As Vladimir Putin seemingly prepares to invade Ukraine after fomenting civil unrest in that country, which he hopes will turn to civil war, the news from Moscow would indicate that you, we, seriously ticked Putin off.
Putin just secretly banned a bunch of lead Obama donors, particularly gay ones, from getting Russian visas.
Cuz, you know, lots of American gays are just clamoring to visit a country that sanctions neo-Nazi gangs kidnapping gay and trans people, stripping them, beating them, shaving their heads down the middle, painting rainbow flags and Stars of David on their bodies, forcing them to drink urine, then posting a video of the entire abduction on Russia’s favorite neo-Nazi enabling company, Pavel Durov’s amoral VKontakte (aka VK.com).
Aside from the irony of Putin banning people who wouldn’t be caught dead (and kidnapped) in Russia, the ban does indicate something else far funnier, and important, for gay rights advocates in America and abroad.
The Kremlin has expanded its secret “black list” of Americans banned from Russia to include Obama campaign fundraisers tied to the LGBT community and senior Congressmen, diplomatic sources tell The Daily Beast. Moscow’s list, these sources say, was expanded in retaliation to the Obama administration’s attack on the assets of key business associates of Vladimir Putin in March….
Diplomatic sources confirmed to The Daily Beast that the expanded and still-secret Russian sanctions list includes five top Obama campaign bundlers as well as about a dozen top Senators and Congressmen who were not included in the first list. The names of the specific bundlers remains a secret, but a focus was put on those with ties to the gay and lesbian community; it’s a reflection of the ongoing fight between the Kremlin and the White House over Russia’s laws punishing the promotion of LGBT “propaganda.”
I’m clearly someone who enjoys, and believes in, standing up to bullies. But there’s a special deliciousness in standing up to, and clearly getting the goat, of a dictator. Our community was “the” thorn in Putin’s side this past year. Ours was quite possibly the only issue that truly gave Putin a black eye, domestically and internationally, in the month’s preceding the Sochi Olympics and the invasion of Ukraine.
(Gays were also the canary in the human rights coal mine, providing an early-warning radar about the mini-me Soviet-wannabe looming in the east.)
That’s not to say we won in the sense that gays are now free in Russia. They’re not. And no one thought they would be after only one year of rabble-rousing against a dictator who used to run the domestic Russian equivalent of the KGB. This is a much longer-term game and strategy.
In order for gay and trans people in Russia and around the world to breathe more freely we need to make the cost of being anti-gay simply too high, and ultimately not worth it. Part of that is changing the international culture so that our governments make gay rights a larger priority in their diplomacy, as the US most certainly has under President Obama, particularly in his second term vis-a-vis Russia. In addition to working on the Russian issue for the sake of gay Russians, we were also using the issue as a foil for creating change on gay rights around the world.
I’ve always believed that the best, most successful advocacy is multi-layered. It’s never just about fixing the one obvious “wrong” in front of your face, and it’s never solely about the target you claim to be targeting. When a group of us, including Dan Savage and Queer Nation New York, launched a boycott of Russian vodka last year, the naysayers said the boycott wouldn’t “work.” For them, a “working” boycott would be on that forces vodka companies like Stolichnaya (which is Russian, by the way) to lose sufficient profits to do something, and that somehow that something would manage to get Vladimir Putin to free all the gays.
The purpose of the boycott was to find an interesting news hook for the domestic and international media, so that they’d finally pay attention to the Russian gay rights story that had been languishing for years. We would then use that media coverage to educate and galvanize word public opinion against Russia, and use public ire to push our governments to do more to help in Russia and around the world on gay rights.
PS A sad update. Discredited Russian gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev, who was spurned by mainstream human rights groups last year after having a public and repeated anti-Semitic meltdown on Facebook and Twitter over a several week period, is now publicly endorsing Russia’s annexation of Ukraine on behalf of Russian gays. Alexeyev also appears to be urging the Kremlin to invade Ukraine anew, and posted a tweet that seems a defense of anti-gay politician Yelena Mizulina who authored Russia’s draconian “gay propaganda” law.
After his horrific anti-Semitic meltdown, Alexeyev’s public comments became decidedly pro-Putin on a number of issues, including going so far as to criticize Russian gays for meeting with President Obama and sugesting that Russian gays seeking asylum in the West were liars. Thus his weird embrace of the Kremlin regarding Ukraine is consistent in its indication that, or whatever reason, Alexeyev is no longer a legitimate representative of anyone other than himself, and apparently the Kremlin.