think twice. Most of this will be depressingly familiar. The new material? Sharlet ties this to the homophobia of the American right.
Below the great orange Khachapuri for more.
The article is called Inside the Iron Closet. Sharlet begin by describing an attack on a Sunday night event inside the HIV awareness center, LaSky, in St. Petersburg, using guns and baseball bats, in which a man lost his sight because the pellet from the air gun that shot him lodged behind his eye. He says he went to Moscow and St Petersburg in November because the outside world seemed to be interested in the unraveling of civil society in Russia:
Books are being banned -- Burroughs and Baudelaire and Huxley's Brave New World -- immigrants hunted, journalists killed - snip - blasphemy is now illegal. Civil society isn't just coming undone; it's imploding.I didn't know about the book banning, but it's not really surprising. Sharlet goes on to recap the killings and the homophobic organizations that are springing up, and there are more than we have supposed:
There are countless smaller, bristling moments, with names presumptuous (God's Will) or absurd (Homophobic Wolf). There are babushkas who throw stones, and priests who bless the stones, and police who arrest the victims.Russian society is set up for mass condemnation of difference, because, although there are homophobes throughout the world, they're not generally supported by the state apparatus.
But it gets worse. You can be prosecuted for holding hands. Yelena Mizulina, the author of Article 6.21, says she's concerned with saving the "pure generation" of children from the adult "homosexualists." And now the links to the rest of the world, prefaced by observing that LGBT rights may be marching forward in THIS country but that in the rest of the world it's not advancing along a straight line, citing Russia, and Uganda, and Nigeria, and India, and even Australia where the highest court in the country outlawed same-sex marriage in the one place - the Australian Capital Territory -- that had allowed it.
The ideas, meanwhile, are American: the rhetoric of "family values" churned out by right-wing American think tanks, bizarre statistics to prove that evil is a fact, its face a gay one, this hatred is old venom, but its weaponization by nations as a means with which to fight "globalization -- not the economic kind, the human-rights kind - is a new terror.There you are, the dots connected. Why? As pico has ably explained (and this is Sharlet's explanation),
The less prosperity Putin can deliver, the more he talks of holy Russian empire, language to which the Russian Orthodox Church thrills. Putin, says Patriarch Kirill, the church's leader, is a living "act of God." Forget about the price of bread and what you can't afford, Putin has come to save the Russian soul.Sharlet then goes on to observe that only 7 percent of Russians oppose Article 6.21, that the law to remove children from homosexual parents is on hold until after the Olympics, and that people in authority have even more dangerous ideas.
And then we have this:
"I haven't heard of these laws, but I think it's fine," a kid named Kirill tells me at a hidden gay club called Secrets. "We don't need gay pride here. Why do we need to show our orientation?" he shrugs. He has heard of the torture videos popular online, the gangs that kidnap gays, the police that arrest gays, the babushkas with their eggs and their stones. But he hasn't seen them. he prefers not to. "Everybody wants to emigrate but not me." He shrugs again; it's like a tic. "I love Russia. This is their experience, not mine." He says he does not know that the word closet means.Where have I heard this before? It would probably violate rules against call-out diaries if I were to show you examples of gay people here who don't know why they need to be identified as gay, but if you follow the links in the second part of this diary you'll find a good example.
Then, we have case studies: the two men and two women who live communally with their children except the two men and two women are all gay, the history of gay pride parades in Moscow
In 2008, activists applied to hold marches across the city, all denied, and then assembled as a flash mob, for moments in front of a statue of Tchaikovsky.the women who organized four kiss-ins in Moscow between 2010 and 2013 and were beaten each time, a gay male hustler who says he doesn't think there's homophobia in Russia because he always carries a gun.
They tried the same trick in 2009, but the police were ready.
2010: Success! Thirty marchers marched for ten minutes before they were captured.
2011. Three minutes, maybe four.
2012: Moscow officially banned gay-pride parades for one hundred years;
But Sharlet also talks to the homophobes:
There are three faces of homophobia in Russia: that of the state, that of the Orthodox Church, and that of the fringe. And yest they're one-- a kind of Trinity. The state passes laws, the Church blesses them, and the fringe puts them into action. The state is the mind of hate, the church now, its heart, the fringe is made up of its many hands. Some use the courts, some use fists. There are street fighters, and there are polished men and women who attent international conferences on "family values."And so we meet Timur Isaev, who graduated from gay bashing in St Petesrburg to stalking and videotaping LGBT events so he can out the people involved and get them fired. there's also the leader of the author of St. Petersburg's gay laws, Vitaly Milonov's goon squad. He doesn't try to make them sympathetic.
In a few weeks, we'll be watching, maybe, the Winter Olympic games from Sochi, on the Black Sea. I'm betting we won't see Moscow or St. Petersburg, except maybe incidentally in the profile of an athlete, and I bet we won't hear the word "gay" in coverage even when we're introduced to the American delegation. I'm sure we'll hear stuff from American officials deploring the laws but refusing to meddle with or to coerce another sovereign nation to get rid of them. Sanctions? Against Russia? Yeah, right.
I honestly don't know how to conclude this. Maybe by underscoring Sharlet's point about American involvement in Russia's anti-gay laws with this little tidbit from the Southern Poverty Law Center about Scott Lively's last trip to Russia in October 2013:
Lively contended that [Russian Orthodox archpriest Dmitri] Smirnov is “very receptive” to his latest plan, which he’s calling “The Rainbow Belongs to God Strategy.” Lively wants Russia to reclaim the rainbow for God by flying a rainbow flag over the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and allow rainbows to appear everywhere at the Games, thus somehow blunting their use as a symbol of LGBT pride and unity. “With a simple judo move,” Lively says, “the Russians could catch the ‘gays’ in their own trap, and at the same time rescue God’s rainbow from being dragged in the mud.”Sigh.
UPDATE: New article about the Sochi Olympics as a return to large-scale Soviet projects in the New York Times Magazine. Not so much about LGBT issues as about the expense, the environmental despoliation of the region, and the rampant corruption.
Human Rights Watch and other groups like the Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus have chronicled a range of abuses, including the gross exploitation of migrant laborers, many of them shuttled in from abroad. While Russian officials dispute the accusations of corruption, the evidence has mounted to the point that even a member of the International Olympic Committee, Gian-Franco Kasper, told Switzerland’s SRF radio this month that roughly a third of the spending on the games had been lost to embezzlement.I wonder what will be next.
UPDATE #2: I have errands to run, and I'll be away from the keyboard for a few hours. I'll be back before 7 PM Eastern and I'm looking forward to the insights you provide in the meantime.