Let my start this week’s award with a sincere thank-you to my friend Jay, a fierce supporter of LGBT rights, for pointing out these two powerful responses to a horrific situation. Russia is not known as a particularly friendly nation toward the LGBT community. In fact, it is more than just hostile. Years of oppression and occasional violent outbreaks have escalated in recent years. As more nations adopt marriage equality and LGBT rights are promoted by the United Nations, internal pressure has caused a real backlash, including lethal violence against gay rights activists and pride participants. This slideshow (which features some graphic results of violence) is a harrowing review of recent treatment of the Russian LGBT community.
Rather than provide courageous leadership to prevent this atmosphere, President Putin has encouraged and signed virulently homophobic legislation including an adoption ban and a “gay propaganda” law that is so vague it makes Tennessee’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill look like a coming out speech. My, who knew that President Putin seems to be obsessed with us gays. I’m a little scared.
Award winning actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein and journalist and provocateur Dan Savage have taken up the fight to demand international pressure on Russia and its leaders. With the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the opportunity to make a strong statement is better than ever.
Fierstein penned a powerful Op-Ed for the New York Times outlining Putin’s nasty legislative ways. He rightly points out that a gay athlete simply being out could result in arrest under the new propaganda law. Looking at the larger picture with his distinctive critical eye, he calls out the President and deftly demonstrates where this trend will lead.
Historically this kind of scapegoating is used by politicians to solidify their bases and draw attention away from their failing policies, and no doubt this is what’s happening in Russia. Counting on the natural backlash against the success of marriage equality around the world and recruiting support from conservative religious organizations, Mr. Putin has sallied forth into this battle, figuring that the only opposition he will face will come from the left, his favorite boogeyman. Mr. Putin’s campaign against lesbian, gay and bisexual people is one of distraction, a strategy of demonizing a minority for political gain taken straight from the Nazi playbook. Can we allow this war against human rights to go unanswered? Although Mr. Putin may think he can control his creation, history proves he cannot: his condemnations are permission to commit violence against gays and lesbians.
Savage, citing Fierstein, demands attention and action as well. He wrote a nice piece for Slog promoting a boycott of Russian vodka. This strong, simple statement is something that millions can participate in and requires none of the business or political leverage that other trading blocks might.
That one of the most powerful nations in the world does nothing to protect its LGBT citizens is appalling. That its president actively works against them is even worse. International attention and pressure are critical, and the United States should lead the way. Thank you Harvey Fierstein and Dan Savage for leading the charge. President Putin is carving his legacy and it looks so very similar to that of Uncle Joe Stalin and Hitler. Some may remember that Hitler said Germany would not enforce the genocide of the Jews and of Gays for the three weeks during the 1936 Olympics. Now Putin has said Russia will not enforce the bloodbath of persecuting the LGBT community during the 2014 Olympics. How sad to see history repeating itself.