Why the Russia boycott matters

A brilliant piece in the New Republic by Eric Sasson, explaining why it’s important, and not counterproductive as some claim, to challenge Russia’s homophobia.

Russian vigilantes kidnap and attack a young gay Russian they first stalked on a local social media site.

Russian vigilantes kidnap and attack a young gay Russian they first stalked on a local social media site.

Here’s a snippet, but it really is a tour de force. Read the entire thing:

Few, if any, of the people demanding a boycott have argued that this would “end” LGBT discrimination in Russia. Most of us understand that Russian antipathy towards LGBT rights is deep seated. In an article I wrote for Salon a few days ago, I also made the case that, at least in the short term, Putin stands to gain from all the outrage because it reinforces Russians’ ideas about how unique they are and further underscores the country’s independence from the West.

This does not mean the calls for boycotts are useless. Labeling justifiable outrage and calls for justice as useless and counterproductive smacks of blaming the victim. It’s not our calls for boycotts that may cause an increase in violence against the LGBT community in Russia, but rather the law which Putin signed in July—a law that has, in effect, codified Russian homophobia and stripped the Russian citizens of the one way that they could ever expect to effectively combat it.

Ioffe’s assertions that American attitudes towards LGBT rights have only recently changed is true. In fact, the change has come at an astonishing pace. What she fails to mention, however, is that this change only happened because of gay visibility, starting with more and more gays and lesbians coming out to their friends and families. Prominent celebrities and politicians revealing their sexuality, along with LGBT characters in movies and on TV, helped de-stigmatize the gay community in the eyes of so many Americans, who began to see us less as predators and AIDS victims and more as neighbors, cousins, coworkers.

This is precisely what the Russian propaganda bill denies its citizens. By criminalizing speech advocating “non-traditional sexual lifestyles,” Russia has denied its LGBT citizens the same path toward progress that so many societies in the West have taken. Look no further than the many reported cases of Russians who spoke out against the ban before it was ratified and who were later fired from their jobs. This is the reality on the ground. And if the gays there cannot speak for themselves without fear of imprisonment, it is up to those of us outside to speak for them.

I’d go one step further – it is precisely because of gay advocacy that the above things happened.  It was GLAAD’s advocacy that got more gays on TV and in the movies.  It was successful advocacy campaigns against countless targets that further empowered gay people across the country to come out.  And, by the way, it was 20 years of gay advocacy that got DADT repealed and DOMA struck down.

These things didn’t happen on their own.  They happened because the little gay that could didn’t take no for an answer.

And yeah, there haven’t been a lot of examples of international pressure working on human rights, but guess what, we haven’t really tried much either, as the article notes.  Certainly not on gay rights.  And in any case, the pre-Internet past isn’t a great model for predicting how effective post-Internet advocacy will or won’t be.  I’d argue that we’ve been pretty darn successful already, in terms of garnering media attention and giving Russia a bad hair day for a good month now.

Now, will Russia repeal its law as a result of this campaign?  Don’t know.  But I’m not hearing of any more effective alternatives.  Might they pass another more brutal law after going through the pain we have, and will, inflict upon them?  Increasingly doubtful, but it’s possible.  And if they do up the ante, the world is already so primed that the response next time will be even more brutal.  At some point, if we’re dealing with sane actors, they’ll do a cost-benefit analysis and realize that this just wasn’t worth it.  And that’s our job, to make it not worth it.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • Anonymous

    To be fair, the conservatives are misleading him. Many of our “balanced” news outlets lean right, or are at least money-hungry enough to support the IOC.

  • Anonymous

    He makes broad statements, but many of them are reactions to various reporters. “Gay News Now” tweeted him saying he accused pro-gay Westerners of being “pedophiles.” He tweeted back that the “West is lost in its lies.”

    Expand the conversations. So-called “news” outlets do add fuel to the fire with their accusations.

  • Feb Grimme

    This is not just about LGBT rights it is about HUMAN rights. They don’t want their children mingling with gays and lesbians but they let them witness violence.
    ________________________________________________________________________________
    Nail Design Ideas

  • Bill_Perdue

    NBC/Comcast/MSNBC are part of a homophobic conglomerate hip deep in the swamp of the Putin regime’s attacks our Russian brothers and sisters.

    The main boycott should be against NBC because the support Putin’s bigotry and because they support the Democrats, the party who, along with their Republican cousins. gave us DOMA, refused to repeal it (and now refuse to repeal Section Two) and who’ve pigheadedly refused to enact ENDA or a CRA for decades. (They did lead the fight to gut ENDA and passed the gutted version in the House but then ignored even that so it wouldn’t be an embarrassment to Clinton or Obama.)

  • grayzip

    Click on my handle. The discussion has been going on for days and I am a delightful presence throughout all of it.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    By the way, apparently isn’t just the IOC we need to be concerned with. Other international athletics associations have decided that anti-gay = okie dokie; pro-gay = unacceptable and illegal propaganda. In this case, it’s the International Association of Athletics Federation.

    Swedish high jumper Emma Green-Tregaro has repainted her nails after being warned by the IAAF that the rainbow colours she sported in qualification in support of gay rights were a breach of regulations.

    Russian pole vault gold medallist Yelena Isinbayeva has provoked a furor at the World Athletics Championships over her outspoken anti-gay remarks, which she later tried to play down saying she was “misunderstood” and opposed to discrimination against homosexuals.

    And she had called Green-Tregaro “unrespectful” to Russia after painting her nails in the colours of the rainbow flag that symbolises support for gay rights while competing in Moscow, a move that garnered acclaim elsewhere in the world.

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/08/17/iaaf-makes-swedish-gay-rights-high-jumper-emma-green-tregaro-repaint-rainbow-nails/

  • Bill_Perdue

    Our movement began in the 1940’s with the Mattachines and in the 1950’s with the Daughters of Bilitis and began to take off during the radicalization of the the 1960’s and since then we’ve made some real gains. The Democrats and Republicans, pandering to the cults have largely succeeded in blocking ENDA for decades and still refuse to repeal Section Two of DOMA. A reflection of that in the real world is the ongoing anti-gay rampage in New York city which includes kidnap-torture-murders, harassment, beating and murders.

    Real liberation in the US awaits the political destruction of the Democrats and their Republican cousins and their replacement by workers parties and the creation of a workers state.

    The Russian movement began in 1996 with the Triangle movement and began to grow in May 2005, when LGBT Human Rights Project Gayrussia.ru was founded by Nikolai Alekseev. It has chapters across the Federation and plans to demonstrate at Sochi. If they can pull it off the fight against the putin regime’s anti-gay laws will be a huge victory. If not, they’ll just have to fight on, like we did after the Democrats and Clinton passed and signed the Republican DOMA which spread to 31 states.

    http://www.gayrussia.eu/

  • Bill_Perdue

    Alexiev is absolutely correct in pointing out that some Americans, especially Democrats and their Republican cousins, are enraged about Snowdens limited asylum.

    Snowden was the one and only reason that Obama cancelled his talks with Putin, mimicking Khrushchev’s cancellation of talks with Eisenhower over the U2 the Russians shot down in then, Soviet, airspace. It’s a game that they’ve been playing since Truman started the Cold War.

    Some people mistakenly said that the Obama regime was protesting the Putin regime’s vicious anti-gay law but events have since shown how wrong they were. Obama is not going to lift a finger to stop the games.

  • Monoceros Forth

    Bro-ther. I don’t think anyone whose sole contribution to this discussion is two snide words has any business either belittling someone’s cleverness or complaining about being called a troll.

  • Bill_Perdue

    The days of the Putin regime are numbered.

    Russia’s extremely heroic LGBT communities (http://www.gayrussia.eu/ ) are planning to take on the Putin regime and the cults at Sochi. My guess, is that with lots of international help and given the fact that the Putin regime is extremely unpopular with large numbers of unionists, workers, student, women and youth, that these bigoted laws could be a major focus in the demise of the Putin regime.

    http://links.org.au/node/3280

    Below are two photos from JMG showing two Russian runners kissing on the podium during the presentation ceremony for their gold medals at the World Track & Field Championships in Moscow. And at the same games the Finnish Minister of Culture & Sports Paavo Arhinmäki waved a LGBT rainbow flag in the stands.

    Our Russian sisters and brothers and their supporters here, in Europe and around the world are leading the fight against the Putin regime. It’s a fight we’re going to win in spite of the doom and gloom crowd. Winning, however long it takes will help build the movement here and globally.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Start with NBC/Comcast/MSNBC

  • Joehio

    He’s not entirely wrong. There were American politicians, including Senator Lindsay Graham, calling for a Sochi Olympics boycott before the “don’t say gay” law hoopla started up, precisely because of the asylum for Snowden.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    The IOC has been shameless for a very long time. At least since the 1936 games. It’s a corrupt organization with a long history of bribes and payoff and other illicit activities. A good housecleaning is very long overdue.

  • grayzip

    I think I’m starting to “get” you. You like to call people you don’t care for “trolls.” And… Wait, no, that’s pretty much the whole shooting match. Have at me, not-particularly-clever person!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Don’t need vile trolls

  • dula

    I spoke with a city councilman here in West Hollywood about offering asylum to the Russian LGBT community. Apparently they are discussing not only providing support to Russian LGBT activist organizations but also are working with Zev Yaroslavsky, from LA County Board of Supervisors, to develop a framework for asylum. Zev led high profile protests against oppression of Soviet Jews.
    So, we’re on it in Weho…so to speak.

  • grayzip

    Needs Nazis

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    After reading through more of his tweets, it’s looking like Alexeyev may have had some bad interview experiences, and unfortunately he’s lashing out at everyone rather than whoever the jackasses were who likely asked him rude “Do you hate Russia? How much?”-type questions.

    Just a guess anyway.

  • VillageMutt

    Boycott, protest, make your opinion
    known, but that alone will not stop the Olympics from taking place or being
    relocated.

    The Olympics are about MONEY.

    Anyone who tells you that the
    games personify the dream of multicultural harmony and world peace are
    blowing smoke up your ass.

    Corporate money, multi-national industrial
    complex money. They are about sponsorships and endorsements and movie
    deals. Personal pledges not to watch the games or to stop drinking
    shit vodka are all well and good but more action needs to take place.

    When the bottom line is at rise
    corporations act. It’s an unfortunate fact of life but use it to it’s fullest
    advantage.

    Boycotts and/or action needs to take place
    with the business involved with the games. They must be made aware that
    their product and or service is just as guilty of these crimes and
    abuses the neo-Nazi thugs and corrupt government are of
    destroying lives in Russia.

    NBC must face the blunt of the criticism.
    All the banks and fast food chains that slap their logos on every inch of blank
    space must be held accountable. Just as the national food chains/ignore
    stores that still sell Russian vodka must be held accountable.

    Contact them. They all have web sites,
    email address and corporate heads. Write, text, fax, phone, call and forward
    them literature and images of what their names are connected to.

    Stop being so passive and dismissive. It’s
    not someone else’s job. It’s human dignity and respect and lives that are on
    the line here. And on it’s most basic level Hate is Hate and can not be
    tolerated, NO – will not be tolerated.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Of course the people most upset about Snowden probably hate us even more!

  • FLL

    From what I have read, a broad spectrum of Russian activists, both in Russia and New York, disagree with Mr. Alexeyev’s opinions and very much appreciate the news coverage and raised consciousness that the Russian boycott has created.

  • chris10858

    Yep, Im really disappointed in Rachel about her silence. If NBC were smart, they’d send her over to cover the Olympics from a political standpoint.

  • chris10858

    That reminds me of that saying, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. I think he should accept any help he can get, even if it is from us Americans.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I looked through his tweets and Mr. Alexeyev appears to have latched onto this notion that the West (i.e., America) is making a fuss about Sochi and Russia’s “Nobody Say Gay” law only because everyone over here is upset about Snowden being granted asylum. And because everybody over here apparently wants “to take a shit on Russia.”

    His opinion is based on misinformation and false impressions. Just because a fellow helped found Russia’s now banned gay pride group doesn’t make him infallible.

  • Indigo

    ” . . . if we’re dealing with sane actors . . . ” That’s a mighty big IF there, John.

  • caphillprof

    There is something very, very wrong with the “olympic movement” if they are so willingly used and abused by Putin’s Russia. The IOC needs an intervention.

  • deedrdo

    Dear Mr. Sasson: i am a person living with AIDS. I am not a victim.

  • gramps_51

    well, here is another quote – from the founder of Russia’s gay pride, no less:
    Nikolai Alexeyev ‏@n_alexeyev 27m

    Western media has no respect for Russia and its people and LGBT population included. What they report about Sochi and gay propaganda is sham

    9 Retweets
    3 Favorites

    11:56 AM – 17 Aug 13 · Details

  • chris10858

    Someone mentioned in the Comments section that we should boycott the Olympics, which I intend to do.

    I should note to everyone though, isn’t it true that these ratings companies track what is recorded via Tivo or DVR? If that is the case, then we have to be careful to make sure we do not even record the Olympics, lest we add to their viewing numbers.

  • chris10858

    Very insightful, John. Great article.

    As a teenager back in the 80s, I remember the Soviet Union and how it would put out propaganda throughout it’s realm using state-owned media such as Pravda. I also remember hearing about how teenagers even then would pay a lot of money for western clothing items such as Levi’s and Calvin Kleins. They would clamor to get things that they thought we were wearing here in America . They wanted things that symbolized America. Although their leaders stifled any freedom of expression that did not tow the Communist Party rhetoric, they would also secretly tune in to Voice of America to hear the latest American music.

    Today, as it seems that Putin and his allies further the slide back to communism and tighten their grip on the news media, Russians can go on the Internet and read what is going on in the West. My hope is that while the current majority of Russians may express that gay people do not deserve basic human rights, global efforts such as this boycott, along with stars such as Lady GaGa speaking out against Russia’s policies, will help to turn the minds of a large group of young people in Russia.

    I recall how only a few years ago, marriage equality for gay people would poll very low across the US, even in more liberal areas. As the years have passed though, and as people came out to their friends, families, and co-workers, the percentage of Americans for equality rose. Today, it is now over 50% of the country who believe in marriage equality and is continuing to rise.

    So, even if these naysayers try to assert a boycott is not going to work, I must assert that even if we can only change the hearts and minds of a few people there in Russia, it might just be enough to start the ball rolling on lgbt rights in that country.

    Of course, I also believe that if the Russian people decide that they don’t like Putin’s repressive slide back into old Soviet-era policies, perhaps his efforts to go after gay people will cause some Russians to embrace LGBT civil rights if nothing more than a counter measure.

  • PeteWa

    Julia Ioffe has shown everyone the road that she would have us take, and it’s the road to the gas chambers, the killing fields, and to classes at the Murambi Technical School.

  • Hue-Man

    This response to Julia Ioffe’s original article was fun: ” (Also, were Canada and Europe screaming at the U.S. to pass gay marriage and end DADT? If so, they should have screamed louder. I must
    not have heard them.)”

    She’s absolutely right (although seemingly ignorant of the U.S. political process): screaming at the U.S. is very effective. A good example is back in 2002 and 2003 when Canada and “Old Europe” told the U.S. not to invade Iraq. It’s a good thing the U.S. followed our advice otherwise it would have cost $1 trillion to American taxpayers, the killing and maiming of 250,000 Iraqi civilians, the creation of daily extreme sectarian violence in Iraq, and a government that seems closely allied with Iran.

    And in case you missed it: “[Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John] Baird outlined the details of eight meetings, dating back to January, during which Canadian officials pushed the issue with the Russians,
    before and after President Vladimir Putin signed the controversial bill into law in June.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2013/08/01/pol-cp-baird-olympics-sochi-anti-gay-laws.html

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    In another generation Ioffe would be a holocaust denier.

  • DonewithDems

    Do what we did. Get a Roku machine or something similar and stream your TV shows directly without commercial interruption. We eventually shut the cable off altogether because we weren’t watching it. Now I find it very irritating to watch regular TV and I don’t miss the corporate propaganda.

  • Joehio

    After reading the IOC’s “response”, I’ve already decided for myself personally tht I’m going to completely boycott the Olympics, Russia and all things Russian or Olympics-related. I can’t really boycott Coke or McDonalds or Panasonic because I never buy their stuff anyways, but I do read labels and I will avoid every single product with any kind of Olympic promotional tie-in on the package, even if it’s my favorite cereal or fruit juice or whatever.

    We need to start planning alternative fun activities for that time because that s#!t’s going to be all over the TV. It would be great if something else on opposite the Olympics coverage killed in the Nielsen ratings.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    That point about LGBT visibility is particularly cogent here.

    Apparently, four out of five Russians say they do not have any gay acquaintances or personally know anyone who is gay.

    In America, the number of people who say they don’t know anybody who is gay? It’s 13%. More than a complete reversal of LGBT visibility in Russia.

    Nearly nine-in-ten Americans (87%) personally know someone who is gay or lesbian (up from 61% in 1993), according to the May survey. About half (49%) say a close family member or one of their closest friends is gay or lesbian. About a quarter (23%) say they know a lot of people who are gay or lesbian, and 31% know a gay or lesbian person who is raising children.

    Consider that: Half of Americans don’t just know someone who is gay, but it’s someone close to them — a family member or very good friend.

    (Source: Pew Research study, from the 2nd link above.)

  • JayRandal

    Picture of Gay Russian being abused by thugs should be posted everywhere. Personally I have had it with Russia period. If Olympic Games are allowed to take place there I will NOT watch one minute of it.
    I support 100% boycott of Russia by entire world. Shame on homophobic Russians and on the far-right
    homophobic bigots in US too.

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