Russian LGBT groups warn of “impending tragedy” as Olympics approach & violence increases

A coalition of respected lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups in Russia are warning of an “impending tragedy” as violence against gay and trans people has significantly increased in that country, while government security forces look the other way, or some allege, are in cahoots with the attackers. (See full statement below.)

With less than one year to go before Russia hosts the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Putin regime seems to be doing everything it can to squash any and all political dissent at home, in the great tradition of his Soviet forbears.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in his KGB days, courtesy of the President of the Russian Federation Web site.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in his KGB days, courtesy of the President of the Russian Federation Web site.

Today’s warning from Russian LGBT groups comes on the heels of Russia adopting one of the most draconian anti-gay/anti-trans laws in existence. The new law bans gay “propaganda,” but in practice defines “propaganda” as any statement, oral or otherwise, that is pro-gay.

What that means in practice is that pro-gay words are now illegal in Russia.

Wearing the rainbow flag is illegal (someone was arrested a while back for wearing rainbow suspenders).

Two gay people holding hands in public is now illegal.

Commenting on a public bus to a friend about anything gay-related, that doesn’t suggest that gay is bad, is now illegal.

One could even interpret a landlord renting an apartment to a gay couple, or a bakery selling a wedding cake to a gay couple, as pro-gay propaganda.

MOSCOW - MAY 28: Russian police detain a gay rights activist during an attempt to hold the unauthorized gay pride parade on May 28, 2011 in Moscow, Russia. (kojoku / Shutterstock.com)

MOSCOW – MAY 28: Russian police detain a gay rights activist during an attempt to hold the unauthorized gay pride parade on May 28, 2011 in Moscow, Russia. (kojoku / Shutterstock.com)

But it gets worse.  The new anti-gay law has a specific provision giving Russian security forces the right to detain foreign gay and trans people, and people who support anyone gay or trans, for up to 14 days, before they’re deported.  How many gay people, or pro-gay people, attending the Sochi Winter Olympics next February, 2014 are going to be detained in solitary confinement for two weeks because the Russian authorities don’t like minorities?

And just as importantly, what does the International Olympic Committee plan to do about this clear threat to gay and gay-friendly athletes and Olympic guests?  The Russians have made clear that there had better not be anything pro-gay about the Sochi Olympics, going so far as to ban the proposed Pride House that would have housed gay athletes.

Russian police attack gay protesters outside the State Duma today. (Video by Dmitry Zykov)

Russian police attack gay protesters outside the State Duma today. (Video by Dmitry Zykov)

The IOC’s response to the clear violation of the Olympic charter was pathetic at best.  This led Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s top two human rights watchdogs, to pen a rather sharp letter to the IOC about the growing anti-lgbt problem in Russia.

Russia is quickly descending into its old Soviet ways.  And this time, gay and trans people are the latest flavor of dissidents that the Russian government plans to stamp out.

Anyone planning to attend the Sochi Olympics should be concerned about the message they’re sending the increasingly authoritarian neo-Soviet government in Moscow.  And they might just not worry about whether they’re going to get their head bashed in as well.

Russian anti-gay thugs kick an LGBT rights activist. (Photo by Ilya Varlamov, with permission)

Russian anti-gay thugs kick an LGBT rights activist. (Photo by Ilya Varlamov, with permission)

Here’s the full statement from the Russian LGBT groups:

RUSSIAN LGBT NETWORK
LGBT ORGANIZATION COMING OUT (VYHOD)
ALLIANCE OF STRAIGHTS FOR LGBT EQUALITY

JOINT STATEMENT ON THE EVENTS OF THE ST PETERSBURG LGBT PRIDE PARADE

July 2, 2013

By the Russian LGBT Network, LGBT Organization Coming Out (Vyhod), and the Alliance of Straights for LGBT Equality

On June 29, 2013, participants in a peaceful demonstration in support of human rights and equality for people of different sexual orientations and gender identities (the St. Petersburg LGBT Pride Parade) found themselves the subjects of abuse and physical assault at the hands of nationalists.

Having started their attack with vulgar verbal abuse, followers of various nationalist groups soon switched to beating the demonstrators and pelting them with stones and smoke bombs. Police officers at the site failed to act adequately in order to prevent the violence, leaving the demonstration’s participants in the position of having to defend themselves. The demonstrators displayed true courage and strength of spirit in the face of attacks that left many of them with minor or significant injuries. At least seven people were later hospitalized by ambulance.

The attackers planned and coordinated their actions in advance. Among the organizers were groups “Slavyanskaya Sila” (Slavic Power), “Russkaya Probezhka” (Russian Joggers), and others known for their calls for violence against homosexuals, people belonging to “non-Russian’ “ationalities, and antifascists. They justified their actions as acceptable under the new laws banning so-called “homosexual propaganda” (or propaganda of “non-traditional sexual relations”) at the regional and federal levels.

Therefore, the events of June 29 at Marsovo Pole, the site for Saturday’s demonstration, confirmed the apprehensions of many human rights defenders that Russia’s newly-enacted homophobic legislation would spur a growth in violence and incite action from neo-Nazi groups. These events could lead tomorrow to tragic consequences for all of society.

Organizers and participants in the demonstration followed all requirements of the law. Their goals and slogans (observance of civil rights for all, a ban on discrimination, fighting against hate crimes, marriage equality, etc.) fully corresponded to the language and spirit of the Russian Constitution. However, St. Petersburg officials and law-enforcement authorities failed to provide for safety at the event and required its termination under far-fetched pretenses, and many participants were roughly detained. In all, nearly 50 of the demonstration’s participants were arrested and forced to spend between four to six hours at police headquarters. One of the event’s organizers was kept in detention until the morning of June 30. These people’s constitutional rights to the freedom of assembly and expression were grossly violated.

In the view of the reluctance and inability of the government to fulfill its obligations to its citizens, civil organizations and individuals who could not remain indifferent to the current situation have united to defend the safety and human dignity of the victims of violence and tyranny.

Activists from the Russian LGBT Network, the LGBT organization Coming Out (Vyhod), the Alliance of Straights for LGBT Equality, the group Help for the Detainees in St. Petersburg, members of the Public Oversight Commission, the Deputy of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly B. L. Vishnevskiy and many others showed moral support to the detainees, brought them food and water, gathered and distributed information about the situation, and held negotiations with the police. Lawyers of Coming Out and the Russian LGBT Network worked round the clock to provide support to the detainees and the victims of violence who were brought to the hospitals. We are proud of St. Petersburg’s defenders of human rights. Lawyers and psychologists with the LGBT organizations are continuing to provide the participants of the St. Petersburg Gay Pride demonstration the legal and psychological assistance they require. We will absolutely seek justice — that the perpetrators of the attack be held accountable for their actions and that the public authorities’ violation of the people’s rights to freedom of assembly be addressed.

All that has occurred in the last few days has been no isolated or accidental episode. It is the consequence of the tendency towards escalating aggression within far-right groups, which are aware of their impunity to the law and which openly raise the banners of racism, homophobia, and distortion and disregard for the truth. The violence and tyranny that were directed at the participants in the St. Petersburg Gay Pride rally have also demonstrated the growing inability of the government to manage and control these forces. The events of June 29 have proven that only the unity, solidarity, and wisdom of civil society have the power to put a stop to impending tragedy in Russia.

Contacts:
Igor Kochetkov
Russian LGBT Network
www.facebook.com/LGBT.Russia
[email protected]
www.lgbtnet.ru

Polina Andrianova
LGBT organization Coming Out (Vyhod)
www.comingoutspb.ru
+ 7 (904) 609 9706
[email protected]

Natalia Tsymbalova
Alliance of Straights for LGBT Equality, Russia
www.facebook.com/groups/378474945543273
+7 (906) 2517883
[email protected]


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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