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 | 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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