It takes a special kind of chutzpah to write an oped in the Washington Post, ostensibly arguing in favor of gay rights in the US, while actually handing Russian President Vladimir Putin a propaganda victory over gay dissidents in his own country.
But that’s what Yale law professors Ian Ayres and Bill Eskridge did in this weekend’s paper, when they appeared to argue that the gay rights situation in the United States was somehow comparable to the abominable state of affairs for gays, and all dissidents, in Putin’s Russia.
The oped, titled “The US hypocrisy over Russia’s anti-gay laws,” claimed to cite a number of US laws that are just as onerous as Russia’s recently-passed law banning gay propaganda. They aren’t. And it’s surprising that law professors from Yale could get the facts so abominably wrong.
First, some background on Russia’s law. The gay “propaganda” law, passed last summer, makes it illegal for anyone, anywhere in Russia, to say or do anything that might eventually risk convincing a child that being gay is okay.
Those arrested under the law include Dmitry Isakov, a gay rights advocate from Kazan, Russia, who held up a sign in the center of town saying “Being gay and loving gays is normal. Beating gays and killing gays is a crime!” That “crime” landed Isakov in jail.
Then there was Russian newspaper editor Alexander Suturin, who was fined three month’s wages last month for publishing a quote from a gay person claiming that there’s nothing wrong with being gay (the article was about the gay person losing their job for being gay, so it would be normal to have a quote from the person protesting their dismissal).
The Russian propaganda law also formed the basis of an investigation of the country’s Jewish autonomous region’s local flag because it contains a rainbow, and the rainbow is the symbol of the international gay human rights movement. (After a through investigation, Kremlin experts determined that the Jewish flag is safely No Homo.)
The St. Petersburg version of the law (a local version passed in that city before it passed nationwide), even saw a young man arrested for the crime of wearing rainbow suspenders.
Tell me that we have any federal or state law that comes even close to this in America. We do not.
The “proof” that Ayres and Eskridge offer for America’s crimes is that many (mostly) southern states, and Utah (of course), have anti-gay laws governing elementary school curricula. And they do. And while those laws are awfully hateful, they still only apply to school curricula in a small handful of admittedly backwards states. The US laws are not nearly as broad as the draconian Russian law, which applies to every communication in the entire country.
The Russian anti-gay law is so vague and all-encompassing that it is unclear whether it is legal to be openly gay in Russia at all.
In contrast, in America we have a host of groups, and individual activists, working to overturn those laws, and promote a healthier and happier environment for gay and trans people. In Russia, after passage of the propaganda law, such advocacy is now increasingly illegal. Heck, this blog post is likely now illegal in Russia.
And while you wouldn’t know it from reading Ayres and Eskridge, our work in America is bearing fruit. In state after state, gay marriage has now become legal - with seven states embracing marriage equality in just the past year. Ayres and Eskridge were happy to enumerate the eight American states that have so-called “no promo homo” laws, but somehow failed to note the 17 states that have to date legalized gay nuptials.
That’s not to suggest that the anti-gay laws in the states are “good,” by any means. But there’s something to be said for proportionality. During the 1980s, the US (as it does today) most certainly had a problem with racism. As did South Africa. But to suggest that the US, and the world, should not have spoken out about the evils of apartheid, since the US still suffered from racism itself, is not only absurd, it’s also incredibly counterproductive to the cause of human rights.
It’s the kind of argument you’d expect from a Putin, not from a Mandela.
It would have been one thing for Ayres and Eskridge to use Russia’s transgressions as a foil for pushing anti-gay bigots in parts of our country, and one of our political parties, to clean up their own act as well. Some of our politicians, and partisans, are just as bad as the worst Russians. But that’s not what the oped does. Ayres and Eskridge seem to be arguing that there’s an equivalence, moral and legal, between what is happening to gays in Russia and what is happening to gays in America. And that is absurd.
Gays in America are getting married, while gays in Russia are getting beaten. Gays in America serve openly in Congress, the judiciary, and the highest levels of government. In Russia, they most certainly do not.
And while both Russia and America suffer from the scourge of anti-gay hate crimes, in America we don’t have a nationwide criminal conspiracy of anti-gay vigilantes who kidnapped and tortured gay teens for 18 months, posting photos and videos of their crimes on Russia’s most popular social media network, only to have the government refuse to prosecute until finally, a year and a half into the hate crime wave, CNN got involved.
Russian gays say the federal propaganda law has made the hate crime situation in their country all the more dire.
The professors even permit themselves a jab at President Obama, who, after procrastinating during the early years of his presidency, has proven himself a staunch ally of, and advocate for, our community. I shouldn’t have to point out to two Yalies that Barack Obama, for all his flaws, is no Vladimir Putin. Especially on gay rights.
Ayres and Eskridge conclude their apologia with some advice for Vladimir Putin:
As things stand, one could imagine Putin responding to U.S. criticism by saying: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye.”
Yes, one could imagine that if one didn’t bother looking at the actual facts, and if one didn’t care how much damage one was doing to the actual cause of human rights in Russia.
If I were Vladimir Putin, I’d be giving Professor Ayres and Professor Eskridge a medal right about now. And that’s something no true human rights advocate should ever aspire to.