On the heels of a disturbing article from the BBC about how the anti-gay climate in Russia right now is worse than it was even during the heyday of the Soviet Union, and back then being gay was illegal, we learn today that President Obama will be meeting with a number of non-governmental organization leaders while in Russia for the G20 summit this week, including representatives from LGBT groups.
Four Russian non-governmental organizations told BuzzFeed Monday they had been invited to the meeting, scheduled for this Thursday at St. Petersburg’s Crowne Plaza Hotel. The groups include veteran human rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, legal aid NGO director Pavel Chikov, and Coming Out, a St. Petersburg-based LGBT organization. Another local LGBT group, the LGBT Network, is believed to be attending, though director Igor Kochetkov declined to comment to BuzzFeed, saying that he had been “asked not to say anything.”
This is great news. And kudos to the White House for finding a way to highlight this important issue during the President’s trip.
(And also kudos to everyone from Masha Gessen, RUSA LGBT and the nearly 3 dozen Russian LGBT activists who joined Dan Savage, Queer Nation, Matt Stopera at Buzzfeed, Harvey Fierstein and so many others around the world in helping to explode this issue internationally over the last month. Without their help, and activism, this would have never been on the President’s radar screen. It wasn’t on anyone’s radar a little over a month ago before, and it is now.)
Here’s more background on the new BBC piece about how bad things are getting in Russia for gay and trans people:
At the Lighthouse Cabaret Club in Sochi, host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics, the music is loud, the tobacco smoke thick and the dance floor packed with gay couples enjoying an evening out.
It is a relaxed atmosphere. And from the smiles and open displays of affection here, you may think that being gay in Russia is not a problem.
But the club’s co-owner, Andrei Tanichev, tells a different story.
“There’s more aggression and it’s becoming more dangerous on the streets,” Andrei tells me.
“Many gay people have changed how they dress, they’ve removed earrings, changed their hairstyles, to avoid having problems. Even back in the USSR, where homosexuality was a criminal offense, gays were treated better than they are now in Russia. Ordinary people see us as criminals. They hate us.”
And keep in mind that during the Soviet days they really knew how to oppress minorities and dissidents. So if this is worse now…
The article also gets into the anti-gay vigilante groups that we’d written about several times. The groups lure young gay people into meeting someone they think is gay, then they kidnap the youth, beat and torture them, pour urine on them, and lots of other fun things to make them turn away from being gay.
And even though the often-neo-Nazi thugs videotape themselves torturing the youths, and happily show their own faces in the videos, and then post the videos on Russian social media sites for all to see, the Russian authorities never got around to doing anything about it until the international uproar over the past month. Only then did the Russian authorities claim they were “investigating.”
Guess what? There’s been no progress reported on the very difficult investigation of a bunch of guys, whose faces and hometowns you have on video, but the Russians have been quite quickly able to prosecute a 24 year old who held a one-man pro-gay protest the other. The Russians had time to go after him under their new anti-gay “propaganda” law.
Oh, and if the Russian authorities ever do decide that the kidnapping and torture of children is, you know, a problem, they’re looking at giving the perps only 3 months in jail.
In contrast, you get 5 years in Russia for shooting a cat.