Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty interviewed American journalist, columnist and civil rights advocate Dan Savage about the plight of gay and trans people in Russia.
Dan was the most vocal advocate of a Russian vodka boycott, that’s been endorsed by nearly three dozen Russian lgbt leaders in order to focus the media’s, and the public’s, attention on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay crackdown.
I have to say, Dan is one of the most tireless, and selfless, lgbt activists I know. I got to know him when he offered to help on our StopDrLaura.com campaign way back in 2000, and we’ve been friends and colleagues ever since. I don’t know anyone who is as good on television in promoting our message as Dan.
I know some people in the community like to give Dan crap, but that’s sadly a sign of success in politics, and especially it seems in gay politics. He’s one of the most powerful, and effective, advocates that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have fighting for them. And now he’s fighting for our community in Russia as well. They, and we, are lucky to have him.
Dan on the goals of the Russian vodka boycott, and how it’s already worked:
RFE/RL: This summer, you helped launch a boycott of Russian vodka to protest the LGBT crackdown. A growing number of bars in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and Australia are taking part. Some people have criticized the boycott as ineffective, but you’ve defended its success.
Savage: The idea behind a boycott of an iconic product like vodka, a nation’s signature consumer product, is to get people talking, to draw attention to the reason why you called for that boycott. Nobody was talking about what was going on in Russia — what was being done to LGBT people in that country, about these horrifying laws — until we called for this boycott. That is what a boycott is supposed to do. Nobody suggested that boycotting Russian vodka would dethrone President Vladimir Putin, that it would bring Russia to its knees, that it would destroy the Russian economy.
Dan on the importance of straight allies:
FE/RL: A number of straight Russian activists have become supporters of the country’s LGBT movement. Is this a significant development?
Savage: It’s hugely important. And nothing would give the struggle for LGBT civil equality a bigger boost in Russia than straight people taking up the cause. What really changed things for gay people in the United States and the West was gay people coming out, and the hearts and minds of their friends and families and co-workers and neighbors being changed.
It’s hard for someone to believe that gay people are monsters when they personally know a gay person and they see that we are not monsters. Straight people have changed and moved and begun to see our common humanity in a way that they didn’t used to be able to, because we weren’t out to them. That’s what’s so dangerous about this law in Russia — it basically makes it illegal to be out.
Dan on Nazi Germany parallels to what’s going on in Russia today:
RFE/RL: You’ve compared what’s going on now in Russia to Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Can you elaborate?
Savage: The Nazi terror wasn’t the Holocaust in a day. There was a gradual escalation of scapegoating, anti-Semitism, and political violence. No one is comparing what’s being done to LGBT Russians to what was done to the Jews in 1943 and 1942 and 1944. But it is eerily similar to what was being done to the Jews in Nazi Germany in 1933 and 1934. The initial persecution campaigns, the stigmatization, the codification into law of anti-Semitism and this kind of bigotry. All of those parallels are identical.