Russian Anti-Gay Policies ‘Could Kill Its Cities’

Russia has undergone no shortage of bad press in recent months. Its newly adopted anti-gay propaganda hve prompted outrage the world over, and have already put a damper on events such as the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, months or even years in advance. 

Now, The Atlantic is reporting that Lansing, Michigan, is joining the growing list of global municipalities that are loooking to sever ties with their Russian "sister cities", which already includes the likes of Milan, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Reykjavik. Thus, as Russia inists on moving contrary to the global march toward human rights, the consequences could prove to have political and economic impact:

"St. Petersburg was, for hundreds of years, a city that took pride in its relative openness to global culture. When Peter the Great founded the city in 1703, he envisioned it as a "window on the West," a place where the values of the Enlightenment could be explored and celebrated. It was designed and built by the finest talents from around the world.

"Now, St. Petersburg is leading the way backward. Russia and its cities, by pursuing draconian anti-gay policies, are shutting themselves out of a global community where the benefits of an open society are ever more apparent."

Stolichnaya-1280x960It's no secret that international events such as the Olympics and the World Cup have the potential to generate a host of financial benefits for its host city and host nation. This is, of course, why so many cities vie for a chance to host such events. That said, should hosting a global event prove to be the potential source of controversy for the event's governing body, it would almost certainly deter them from coming back to that same city of country in the future. That's also not counting international boycotts of Russian products, which already have large companies such as SPI Group looking for ways to completely sever ties with the anti-gay nation. Let's also not forget the tourism dollars that Russia stands to lose in the future, from both gay tourists as well as those whom support human rights in general.

Finally, as The Atlantic illustrated by presenting the story of journalist and activist Masha Gessen, Russia's anti-gay laws have prompted an exodus of gay citizens, as well as their advocates. This only exacerbates the country's appartent desire "to shut down intellectually," and cost the country potentially vital intellectual capital. Thus, while the short term costs of losing "sister city" partnerships may be small, in the words of The Atlantic, "They are losing their future."


  1. m says

    maybe its all part of putin’s plan to recreate the soviet union. russia wasn’t a tourist destination until recently anyhow so who wants to go there anyway. again they’ll suffer a brain drain because gays will be seeking asylum in the west. wouldn’t doubt if the russian orthodox church is involved.

  2. AriesMatt says

    @M, the church is most definitely involved. I’ve read several articles about how it is behind these laws.

    I really hope Russia sees the negative impacts of this legislation quickly so that they can possible reconsider. Otherwise, they (those who support the anti-gay laws and government) will hopefully get what they deserve. I just feel badly for all the LGBT Russians who aren’t able to leave the country for asylum.

  3. northalabama says

    of course the russian orthodox church is involved. hasn’t the church lead the way in anti-gay bigotry for thousands of years, working it’s way into politics every possible opportunity?

    i partly disagree with the article, though. they aren’t losing anything, they willfully threw it away, without realization of the cultural and financial impact for years to come. but that’s ok, they’ll have more time for prayer.

  4. Steve Talbert says

    I think Africa is still worse.

    I’ve heard the arguments that real change and improvement will only come by being engaged, but at some point one has to look at the cost benefit. Not everyone can have a good life, and life is not fair.

    It’s difficult when religion is involved because there is nit middle ground. They have to admit they are wrong and change. Good luck with that when they think it means eternal damnation or salvation.

  5. David From Canada says

    Russia is bound and determined to do things the long, hard way.
    As the saying goes: If you see someone intent on hanging themselves, don’t get in their way.

  6. Will says

    The image of this country is disgusting and the back and forth BS in response to enforcement (LBGT “propanganda law”), vs non enforcement tells me Putin is running this country by the seat of his little pants.

    The Olympics are already tainted by it and will be a disaster for his and his country’s “image”. Ugh.

    Boycott anything Russian. This country is full of hate.

  7. andrew says

    “Its newly adopted anti gay propaganda has prompted OUTRAGE THE WORLD OVER”. You mean the European and American world. I think most of the people of Africa, a great many of the people of Asia and ALL of the Backward Muslim world probably think that the Russians are too lenient in their treatment of LGBT people.

  8. m says

    frightening to think of how anyone arrested will be treated. doubtful the russian system of justice will be fair in even applying these laws as disgusting as they are to begin with. imagining lots of beatings and worse that will never see the light of day. it might be enough to shut up even the most dedicated and determined.

  9. Profe Sancho Panza says

    My guess on the backroom church/state politics: the Russian Orthodox patriarchs think they’re using Putin and Putin thinks he’s using them. I suspect the latter is more true.

  10. Jay says

    The “Global March” is not their global march. Russia will not save itself via reactionary American gays. What is so precious to protect?

  11. Kev C says

    Btw, the distinctive soviet art style, the bold, chiseled and macho looking art of the CCCP, was very much grounded in a homophobic aesthetic, ie, we are not weak and effeminate but manly men asserting our manliness. Like Putin.

  12. Fidobarks says

    a group of 45 of us were going to russia but we have all cancelled the trip.
    they can go screw themselves.
    BOYCOTT !!!

  13. Am-Expat says

    This article is wrong on many fronts but that is expected based on citing news reports that are not coming from any regular journalists. I am an American living in Russia for the last 10 years. There is no mass exodus, if anything there has been a net inflow for a number of years. The anti propaganda law was pushed by the church which is feeling threatened by new generations who are rejecting organized religion. The appeal to shore up its base of highly conservative old voters who have been swinging towards the Communist Party(last election, they received 20% of the vote, second only to Putin’s party with 68%.).
    A few facts should be learned, the law is patterned after a child protection law passed by Thatcher and still on the books in England, and one in Switzerland. It addresses specific promotion of male gay sex to children. There has already been a law that addresses straight sex promotion to children. Both were products of politicians trying to gin up flagging support, just like in the US where the far right has appealed to the same sort of laws to cement support from the fundamentalist churches in the US.
    Contrary to misunderstanding in the west, sex between males was made legal by federal statutes in 1992, 11 years before a court ruled the same in the US. The difference is no one is trying to overturn that law in Russia. It is accepted by adults that what people do is up to the individual. There is no law restricting gay sex, there never was one regarding female-female sex. No one has been arrested or charged under this law, life goes on as normal. The clubs and cafes have not been harassed, they are thriving.
    There have been arrests in non-permit demonstrations however, as with other protest topics which do not apply for a permit or are denied.
    Generally, citizens here do not realize there is such a political controversy, they see it in the news but just assume it is a disinformation campaign since they have been the brunt of so many such campaigns in the past.
    You should find out first hand what is going on before assuming that a law is or isn’t what is reported to be by western press. Note that no western news organization has reporters here, unlike during the Soviet era when all had full time offices.
    Overall, compared to the US where there are thousands of religion based laws related to all human behavior, there is a noted lack of behavior laws in Russia. The country is only 22 years old so they have not passed many laws. For many, they cite more personal freedom than in the US, where people have just grown up with such intrusion and assume it is normal.
    Sure Russia has a ways to go but it has made remarkable progress in 22 years compared to most countries, including the US which still can’t institute a law or amendment granting equal rights to women or banning the death penalty, which Russia did both in its constitution from day one.

  14. jjose712 says

    andrew: Yes, but the fact is european and north america reaction what really matters, because those are the countries that can damage Russia’s economy.
    Those are the countries that buy russia’s product, the ones that send them tourist.
    Africa right now is aconomicaly irrelevant, and the african countries with decent economies like South africa, are far more modern than Russia right now.

    And i don’t get the african comparision, Russia is not a third world country, is a first one economy. It’s an european country, you expect something better from Russia than from Uganda or Sudan

  15. billmiller says

    Just as in AfriKKKa the ‘church’ is the reason for the laws. Backward Russia is going to have the olympics, thanks to the weak kneed IOC, but people can watch on TV, they do not need to fill the stands, hotels, and restauramnts in Russia. Just stay home!

  16. Rob says

    I see this as a state shuddering in the last throes of post communism- a newly rekindled church out of the shadows flexing its muscle, but stuck in the 1950’s.

    Also, gay the new Jew. We are the scapegoat for social problems, the whipping boy for fear about an uncertain future. Look at what’s being said in leftist Venezuela. It’s all the same blame that was hurled on Jews in Germany during a time of social unrest. We serve a purpose to political demagogues and, if we are forbidden from speaking up, then the abuse can just keep on coming.

    Russia can’t be part of the community of nations for some things and not others. They are going to have to sign up for the whole program, or none of it, and it’s up to us to show them how that’s going to work. To your battle stations, fellow homos!

  17. 99% says

    In this country, the Evangelicals have embraced this level of fevered hatred of gays for as long as I can recall. They have pushed it into their political agenda and have been losing ever since. I am waiting for the right-wing nuts to start spouting off “Well, Russia is evicting or killing the gays; why can’t we?” while talking about how socialist our country has become…

  18. EJC says

    Our neighbors to the north have an open door policy towards any gay Russians that might consider leaving that fun loving country. Maybe our immigration system might consider the same policy!

  19. Koskalaka Maricón says

    Thank you for this post, RJ. I agree that with the recent homophobic laws passed (propaganda, adoption and parentage) and the backing of those laws by the Russian Orthodox Church, Mother Russia willfully forsakes both its rich past and its potential future prosperity. SMH!

  20. Brian1 says

    I don’t agree with everything Am-Expat says about Russia, but I still appreciate an informed point of view. I’ve said much of what he said a couple of times and got slammed hard for it, but I think the difference is being an expat. I’m an American living overseas for most of my life (only a few months in Russia a long time ago), and my outlook on just about everything is dramatically different from domestic Americans. The anti-propaganda law is a nasty piece of legislation but it’s little understood in the US. And it needs to be put in context; there are lots of nasty anti gay laws all over the world, and really vile attacks almost everywhere. I do think Russians are more prone to violent attacks against gays and other minorities, a very unpleasant part of the culture.

    As I said last time I got attacked for this, we should be putting maximum pressure on Russia, because the country is uniquely exposed due to the olympics. But there are lots of other countries who are at least as worthy of our protests and more. Also, many of you are throwing Russia into the same camp as African countries and saying “money talks” in support of a boycott etc. While it does talk a bit in Africa (but keep in mind US foreign aid is much less than most commenters here think it is) it really doesn’t in Russia. Tourism, vodka and other things you could conceivably boycott are a tiny portion of Russian wealth. It’s all about oil and gas, and there’s just no way to boycott them. It’s the same problem we’d face trying to boycott repressive middle eastern regimes; they’re just not vulnerable. That’s why the olympics is a unique opportunity. It’s not about the money going to Russia (the Sochi olympics is a giant money drain with or without a boycott), but the potential loss of pride and prestige.

  21. says

    @AM-EXPAT: your rose-colored-glasses assessment of the current Russia is a typically ex-pat POV and doesn’t square with the assessment of the Russians I know living in Russia. But most of them have been living there long enough (i.e. long before the demise of the USSR) to understand the propaganda machine, and they see what’s currently happening in Russia as backwards and scary. (As does Masha Gessen, who is mentioned in the post above and literally wrote the book on Putin; she’s not making it up.) Of course many citizens don’t really understand what’s going on–why would they when there is virtually no free press? And life for LGBT Russians is getting more and more restricted, unless you believe there is no more to gay life than going to clubs, clubs which don’t exist in most of the country.

    You’re certainly right that the western media isn’t getting everything right and that the propaganda law (and other crackdowns) is an effort to prop up Putin’s authority.

    As for the boycott, the pros and cons of which are certainly debatable, it’s not really about the money, and no thinking person believes it is. It’s about bringing attention to the situation, which it has done. Perhaps not so much within Russia, but when you have a controlled press, that is to be expected.

  22. says

    @AM-EXPAT: Ernie’s right. If anything is wrong on so many fronts, it’s your post. First of all, the law was not pushed by the church. It was pushed by politicians who used the church as cover. Russians may claim to be Orthodox, but they rarely go to church and don’t really know much about it. But if the politicians (who work hand in hand with the Patriarch, for reasons of power, not religion) tell them the church approves of something, they believe it.

    I was in Russia in May of 1993 (not 1992) when the anti-sodomy law was repealed. It was a euphoric time for LGBT people. The problem with Russia now is that it is going backwards. Freedoms that people had — to publish, to speak, to demonstrate — are being taken away.

    And you are wrong that nobody has tried to “overturn that law” — wrong expression, since the law, Paragraph 121, was overturned. Now they would have to reinstate a law against sodomy, and several politicians in the Duma have proposed exactly that. Perhaps you missed this?

    Perhaps you should listen to Echo-Moskvy or Dozhd TV? Or perhaps you are somewhere in the provinces and don’t read Russian and rely on your Russian friends who are average (not well connected, not in Moscow) and get all their news through state-controlled companies? Have you heard of Pussy Riot? Navalny? the May 6 protesters who were arrested?

    You are wrong that no one has been charged on the law. How about the Dutch tourists?

    And mostly you are wrong that the law is the same as the one against pedophilia or advertising straight sex to minors. Have you not read the part of the law that criminalizes “any information that creates the false impression of the equivalence of non-traditional relationships with traditional relationships”? That part is not in the anti-straight-sex part, unless it says “any information that creates the impression that straight sex is straight sex.”

    Yes we used to have sodomy laws in the US until 2003. BUT WE OVERTURNED THEM. Yes, Britain used to have Section 28. BUTH THEY OVERTURNED IT. Russia is, on the contrary, introducing such laws. And politicians are fanning the fires of homophobia to shore up Putin’s popularity, which is flagging with anyone with a brain in the country. Populist appeal to the lowest common denominator, whom you are apparently happy to join.

  23. KEVIN says

    The best thing we can do to help is to kill brand Russia. The fact that russian officials feel the need to respond means we must be doing something right.

  24. yin-yang says

    I think Africa is still worse. – Steve Talbert

    …at least Kadaga is reluctant in signing that ‘kill the gays’ bill & Lively could face considerable punishment for his influence on that bill. While the Russian government has been silent on the crimes against it’s gay citizens, more or less stating that there is nothing of the sorts happening, when it’s obvious they know, since they’re the ones creating laws that enables it.

  25. andrew says

    @JJOSE712: The reason I mentioned that most of Africa, Asia and all of the Muslim world probably view Russian anti-gay laws as too liberal is because they probably do. However the Towleroad headline stated that the Russian anti-gay laws had prompted “OUTRAGE THE WORLD OVER”. That is clearly not true. I am curious as to why you stated that you expect something better from Russia than Uganda or Sudan.

  26. emjayay says

    Brian1 and KevinVT: Great posts.

    And yes, the outrage is no doubt not all over. Just in all the modern countries.

  27. Koskalaka Maricón says

    It’s a good start, with some cities disowning sister city status, boycotting Russian products (like Russian-made vodkas), other planned sporting events re-considering Russian venues, etc., but I strongly support a boycott of the products of all companies (P&G, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Sony, Ford, and others) who hypocritically have great HRC standing in the USA, but, because they’re doing business in Russia (spending and making money there) and, thus, giving their tacit support and complicity for such a hostile and hateful environment. Hit them all directly and indirectly where it hurts the most: MONEY! (insert the song “Money” from the movie musical “Cabaret,” here)