A new piece from Eric Sasson at Salon looking at the future of gay rights in Russia, following the very-public anti-semitic (and somewhat unhinged, and ongoing) meltdown of the country’s former top activist Nikolai Alexeyev, in which he, for a period of days, berated Jews, used words like “kike” in both English and Russian, talked incessantly of the “Jewish mafia” trying to take over the world, and then repeatedly claimed that Jews make vodka from their own sperm.
All of this begs the question: just how does the Russian LGBT community move forward when its most prominent voice loses his credibility?….
“Doesn’t a truly effective fight for LGBT rights need to be waged in Russia by Russians?” Ms. Vanden Heuvel writes.
It strikes me as remarkable how many people seek to dismiss the efforts of westerners (including activists such as Harvey Fierstein and Dan Savage and journalists such as John Aravosis and Richard Socarides) with the refrain that Russians need to deal with this issue internally, given that the propaganda ban effectively denies Russian LGBT citizens the right to protest freely. When the most prominent LGBT activist in Russia has a wild, public meltdown, under fairly suspicious conditions, the argument that the Russian LGBT community needs no outside help starts to seem suspect. Just yesterday, Dmitry Isakov became the first Russian activist to be arrested under the new gay propaganda law, a law which Alexeyev curiously said on RT was “never enforced.” Last week there were reports of Russian police raiding the homes of LGBTs activists as well as sightings of flyers encouraging people to report their LGBT neighbors to local authorities. This is the “political and social reality” that Russians are facing…
Would President Obama be meeting with LGBT activists at the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg, as BuzzFeed now reports, if not for this outcry? When will the spotlight ever shine as brightly on the struggles of LGBT Russians as it does right now, leading up to that most international of events, the Olympics? Rest assured, when the games are done, the news media will move on to other issues, as it always does.
By now it must be clear that the Kremlin is not ignoring this issue, and is taking measures accordingly. The Olympics should move out of Russia—perhaps even be postponed a year, if necessary. We have a responsibility to speak up for those that cannot do so. This is exactly what the propaganda ban is about: denying a class of people the right to stand up for themselves.
And to be fair, there are a lot of Russians who have been working on this issue beyond Nikolai Alexeyev. They include journalist and activist Masha Gessen, and nearly three dozen other Russian LGBT activists.
But it is true that there are not that many out gay activists in Russia because it simply isn’t safe. And now that the country’s most prominent gay voice has self-immolated, and utterly destroyed his credibility at the very least outside of Russia, it will be interesting to see who takes over his mantle.
Then again, we don’t have “one” gay leader in America, and it’s worked pretty well for a few decades now. The challenge is creating a climate in Russia that will permit a new generation of gay and trans activists to be out, and proud, and outspoken, and safe. That climate simply does not exist under the current government, or its increasingly draconian anti-gay laws that are meant to force Russia’s LGBT community to stay in the closet forever.
But the closet is a funny place. And locks have a way of eventually falling off. Our job is to continue helping Russia’s credible gay and trans voices make that happen.