Yale profs suggest US as bad as Russia on gay rights – and they’re wrong

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.

Russian vigilantes show off a young gay boy they claim to have abducted and then doused with urine after entrapping him via a gay social media site. Reports from Russia suggest the boy may now be dead.

Russian vigilantes show off a young gay boy they claim to have abducted and then doused with urine after entrapping him via a gay social media site. Reports from Russia suggest the boy may now be dead.

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).

Kremlin concludes that Jewish Autonomous flag is not gay.

Jewish Autonomous flag that Kremlin feared might be too gay.

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.


For a brief period in December of 2013, Utah legalized gay weddings. Funny how Ayres and Eskridge were happy to talk about the bad news from Utah, but failed to mention the good.

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.

Gay couple in New Jersey gets legally married in 2013. In Russia, they'd be beaten then thrown in jail.

Gay couple in New Jersey gets legally married in 2013. In Russia, they’d be beaten then thrown in jail.

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.

Russian vigilante groups have organized around the country to kidnap young gay people and terrorize them, while the government mostly ignored them.

Russian vigilante groups have organized around the country to kidnap young gay people and terrorize them, while the government mostly ignored them.

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.”

Gay Russian arrested for the crime of waving a rainbow flag in public during the Olympic flame procession in Russia.

Gay Russian arrested for the crime of waving a rainbow flag in public during the Olympic flame procession in Russia.

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.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

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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  • Dubi Du

    You hardly can prove any of your words brining any non-investiagate case of violence against gays in Russia. So it is your words that are just stupid non-supported lie. You have blocked me at this blog showing how Americans are actually hypocritical about “freedom of speech” when they do not like “a speech”.

  • You lie.

  • Dolimbos Guurnaki

    You lie. How Russian government allows and engourage people to beat and kill LGBT citizens? Several cases of violence against gays (I hate to remind that violence against anything is a common problem for any country) were not unpunished, and criminal prosecution against their organizers followed.

  • Dolimbos Guurnaki

    It is only your illusion. How these Russian laws enable “pogroms”? Explain me please. Several cases of violence against gays (I hate to remind that violence against anything is a common problem for any country) were not unpunished, and criminal prosecution against their organizers followed. Propaganda in Russia does not lead to “jail time”, only to fine. So you lie again.

  • Dolimbos Guurnaki

    “This blog itself would be illegal in Russia”. What? There hundreds Russian sites of different positions, anti-Putin, pro-gay etc. What are you speaking about?

  • Bill_Perdue

    Democrats here have politics similar to those of the Tories in England.

    They’re a right centrist party moving right with an occasional jag to the center – as when Obama rebranded his bigoted position on marriage equality and when he discovered ‘income inequality’, something working people have always known about.

  • Next

  • Strepsi

    “Parties that might compete with the Democrat or Republican parties are routinely kept off the ballot by anti-democratic laws on the local, state and federal level. ”
    — totally agree, and to run as an Independent you literally have to be a billionaire.

    You’re also right about the total lack of representation on the left: here in Canada, 4 of our 5 national parties are to the left of your Democrats!

    I mean, universal Health Care is NOT even a socialist position, it’s a centrist one. The Tea Party would not know an actually Communist party if it sat on their faces.

  • rextrek

    the USA may not be “as bad” as Russia…but HYPOCRITICAL …Fuck yea!!!!!! Liberty and Justice for ALl…nahhhhh, Not so much! Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Happiness….again, Not really……..Merikkka needs to “LIVE UP TOO” it’s CREEDS…or just STFU!

  • That op ed is one of the lamest pieces I’ve read in WaPo, and that’s going some. Almost up to (down to?) the standard of Jennifer Rubin.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Parties that might compete with the Democrat or Republican parties are routinely kept off the ballot by anti-democratic laws on the local, state and federal level. These undemocratic laws are capped by the provision for an electoral college.

    In reality the US is just bigger a banana republic. Political democracy, as we’ve seen throughout US history, is meaningless unless accompanied by economic democracy. The US had a limited form of democracy until the great betrayal of 1877, which solidified the power sharing by norther capitalists and southern racists and created the duopoly of right wing parties. http://www.news-reporter.com/news/2005-11-17/Opinion/026.html

    When the stolen wealth of the rich has been taken from them and when workers rule the economy whose wealth they, and they alone, create, then we’ll have democracy. Economic democracy is the only real way to check the power of the wealthy, and without it all the ‘checks and balances’ of capitalist political ‘democracy’ are a sham. And it will only be achieved by the growth of revolutionary and socialist movements and parties and the creation of a workers state. Liberals and conservatives alike are irrelevant to the struggle for economic and political democracy.

  • emjayay

    If we had a parliamentary system we would have five or so national parties. It is an artifact of our Constitutional system that it always incentivises having two parties and disincentivises minor parties. Not really what anyone had in mind, but that’s the way it necessarily works.

    (Please don’t presume in any way that I represent anyone’s opinions or analysis other than my own, or in particular that anyone else represents mine.)

  • Bill_Perdue

    I assume you’re referring to mass murderer number 871.

  • Bill_Perdue

    The US has three rightwing parties – Democrats. Libertarians and Republicans. They chase one another back and forth, vying for the title of most right wing.

    We have no workers parties and no mass socialist parties, although efforts are being made, via the campaign for a decent minimum wage, to build the left and especially the union left.

  • 4th Turning

    Not sure what’s going on with that op-ed…

    Wiki’s list of Bill Eskridge books.

    Books[edit] (Not too shabby for a kid from a tiny WVa. railroad/coal mining town.)
    Dynamic Statutory Interpretation (1994)[6]
    The Case for Same-Sex Marriage: From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment (1996)[7]
    Gaylaw: Challenging the Apartheid of the Closet (1999)[8]
    Legislation: Statutes and the Creation of Public Policy (2001, 3rd ed., with Philip P. Frickey and Elizabeth Garrett)
    Equality Practice: Civil Unions and the Future of Gay Rights (2001)
    Gay Marriage: For Better or for Worse? (2006, with Darren R. Spedale)
    Legislation and Statutory Interpretation (2006, 2nd. ed.)
    Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003 (2008)
    A Republic of Statutes: The New American Constitution (2010, with John Ferejohn)
    Sexuality, Gender and the Law (2011, with Nan Hunter, 3rd edhttp://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2008/06/revolution_in_waiting.html.)
    Revolution in Waiting
    Taking the pulse of gay rights in the courts.
    By William Eskridge Jr.

    July 13, 2005
    “The Joy of Ambiguity”–A Commentary by Profs. Ian Ayres and Jennifer Gerarda Brown
    (This essay was originally published in the June 29, 2005, issue of the Advocate.)

    Let them think what they will: Straight Americans brave enough to appear more ambiguous can learn much about the daily experiences of their GLBT brothers and sisters–and advance the cause of equality


    Apparently Ayres first went undercover “of sorts” in high school assuming a black identity.

  • Butch1

    I wasn’t sure; glad you were able to straighten it out for me as I had thought it was in the beginning. This person needs to be taught a lesson.

  • Strepsi

    ” In America the problem is not outright state sponsorship of violence, except in the states shown in the map below, but pandering to religious cults and the rich on the questions of discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations”

    Nicely said. But the U.S. reeeeeaaaly should have no less than FIVE national parties. I see collusion in your electoral system that makes Visa/Amex/Mastercard look like child’s play.

  • Strepsi

    …and they never did catch that anthrax guy.

  • Olterigo

    Oh, I’m sorry! You are right. That is him in the pic on “front page.” I thought you meant the first picture on this page.

  • pappyvet

    No we are not as bad as Russia but it is the wet dream of many here and we should not rest or forget it.

  • There’s part of the left happy to dismiss human rights abuses because those of us in the West don’t have a 100% clean record on human rights. It’s absurd and yet it comes from people smart enough to know better. In my opinion they are as dangerous and the Teavangelicals.

  • Butch1

    How unfortunate. I thought it was that POS in the first picture before one clicks on the hypertext to get into the thread. It would be great to be able to capture this one and turn the tables on him. Somehow, I do not think he would be so brave having people not afraid of him and his own size stand up to him.

  • Olterigo

    You’re mistaken. The guy arrested and extradited out of Cuba is not in the first picture. He is currently in jail waiting for the hearings. He is being accused of extremism. But not for his homophobic actions. He is being accused of extremism for “spreading hate or prejudice” for putting up on his VKontakte page links to videos, which – I have not seen them – spread propaganda of neo-Nazism and “a negative view of Russia’s participation in WWII.”

  • Butch1

    Has that one POS in the very first picture with the unfortunate person he is torturing, who was arrested in Cuba ever gotten his comeuppance? One can hope.

  • PeteWa

    the professor is right.
    also, an orange and the sun are the same, they are both spheres.


  • Bill_Perdue

    And Clinton, who gave us DADT and DOMA, NAFTA, deregulation and the current depression.

  • Bcre8ve

    Just goes to show – Yale professors can be just as dumb as the students they produce, our former President, GWB, being a perfect example.

  • nicho

    Yale grads: Clarence Thomas, George Bush, Hillary and Bill. Tells you all you need to know.

  • Indigo

    I see what you did there. :-)

  • cole3244


  • FLL

    Putin really takes false equivalence to the limit. The “dead-letter” state laws sanctioning slavery were not taken off the books in some Southern states until recently, and a few states still have dead-letter sodomy laws that they haven’t bothered to take off the books. According to Putin, these dead-letter laws are enforceable laws that are comparable to Russia’s current anti-gay propaganda law. Putin is being a real smart-ass by using this type of false equivalency. He knows very well that the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery and the 2003 Supreme Court decision overturning sodomy statutes nationwide make dead-letter laws null and void. Nobody likes a smart-ass, which is why Putin is rather unpopular outside his country (and maybe inside it as well).

  • Tom in Lazybrook

    I got so mad about that article, I actually registers with the WaPo so I could respond.
    I also noted that they tried to compare Alabama and Texas to Russia. As a Gay man from Alabama who lives in Texas, I find that analogy really offensive, unless they are comparing Russia in 2014 to Alabama in 1960.

  • Bill_Perdue

    The differences in history and culture mean that making comparisons have to be specific and based on two questions – the level of violence and how that correlates to state sponsorship of violence.

    Organized, state sponsored anti-gay violence, as opposed to having a regime that tolerates anti-gay laws and institutions, was common in Tsarist and Stalinist times. Anti-gay laws were repealed after the fall of the Stalinist USSR. Now, the Putin regime is trying to turn back the clock to Tsarist times and has gained the backing of the Russian orthodox cult and the even more right wing True believers cult. Even so, the level of violence in the RF is far, far less, in terms of murders, than that in the US. That will inevitably change as the Putin regime gears up it’s scapegoating after the Olympics.

    Putin’s regime is in trouble, and not just because he’s the richest and most corrupt man on the planet. According to a report drawn up by former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, Putin has access to 58 aircrafts, four yachts and nearly two-dozen homes. At the same time, some of Putin’s political allies have been showing up higher and higher on the Forbes list. So what’s Russia’s big man and oligarch maker worth? Political analyst and Putin critic Stanislav Belkovsky estimates $70 billion — if accurate, good for 2nd place in the world. http://www.vocativ.com/03-2013/10-billionaires-you-wont-see-in-forbes/

    Putin and other Russian gangster capitalists make America’s most corrupt political couple, the Clintons, look like paupers. The wealth of the new Russian gangster capitalists is making things worse for Russian Workers, just the vat increase in the wealth of the rich in this country is pauperizing American workers. The Russian economy is like the US economy, the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer. In both countries the right scapegoats gays to deflect from that fact.

    In both countries scapegoating is the name of the game.

    In the US anti-gay laws are embedded in federal and state policies in spite of the fact that few American politicians actually endorse violence. An example of the difference can be seen in the map below where GLSEN notes 8 of the states with ‘anti-gay propaganda’ laws. In Russia, the law was passed by the Duma and covers the whole country. “The reference to prohibiting enumeration refers to state laws that disallow the implementation of bullying policies that specify (enumerate) protections for LGBT students.” http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/02/03/3241421/9-state-gay-propaganda-laws/ via JoeMyGod.

    In America the problem is not outright state sponsorship of violence, except in the states shown in the map below, but pandering to religious cults and the rich on the questions of discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. It does mean that because of rebranding by Obama and others violence is no long state sponsored but that Democrats, applauded by Republica,k continue to pigheadedly refuse to pass ENDA whenever it has a chance of being implemented.

    The solution for the LGBT communities in both countries is the same, to reject right wing parties like the Democrat/Republicans or Putin’s United Russia and instead make a concerted effort to ally with unions, the union left and with the left in general to build alliances and win our struggle.

  • No kidding.

    Moreover, in all those states with the “No Promo Homo” laws, citizens are free to speak out against them, contradict them, and state in public it is wrong to stigmatize being LGBT. In time, those laws will be repealed or overturned, one way or another.

    In Russia, any such action would result in a fine and/or jail time. They wrote their anti-gay pogrom-enabling ‘propaganda’ law in such a way that even saying it’s a bad law that should repealed is itself a violation of the law.

  • FLL

    The dictatorship of the Tea Professoriat! The dictatorship of the Tea Proletariat! Hilarious.

  • LOL yes :)

  • ROTFL if ever there was an articulate case to be made for justified and witty condissention that was it. I am getting in line. Well done!

  • FLL

    Within the context of the U.S. and most democracies, these professors are equating two profoundly different phenomena:
    (1) a restriction on the inclusion of gay rights in public school curricula
    (2) the complete absence of freedom of speech concerning gay rights and gay citizens, with criminal penalties for anyone at all (gay, straight or bi) who voices a forbidden opinion

    I’m amazed that these two professors have so little appreciation for the importance of freedom of speech to the health and success of any society. It’s no coincidence that America’s Founding Fathers placed freedom of speech first in the Bill of Rights. This blog itself would be illegal in Russia. The same article that the Yale professors wrote would also be illegal according to Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law since it is opinion rather than news reporting, although the two professors are apparently too dull to see the irony.

  • cole3244

    we are a little touchy today i see.

  • Monophylos Fortikos

    False equivalence is a lucrative principle, not just for newspaper columnists and radio talkshow hosts. Maybe there ought to be an ISO certification for it.

  • Indigo

    The Tea Professoriat is as ignorant as the Tea Proletariat but more culpable because more elaborately edumacated.

  • Totally forgot about the youth group, will add that.

  • What issue is anyone in the world innocent on? If it was were up to the fringe in any country, every coutnry would be nazi germany. That does mean every country is. All men contain the potential for evil. In Russia, that makes you leader.

  • mirror

    I’m speechless. Professors? Really?

  • cole3244

    we certainly aren’t completely innocent on this issue and if it was up to the rw we might be just as bad as russia just not as obvious imho.

  • Lesson: Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Yale’ies.

  • Wow… just wow. Exactly how far up their asses have these Yale professors managed to lodge their craniums?

    I mean, I can write here on this blog, “My wife and I are very happy. There is nothing wrong with being gay.” — and fear no repercussions.

    In Russia, both I and John would be subject to criminal charges and a hefty fine, at minimum. Me for writing it, and John for allowing it to be published where children might see that terrible, corrupting remark. (/snark)

    And if there’s any doubt that’s what would happen, we need only look at that story from the other day.


    Russian authorities reportedly filed charges on Friday against the head of an online support group for LGBT teens, for violating the law prohibiting “the promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors.”

    The case is being brought against Elena Klimova, who runs Children-404, which posts stories from Russian LGBT teens on the Russian social networking site VKontakte. This is the fifth case reported in which Russian authorities have invoked the propaganda law passed in June. It follows the conviction on Thursday of the editor of a Russian newspaper for its reporting on the firing of a gay teacher, for which he was fined the equivalent of about $1,400.

    This is the same website, VKontakte, that regularly allows horrific anti-gay assault videos to be posted, without any sanction or repercussions.

  • Yes a police state where the government openly allows and encourages people to beat up and kill LGBT citizens, and a country where gay marriage and full civil rights are available in a number of states and in which that number is growing. Yep, apples and apples Yale!

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