The city council of Seattle, Washington has a proud history of social advocacy, passing resolutions backing marriage equality in Washington State, denouncing apartheid in South Africa and the oppressive regime in Burma, supporting a statewide GMO labeling initiative, and calling for an end to the Iraq war.
But a resolution condemning Russia's barbaric crackdown on its LGBT citizens -- a major human rights issue that's received nonstop media attention and been addressed by pop stars, presidents, and tens of thousands of concerned citizens around the world?
Nope, the Seattle City Council isn't willing to do that. Why not? Because City Council president Sally J. Clark (right), an out lesbian, refuses to support it.
It all boils down to city politics.
According to Dan Savage, Seattle's City Council treats mayor Mike McGinn in much the same way that House Republicans treat President Obama: with a whole lot of opportunistic obstruction and sanctimonious finger-pointing. Dan writes:
"For four years members of the Seattle City Council have been playing this game: refuse to work with the mayor then turn around condemn the mayor for not getting anything done. When people notice what they're up to and attempt to draw attention to the game they're playing--when angry posts like this go up--accuse the mayor of being 'divisive.'"
So when Mayor McGinn's people contacted City Council president Sally Clark's people asking her to support a resolution condemning the anti-LGBT laws in Russia, Clark refused. Dan says of Clark:
"She is so blinded by her dislike for the mayor... that she couldn't bring herself work with the mayor for two minutes on a joint resolution 'expressing the City of Seattle's official position regarding anti-LGBT laws in Russia.' Because cooperating with the mayor on something, on anything, would contradict the 'divisive' meme that Clark pushes at every opportunity."
So instead of holding her nose and cooperating -- and sending a message of solidarity to the Russian LGBTs who are being bullied, beaten, raped, and murdered -- Clark decided to block the resolution. Because duh, giving the one-finger salute to Mayor McGinn is waaaaay more important than speaking out in the face of evil.
A city council spokeswoman said Clark refused to cooperate because she considered the human rights of LGBTs in Russia "off-topic" because it does not "directly relate to city work."
Incidentally, Sally Clark was an early endorser of State Senator Ed Murray, Mayor McGinn's opponent in the upcoming fall mayoral elections. But even Murray thinks she's gone too far: "I disagree with her," he told The Stranger. "I would want her to do the resolution."
I know what some of you are thinking: does this even matter? How much of an impact could a symbolic resolution in an American city council 5,000 miles away from Moscow possibly have for the Russian LGBT community? Well as it turns out, much more than you'd think.
Dan spoke today via Skype with Masha Gessen, a critically acclaimed Russian journalist, author, and lesbian activist living in Moscow who's been speaking out for months against Russia's barbaric anti-LGBT laws. Gessen was aghast that a fellow LGBT person could act so cold-heartedly towards her LGBT siblings on the other side of the world.
"That's insane. And it is a betrayal," she said.
Gessen (right) pointed out that as one of only five cities in the United States with a Russian consulate, Seattle is a "city of reference" for the Russian embassy.
"The Russian embassy cares about what happens in Seattle. This is the reason the international campaign is so important. [The Putin regime] thought this was the one minority group they could attack and get away with it. The international reaction over the last few months has taken them by surprise...
"[A resolution condemning Russia's anti-LGBT crackdown] is the kind of thing that gets coverage [in Russia]. So say you're a scared nineteen year old gay boy in Yaroslavl and you hear about this on your radio. It will give you a little bit of hope. You realize that you are not alone."
And according to Gessen, the proposed resolution also has the potential to help make LGBT Russians just a little bit safer. "[People] who stick out are a little less likely to be objects of violence as long as the people who might attack or kill us know that doing so will carry a diplomatic price," she said. "Every little bit helps."
Gessen used her last words in the interview to admonish Sally Clark for her betrayal of the Russian LGBT community:
"You may think that this is useless but actually it matters to us. And some will argue that it has few practical consequences. But solidarity has it's own value and denying LGBT people here solidarity when you yourself are gay is kind of creepy and awful."
Indeed. Shame on Sally Clark for choosing to sit on the sidelines while LGBT Russians fear for their lives.
I can't think of anything more heartless.
Contact Sally J. Clark: firstname.lastname@example.org; 206-684-8802