In response to Russia's new anti-gay propaganda law, both Los Angeles and Chicago have been urged by LGBT supporters to drop their sister cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow respectively.
Efforts to sever LA's ties to St. Petersburg have been ongoing for quite some time. Back in February, Los Angeles City Council introduced a resolution that would have severed the city's symbolic relationship with Russia, Frontiers LA reports:
"The passing of this resolution sends a strong message that the city will not tolerate discrimination against our LGBT brothers and sisters in a sister city relationship,' openly gay City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl said in introducing his resolution on Feb. 12. 'We must stand together and continue to fight for our basic civil and human rights for all human beings on this earth."
Left unsaid in City Hall that day was the possibility - albeit perhaps a remote possibility - that the severing or even suspension of ties to St. Petersburg by the City of Los Angeles would send a resounding message of support for LGBT human rights from the ninth most economically powerful city in the world that other cities could use as cover to also sever ties.
While the resolution unfortunately failed to move out of committee in April, activists hope the new media attention being brought to the issue will help reignite the campaign. Additionally, a Change.org petition asking L.A. to sever ties with St. Petersburg has gathered over 2,000 signatures.
Meanwhile, Equality Illinois has called on Chicago to end its relationship with Moscow.
From the statement:
"As the state's oldest and largest advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Illinoisans, we believe that it cannot be business as usual in Illinois' relations with Russia until that country's oppressive laws are reversed and gays are not targeted for oppression," said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois.
"From many small but meaningful steps, a national and then an international consensus will grow and ultimately, we believe, force Russia to change its behavior toward its gay citizens and visitors," Cherkasov said.
Two New York based LGBT groups will be protesting the Russian consulate tomorrow, according to a joint press release. One group, RUSA LGBT, is an organization for Russian-speaking members of the community, and has reportedly welcomed "many LGBT asylum seekers from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus who fled the abuse and mistreatment in their homelands" into the United States. The other, Queer Nation, identifies itself as "committed to direct action to end homophobia and anti-LGBT violence". Both will be carrying signs as well as dumping Russian vodka in the gutters to protest recent atrocities committed against LGBT citizens and foreigners in Russia. Business owners participating in the current Russian vodka boycott will also be on hand to express their solidarity to the cause.
According to the release, the protesters' demands are as follows:
"1) The Russian government repeal the “anti-gay propaganda” law before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
"2) A boycott of all Russian products, including Russian vodka. We are calling for all New Yorkers to stop ordering and purchasing Russian made products and demand that their bars and restaurants stop serving Russian products, including Russian vodka.
"3) A boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics, with a suggestion to move the 2014 Games to Vancouver, Canada.
"4) Corporate sponsors of the Sochi Olympics withdraw their sponsorship of the Games. Olympic sponsors include: Coca-Cola, Omega Watches, VISA, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, and Panasonic."
The group claims to also have "the support of a wide range of LGBT activists and organizations in Russia, the United States and around the globe." While no other groups have explicitly expressed their support of this protest just yet, it does come as one of many demonstrations taking place recently to protest Russia and its various human rights violations.
You can read the full release by clicking the following link ---> (Download QN_RUSA_Joint_Release.)
The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice have determined that trans students are protected by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law that bans sex discrimination. FoxNews.com writer Michael Roppolo decided to "rip" the DOJ for making bathroom rights its "latest cause," focusing on a ninth-grade trans student in Arcadia, CA.
In addition to refusing to identify the transgender student by the proper pronoun (the student is female-to-male, and thus should be reffered to as "he", not "she" as Roppolo insists on doing), he bolsters his argument by citing hate groups, including Randy Thomasson of Save California and Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition, both of which SLPC-certified hate groups in California. He also quoted Bob Tyler, attorney for the Christian law firm Advocates for Faith & Freedom, and Steve Johnson, president of Arcadia Republicans.
Equality Matters sums up the toilet-fixated article best, calling it "a story framed by hyperbolic and medically ignorant transphobic arguments."
I attended a professional/social networking event recently where, after listening to one gentleman tell his friend about the "awesomeness of Kathy Perry" (Who's Kathy Perry, I asked? "The pop star, of course," he said with all the cocky self-assuredness of Anthony Weiner), I decided to change the subject.
"I'd like to know what we all think about the vodka boycott?"
As Towleroad has been reporting, the combination of draconian anti-gay laws in Russia, roving bands of gay hating pogroms (a term used for the roving bands of anti-Semitic attackers in Russian history), and the upcoming Winter Olympics in the otherwise pleasant resort town of Sochi, Russia, has caused many in the American gay community to issue calls for the United States to drop out of the Games, on-the-ground activism, and/or vodka boycotts.
The last one got me thinking: Is a boycott of alcohol (and alcohol produced by a company not owned by Russia, at that) the best focus of our community's energy?
This led to what I think is the most important question: How do we define "best"? Is our goal an end to anti-gay hate in Russia? Better understanding and acceptance of LGBT persons? Safety for openly gay athletes at the Olympic Games? What are we trying to achieve?
For Dan Savage, the Stoli boycott would "show solidarity" and "draw international attention" to the persecution of LGBT Russians. That's it? That's all he wants? Scott Shackford, the needlessly condescending writer on gay issues over at the libertarian Reason.com, thinks the boycott is misguided, but can't offer any alternative beyond his general dislike of all things coming out of the mainline gay movement these days. Michelangelo Signorile has some advice: boycott a whole slew of companies, from Proctor & Gamble to Holiday Inn, because these companies do business with Russia and have influence here in the United States.
The problem with all these ideas is that they are haphazardly approaching a problem without a clear idea of the goal they want to achieve. None of these will help LGBT Russians; some may hurt. A Stoli boycott is a drop in the bucket, harmless to Putin, to his nationalist allies, and to anyone who could possibly influence them. Mr. Signorile's insightful idea is focused here at home, hoping that the United States can ultimately help things change in Russia. But will a hoped-for, but unlikely drop in Proctor & Gamble's profit margin push President Obama to make more than statement of concern to Mr. Putin.
If we want to achieve all these noble and important goals -- helping LGBT Russians, pushing the United States and others to act -- then it seems to me that we can only do one thing: Go to the Olympic Games, have our openly gay and our supportive athletes make physical and verbal statements of LGBT support, and embarrass and hurt Mr. Putin's standing among his people. Let's find Putin's Jesse Owens rather than let Putin laugh at us from afar. Let's hurt Mr. Putin, not the independent owner of a vodka company.
AFTER THE JUMP, I consider the options and show how we can focus and the get the most out of our activism.
The question we have to ask ourselves is this: What are we trying to achieve? Once we know that, we can tailor our actions to it.
Showing solidarity is great, but it seems limited. We can do that a thousand different ways. It also seems more about us than the actual victims of Putin's hate.
Drawing international attention is also fine, but completely ineffective against a maniacally self-aggrandizing man like Mr. Putin, running a declining former empire that is self-conscious of its declining standard of living and place in the world. If anything, united international opinion against him would make him stronger and galvanize the virulent nationalist streak running across the Ural Mountains.
Trying to get policy changed on this side of the world seems more attractive, but, again, wildly ineffective against a man so far immune to international pressure.
These ideas aren't bad. They simply smack of intellectual complacency and well-meaning, yet self-centered indignation. They take old-line street activist tactics and try to fit them into new problems.
Stolichnaya Vodka is neither owned by the Russian government nor Mr. Putin. It does employ some Russian citizens. It is run by a very rich man who has shown support for the LGBT community before. Despite this, Mr. Savage thinks a boycott on Stoli vodka would send a message and galvanize the international community. He has chosen a convenient target, but like many convenient targets, they are not the right ones.
Focusing on Stoli vodka is not only ill-conceived, but may play right into Mr. Putin's hands. It sends the message that the gay community can't tell the difference between a company that makes its vodka in Latvia and a company that is owned by the Russian government. What's more, it gives Mr. Putin ammunition to mischaracterize our community and further his anti-gay propaganda to this people -- "Look what they're concerned about. Alcohol, their bars, their parties". You can just imagine the rhetoric.
The problem, as Russian scholars will tell you, is that Mr. Putin represents a strong nationalist and xenophobic streak in his country. He has tapped into the fear his ordinary citizens have that Russia is in decline. To some extent, people like Michelle Bachmann and the National Rifle Association do that here: they're paranoid, xenophobic, and scared. And they get stronger when they feel it is them against the world. Gang up on them and they grow, like a gym rat on steroids. You don't fight a person or movement like that by building international pressure and raising awareness. Instead, you have to undermine his power base from within and save the LGBT lives he's endangering.
How can we do that? I think we have three options:
1. We could boycott the Olympic Games entirely, punishing the Russian economy and highlighting the terror that Mr. Putin is executing on his people as he inches that country ever closer to autocracy. The athletes who have trained for their moment in the Sochi sun would be collateral damage, victims in a greater war. In fact, I spoke with one former Olympic alternate who told me that he would, though with great heartache, give up the "luxury" of competing if it meant saving a defenseless LGBT Russian's life.
But if you think about great protests in Olympic history, what do you remember? Jesse Owens showed up and embarrassed Adolf Hitler in 1936. Tommie Smith and John Carlos showed up and lifted their fists in protest of racial inequality and human rights abuses in the so-called "Black Power" protest of 1968. In 1980 and 1984, the United States and the Soviet Union boycotted each other's games. And we all know that nothing really became of that other than broken dreams.
2. We can do what Israel did to Russian Jews before and after the fall of the Soviet Union: airlift them to safety in Israel. Currently, there is no government willing to do that, no private billionaire willing to fund it, and the plan would be susceptible to the response that the way to deal with Mr. Putin isn't to run, but to stand and fight. The last argument smacks of ill-conceived detachment: try telling "stand and fight" to the innocent gay kid being beaten by a band of neo-Nazis.
It would be great if we could find a government-owned Russian company to boycott, but that country's economy is so focused on mining natural resources that it's hard to find something viable. But the alternative is not to boycott other things just because a boycott seems right. Better to send our athletes to Sochi and not only embarrass Mr. Putin like Jesse Owens embarrassed Hitler but also show him who we really are.
3. Law can play a role. We should start advertising the fact that LGBT Russians should come to the United States and seek asylum. We have video evidence that being gay in Russia is very nearly a death sentence or, at least, a sentence of torture. When a country grants asylum to the citizens of another country, the protector nation is using its law for good, to actually protect and save lives. My Olympian friend had it right. Our goal should be to save lives. Our community leaders calling for boycotts just don't think big enough.
Follow me on Twitter: @ariezrawaldman
Ari Ezra Waldman is the Associate Director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy and a professor at New York Law School and is concurrently getting his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. Ari writes weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues.
With marriage equality in the United Kingdom now law, the Church of England has found itself in a bit of a pickle in terms of how to address the UK's changing attitude on homosexuality. While the Church has taken positive steps recently, such as its new campaign to combat homophobic bullying in schools across the country, the official doctrine of classifying homosexuality as sin remains firmly in place.
Justin Welby (pictured right), the Archbishop of Canterbury and senior bishop in the Church of England, says that despite the Church's opposition to marriage equality being 'utterly overwhelmed' by vocal supporters, Christian views on same-sex relations should not change. Pink News reports:
"Addressing over 6,000 people at [a Church of England] conference, he said it would be 'foolish' to ignore the 'revolution' of same-sex marriage coming into law in England and Wales.
"He acknowledged that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, which has now received Royal Assent, had support from all parties, but said that was not enough for Christians to change from their 'obedience to God.'
"Archbishop Welby voted against equal marriage in the House of Lords, and had said he could hear the 'roar of revolution' on listening to debate around the issue.
"The Church of England had opposed the same-sex marriage bill until June, when it said that it accepted that there was a clear majority in Parliament to introduce same-sex marriage and that it would therefore end its opposition to changing the law."
Last Saturday, The Baton Rouge Advocate reported that the East Baton Rouge sheriff’s office had arrested over a dozen men since 2011 under a law forbidding "unnatural carnal copulation." In each arrest, undercover cops met men in the park, propositioned them and then arrested the men once they went somewhere private for sex.
Laws criminalizing consensual sex between same-sex partners became unconstitutional in the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas. But even after the initial news report of the arrests, the office of East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux (pictured) released two (now deleted) Facebook statements explaining that it never set out "to target or embarrass any part of our law-abiding community,” and that his office would seek to remove the law from the books and find "alternative ways to deter sexual and lewd activity from our parks,” even though no lewd activities had actually taken place.
The District Attorney refused to prosecute any of the arrested men for their offenses (citing a lack of evidence that any crime had actually taken place). Subsequently, the Sheriff's initial claim that he had no idea of the law's unconstituionality got him ridiculed by Baton Rouge city councilman John Delgado:
“Does he know that slavery is no longer around?” Delgado asked rhetorically. “Does he know that we have cars and no longer horse and buggies?”
The Sheriff's office has since apologized:
On Monday, Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux III issued a statement apologizing “to anyone that was unintentionally harmed or offended by the actions of our investigations.” The sheriff said that he had instructed his employees to no longer use “this unconstitutional law,” and that he was conducting “a comprehensive evaluation of undercover operations made by our deputies and will make changes to ensure better supervision, training and guidance.”
The story adds:
In each of the known cases in Baton Rouge, the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute, citing a lack of evidence that a crime, like prostitution, had taken place. Gay rights advocates and at least one public official have publicly questioned why sheriff’s deputies continued to make such arrests when the district attorney’s office had made it clear that such actions were not criminal.
“We need to find out when the sheriff was first informed that the D.A.’s office would not prosecute people under this anti-sodomy law because it’s unconstitutional,” said John Delgado, a Baton Rouge city councilman...
While Mr. Delgado said those arrested had a strong case for a civil suit, Mr. [Bruce] Parker (head of Equality Louisiana) said some of them were not openly gay when they were arrested and were unlikely to want further publicity.
“Many of their lives were dramatically ruined because of this,” he said.
Think Progress points out that 14 U.S. states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books despite their unconstitutionality.