E. Winter Tashlin

Why Is Russia Grabbing Headlines?

Filed By E. Winter Tashlin | August 18, 2013 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Living
Tags: anti-gay discrimination, anti-gay violence, nationalism, racism, russia, Sochi Olympics

The point has been made in both the LGBT and mainstream media that while Russia's oppression of gay people is egregious, it is far from unique.

In fact, there are many places on Earth where the legal and social punishments for being LGBT far exceed those in Russia. Why then, has the situation in Russia been so prominent of late?

In my mind there are three factors involved:

It's impossible to look at this situation within firstly mentioning the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. While the Olympics have been held in nations with poor civil and human rights records within recent memory (hello China 2008), perhaps what sets the Russian situation apart is how relatively recent a state of affairs the situation is.
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Moreover, the parallels both in national policy and IOC response, to the 1936 games in Germany are striking. Would we in the West care so deeply about the plight of LGBT people in Russia if not for the upcoming Games? Personally I doubt it, and as evidence I offer up how little coverage of anti-LGBT laws and violence in other former Soviet nations we've seen in recent months.

Next, it's important to note that the aforementioned recentness of LGBT oppression in Russia represents a significant difference between the situation there and that of many other nations with anti-gay/LGBT laws and cultures.

For much of the time since the fall of the USSR, homosexuality in Russia has been legal and subject to a limited range of protections, as well as while not popular, generally tolerated. Today, Russia is actively rolling back legal protects for gay people, to the point that even holding hands in public or discussing a same-sex partner in public could be illegal.

What's so important about that detail is that it challenges the perception in the West, that acceptance and rights for LGBT people is a directional path from not accepting ---> accepting.

The fact that Russia is actively moving in the other direction is significant, and far scarier to those of us living in places where our rights are currently protected, than are the places where our LGBT siblings have never had any real taste of equality.

Lastly, I think it needs to be said that in the US we see Russians as "white." There's an incredibly disturbing, but undeniable tendency within segments of our community to see institutionalized anti-gay violence and legislation as something done by "brown" nations, with all sorts of culturally ingrained racism about "savage" behavior woven in. It's not that uncommon I'm afraid, to hear people dismiss the plight of LGBT people in places such as Uganda for instance, with an off-hand "well what do you expect from Africa?" I personally believe this plays a large role in why the situation in Russia, or the anti-equality protests in France, garner so much more media attention.

None of this should be construed to mean that what is happening in Russia isn't both important and awful. Moreover, it offers an opportunity, particularly as the Olympics draw closer, to see the growing awareness of the plight of LGBT in Russia pivot to a broader awareness and activism against repression and violence against LGBT people elsewhere in the world.

But given the unique nature of what is happening in Russia, expanding the conversation could prove quite difficult.

img src - "Newpaper High Contrast B&W" by Flickr user Jon S used under CC license


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