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Posts for June, 2013

Violence Breaks Out As Russia’s State Duma Bans LGBT Advocacy

Jim Burroway

June 11th, 2013

Police break up a fight between LGBT activist and anti-gay protester. (Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov)

Russia’s State Duma gave its unanimous approval today to a federal law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors. The law prohibits advocating the moral equivalency of gay relationships to straight ones, as well as the distributing of material advocating for gay rights. The Duma vote was 434-0, with one abstention. Similar bans are already in place in several Russian regions and the city of St. Petersburg. The bill now goes on to the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of Parliament, where passage is expected. As RIA Novosti reported:

There are a total of 450 deputies in the State Duma, and a majority of 226 was needed for the bill to pass.

If the bill is signed into law by Putin, the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships” will be punishable by fines from 4,000 ($120) to 5,000 rubles ($160) for individuals, from 40,000 ($1,200) to 50,000 ($1,500) for officials, and from 800,000 ($25,000) to 1 million rubles ($31,000) for organizations.

There will also be tougher fines for promoting such relationships in the media or on the Internet: from 50,000 rubles to 1 million rubles, or even 90 days of arrest for people involved in organizations found guilty of the offense.

Violent clashes broke out between LGBT advocates and Orthodox anti-gay protesters outside the State Duma as the body began considering the bill:

A RIA Novosti reporter at the scene witnessed how the demonstration started peacefully, with a police cordon separating anti-bill LGBT activists from those backing the bill.

When some of the gay couples protesting against the bill to restrict “the promotion of same-sex relationships” started kissing, pro-bill activists responded by hurling eggs and bundles of nettles.

Some anti-bill protesters chanted “Moscow is not Baghdad” (seemingly more of a reference to a generic anti-gay, conservative, religious society, than a specific comment on today’s Iraq) while pro-bill demonstrators shouted: “Moscow is not Sodom.”

…Masha Gessen, a prominent Moscow-based journalist and outspoken defender of gay rights, was one of those taken to a police station. She tweeted that she was detained after a pro-Orthodox Church activist attacked her “physically” but was not detained by riot police.

Reuters reports:

The gay protesters were far outnumbered by around 200 anti-gay activists who surrounded them, chanting “Russia is not Sodom”, singing Orthodox Christian prayers and crossing themselves. They threw rotten eggs at the gay protesters.

After scuffles in which one man was knocked to the ground and kicked by the anti-gay activists, police began detaining the gay protesters and bundling them into waiting buses.

The State Duma will also consider today another bill which would make “insulting religious believers’ feelings” a criminal offense, punishable with finds of up to $15,000, 200 hours of compulsory labor, or up to three years’ imprisonment.

In February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the proposed ban would not infringe on the human rights of LGBT people in Russia:

We’re not discriminating against anyone, we just don’t want reverse discrimination, when one group of citizens gets the right to aggressively impose their values, unsupported by most of the population, especially on children,” Lavrov said in Moscow.

In April, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated those sentiments and blamed gay people, in part, for Russia’s declining population.

Pride in Russia, Putin Style

Randy Potts

May 29th, 2013

Last Saturday in Russia, activist Nikolai Alekseev and a small group of compatriots held yet another banned Pride event in Moscow in front of the State Duma.  Two days before the announced (but banned) event, the police visited Nikolai’s home to warn him from carrying out the protest and published their warning in the paper.

Amazingly, today Nikolai and his team have released a video made from several small cameras pinned to activist’s clothing showing what “Pride” looks like in Putin’s Russia — one big, homophobic mess, complete with Orthodox onlookers praying and what appears to have been a punch thrown at Nikolai as he was dragged to the police van.

According to the video, 39 activists were arrested.  With my extremely weak college Russian and the help of Google, some of the signs protesters held up said things like the following –

“Homophobia – cover for dictatorship!”

“Homophobia is killing!”

“Discriminating against the minority is oppression of the majority.”

“We don’t need homophobic legislation. Children need nurseries, kindergarten, education.”

That last sign refers to recent legislation, passed in state after state within Russia, banning homosexual “propaganda” from minors.  Recent polls indicate that over 70% of the Russian population favors the ban — much like, say, the U.S. in the 1950s.  Nikolai has been called the Russian Harvey Milk but he reminds me more of Frank Kameny, for whom announcing “gay is good” was a bold and brash thing to do.

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I was really struck by the two young women in the video shown holding up this rainbow flag which reads “Lyubov’ sil’neye” or “love is stronger than.”  They were arrested moments later.

Russian Military Has Foolproof Method for Finding Gay Soldiers

Jim Burroway

January 25th, 2013

I’m not sure what it is, but it somehow involves tattoos:

The new guidelines, based on a psychology textbook published by a military university in 2005, call for carrying out a physical examination and recommend checking for tattoos in intimate places on the new recruits’ bodies, Izvestia reported, citing a copy of the guidelines that it obtained.

Special attention is recommended for tattoos near the face, sexual organs and buttocks, as the author believes that such tattoos reveal possible sexual deviations.

“The reason for getting tattoos could indicate a low cultural or educational level. If an influence by external factors is determined, for example, persuasion or direct coercion, this indicates the malleability of the young man, his disposition to submit to another’s will,” the text says.

The guidelines also include a wide range of warning signs indicative of mental instability, including early sexual experience and ‘uncontrolled sexual behavior,’ both of which are included in the same category as alcohol abuse, running away from home, suicidal tendencies and theft.

Russian Duma Approves First Reading Of Anti-Gay Legislation

Jim Burroway

January 25th, 2013

As gay rights campaigners and militant Orthodox Christian nationalists clashed outside of Russia’s Parliament, the Duma voted overwhelmingly for a so-called “anti-propaganda” bill which would prohibit pro-gay public demonstrations and dissemination to minors, with fines of up to US$16,000. The bill passed its first reading by a vote of 388-1, with one abstention. It will require two more readings and President Vladimir Putin’s signature before becoming law. RT quotes one lawmaker as saying she expects the second and third readings to be completed by July

While that was going on, the Associated Press reports that as many as twenty demonstrators were detained by police outside the Duma:

Earlier Friday, three dozen LGBT rights campaigners gathered near the State Duma to protest the law, while militant Orthodox activists started assaulting and pelting them with eggs. Police intervened, but mostly detained the LGBT campaigners.

At a similar rally Tuesday, Orthodox activists violently assaulted and beat up LGBT campaigners, who had gathered to kiss each other in protest against the planned legislation.

…Some lawmakers and public figures have accused gays of contributing to the fall in Russia’s already low birth rates, and have argued that they should be barred from government jobs, undergo forced medical treatment or be exiled.

An executive with a government-run television network said in a nationally televised talk show that gays should be prohibited from donating blood, sperm and organs for transplants, and that their hearts should be burned or buried after death.

Russia Pushes Anti-gay Law

Jim Burroway

January 22nd, 2013

Russia’s Duma is expected to consider a proposed bill which would outlaw all public demonstrations, publications, broadcasts and other activity which it terms “propaganda” for gay rights. The Associated Press has a very good write-up:

Lawmakers have accused gays of decreasing Russia’s already low birth rates and said they should be barred from government jobs, undergo forced medical treatment or be exiled. Orthodox activists criticized U.S. company PepsiCo for using a “gay” rainbow on cartons of its dairy products. An executive with a government-run television network said in a nationally televised talk show that gays should be prohibited from donating blood, sperm and organs for transplants, while after death their hearts should be burned or buried.

The anti-gay sentiment was seen Sunday in Voronezh, a city south of Moscow, where a handful of gay activists protesting against the parliament bill were attacked by a much larger group of anti-gay activists who hit them with snowballs.

The gay rights protest that won Samburov a fine took place in December. Seconds after Samburov and his boyfriend kissed, militant activists with the Orthodox Church pelted them with eggs. Police intervened, rounding up the gay activists and keeping them for 30 hours first in a frozen van and then in an unheated detention center. The Orthodox activists were also rounded up, but were released much earlier.

Similar laws have been passed in St. Petersburg and a couple of Russia’s regions. Last October, thugs attacked patrons at a gay bar in Moscow. The Associated Press has this quote from an Orthodox priest after that attack:

On the next day, an Orthodox priest said he regretted that his religious role had not allowed him to participate in the beating.

“Until this scum gets off of Russian land, I fully share the views of those who are trying to purge our motherland of it,” Rev. Sergiy Rybko was quoted as saying by the Orthodoxy and World online magazine. “We either become a tolerant Western state where everything is allowed — and lose our Christianity and moral foundations — or we will be a Christian people who live in our God-protected land in purity and godliness.”

Masked Men Attack Moscow Gay Bar on “Coming Out Day”

Jim Burroway

October 12th, 2012
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About 50 people were celebrating Coming Out Day in Moscow’s 7Freedays club when about twenty young men entered the club, attacked patrons, and generally rampaged through the place. Several people were injured, with three hospitalized. According to The Moscow News:

Never before in my life, have I experienced such horror,” Elias Regul, who witnessed the gang ransacking the club and called the police, told the Moscow News. Regul and his friend were talking outside the club, when at about 9:25 p.m. they heard the sounds of a fleeing crowd. “It happened very quickly, in a closed space,” Regul said. “It dawned on me, that they are coming to kill us.”

Someone from the group of men, with hoods over their heads and medical masks over their faces, pushed him and the other person away from the entrance, and both of them used this moment to flee the site. Regul reported the case to a traffic policeman on duty at a nearby station and called the police. By the time he returned to the club with the officer, the assailants were running away from the club. “What we saw inside was complete chaos,” he said. The club was in ruins and blood was everywhere, he recalled.

Andrei Obolensky, who organized the event at the club, told reporters that the assailants aimed at people’s faces and heads with fists and bottles. Most of those attending the event were women. RIA Novosti has a few more details:

“They pulled a gun on the bouncers as they entered the club. Then they shouted ‘You wanted a show?’” Obolensky told RIA Novosti. “People were bleeding; they had been hit in the head with bottles.”

Two of the three people hospitalized for the injuries they sustained in the attack have now been released from hospital. One girl, who suffered a serious eye injury, is still being treated.

7Freedays bulls itself as the “first GL-friendly bar in Russia.” Police are reportedly edamining video footage from security cameras inside and outside of the club. Observers say that this is the seventh known attack against gays in Moscow this year. The actual number of attacks are likely higher since many go unreported.

Earlier this week, the People’s Council, a nationalist Russian Orthodox group, issued a statement demanding the closure of all gay bars in Moscow. The group also is pressing Moscow’s city government to adopt an “anti-propaganda” law similar to the one passed in St. Petersburg and other Russian regions. Portions of that law were upheld by Russia’s Supreme Court last month.

Russia’s Supreme Court Places Limits on “Gay Propaganda” Laws

Jim Burroway

October 8th, 2012

The Supreme Court of Russia has upheld a ban on “gay propaganda” that was enacted in the Arkhangelsk region, but placed some very specific limits on the law. According to RIA Novosti, the ban only applies to “direct promotion of homosexual relations among minors“:

Pickets in support of and public discussions on gay rights remain legal despite the ban, passed by the Arkhangelsk Region’s legislature last fall, the court said. Informing minors about homosexual relations is also allowed as long as the information remains neutral in tone, the court said in a ruling passed in mid-August but not publicized until this week.

A similar law  was passed in St. Petersburg in February, and it was announced that the Moscow City Council and Russian Parliament may consider similar proposals. Similar measures are also in place in the Ryazan and Kostroma Oblasts.

Moscow Police Break Up Pride March, 40 Arrested

Jim Burroway

May 27th, 2012

LGBT advocates attempted two Pride demonstrations in Moscow today. The first outside a city council building was blocked by Russian Orthodox opponents and broken up by police.  The second demonstration by city hall was also broken up by police, who arrested about 40 LGBT advocates and a small number of Orthodox opponents. According to the Washington Post:

Gay activist Galina Kaptur criticized city authorities for treating homosexuality as a contagious disease that would be spread through society if gays were allowed to hold a parade.

“It’s as if they thought that if all left-handed people held a parade, then afterward everyone would become left-handed,” Kaptur said. “This is wrong.”

Among the opponents of gay rights was Dmitry Tsarionov, who spoke to the crowd in front of a sign that said “Moscow is not Sodom.”

“I will not allow perverts to bring the wrath of God onto our city,” he said. “I want our children to live in a country where a sin that so awfully distorts human nature is not preached in schools.”

Gay rights advocate Nicolai Alexeyev was among those arrested.

17 Arrested Under St. Petersburg “Don’t Say Gay” Law

Jim Burroway

May 1st, 2012

According to the St. Petersburg, Russia web site Coming Out, seventeen LGBT advocates were arrested for carrying rainbow flags as part of the May 1st civil rights and freedom march on Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main boulevard. The LGBT advocates were participating in the city-sanctioned march as part of a larger group of democratic and civil society gropus. According to Coming Out:

5 minutes into the march, police requested removal of rainbow flags. When activists refused, they were forcefully detained and are now facing charges of “propaganda of homosexuality” and non-compliance with the police. One activist was detained for holding a sign “homophobia is illegal.”

17 activists are still being held by the police. Among those detained are Igor Kochetkov, chairman of the Russian LGBT Network, Mikhail Belodedov of Coming Out, Sergey Kondrashov, lawyer and straight ally, and Elena Popova, director of St. Petersburg organization “Soldier’s mothers”, defending rights of draftees.

The so-called “gay propaganda law” bars groups, publications, events and other so-called “promotion” of LGBT rights, was passed in St. Petersburg in February. The Russian Parliament and Moscow City Council may take up similar proposals.

Russian Parliament To Consider Bill Banning Gay “Propaganda”

Jim Burroway

March 30th, 2012

Last month, the St. Petersburg city government enacted a law banning public advocacy for LGBT people. Now a similar bill is being considered in Russia’s lower house of Parliament. The proposed bill, which was introduced by Novosibirsk regional lawmakers, includes fines for up to 500,000 rubles (US$16,500) for “public activities that promote homosexuality as normal behavior.” It also calls for a fine of 1 million rubles (US$33,000) for publish material promoting pedophilia. Like the St. Petersburg law, the new proposal would effectively link homosexuality with child sexual abuse.

In addition to St. Petersburg, similar laws have also been enacted in Ryazzan, Arkhangelsk and Kostroma regions.

St. Petersburg Legislature Passes Anti-Gay Bill

Jim Burroway

February 29th, 2012

Via the Russian LGBT web site Anti-Dogma comes word (Google Translate) comes word that the legislature of St. Petersburg, Russia, gave its approval on the third reading of a bill prohibiting the “promotion” of homosexuality. As Anti-Dogma put it:

For educated people, it is obvious that any propaganda of homosexuality does not exist in nature. This means that the law is needed for something else. In particular, for the creation of obstacles to human rights organizations.

The same legislative speculators who want to curry favor with the authorities, with the same zeal can take, and for other minority religious, ethnic, etc. And those who now applauds “the triumph of traditional values,” very soon may be surprised to find himself among the “forbidden”.

According to Anti-Dogma, twenty-nine deputies voted for the bill, five against, and one abstained. According to earlier reports, the bill prohibits organizations and individuals from engaging in “public actions aimed at propaganda of pederasty, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.” he bill has a separate but identical provision banning advocacy for pedophilia, thus equating it with homosexuality in the public debate. During the bill’s second reading earlier this month, the penalties were significantly increased. Individuals convicted under the law will be fined 5,000 rubles (US$173) and organizations will be fined 500,000 rubles (US$17,285), a figure which will effectively shut down St. Petersburg’s LGBT organizations. Similar measures have been enacted in Ryazan, Kostroma and Arkhangelsk Oblasts.

St. Petersburg Russia Approves Second Reading of “Ban-The-Gay” Bill

Jim Burroway

February 8th, 2012

The St. Petersburg city legislature passed the second of three readings today a bill which prohibits “public actions aimed at promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgender minors” and the “uncontrolled dissemination of public information” including “misconceptions about the social equivalence of traditional and nontraditional marriage.” On the second reading, the bill approved today includes fines that are significantly higher than those provided in the original bill. Individuals convicted under the law will be fined 5,000 rubles (US$167) and organizations will be fined 500,000 rubles (US$16,698), a figure which will effectively shut down St. Petersburg’s LGBT organizations including a prestigious international film festival. The vote was 31-6.

US Pushes Hard on LGBT Rights Around the World

Jim Burroway

December 6th, 2011

The Obama administration has issued a flurry of documents and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a groundbreaking speech on the need for protecting the human rights of LGBT people around the world. It began this morning with the White House memorandum directing American international agencies to take action in countries where LGBT abuses are taking place. That was followed by fact sheets from the White House and the State Department outlining the new policies as well as past accomplishments. Of particular interest is the State Department’s description of its engagement in Uganda over concerns about the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill:

Alongside Ugandan civil society’s strong and sustained outreach to parliamentarians and the Uganda Human Rights Commission, and advocacy of other governments, U.S. Government advocacy against Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill established a precedent for the United States, the international donor community and civil society to collaborate to counter efforts to criminalize same-sex conduct. [Emphasis mine]

While activities in Uganda are mentioned, Africa was not alone in receiving the State Department’s attention over the past few years. Also mentioned are Jamaica, Slovakia, Indonesia, Guinea, Serbia, and India. Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton gave what has been described as a groundbreaking speech in Geneva in advance of Human Rights Day this Saturday. I wasn’t able to see the speech and hope to have the transcript as soon as possible. (Update: It’s here, and it’s a doozy.)

It remains to be seen how the actions today will be reported in the popular media and what the response will be in countries which stand to be affected by today’s announcements. But past events does give us a clue as to how today’s developments are likely to be received in world capitals where LGBT persecution is either official policy or the social norm. Russia had earlier denounced American diplomatic protests over a proposed bill in St. Petersburg which would prohibit LGBT advocacy in public, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak followed that with a suggestion that the St. Petersburg proposal could be made a federal law. In Africa, following comments from British Prime Minister David Cameron warning that countries which prosecute LGBT people could see their foreign aid cut (a warning that was later modified to say that the aid would be redirected to NGO’s instead), African leaders, including those who oppose LGBT oppression, warned that the statement could backfire on efforts to head off legislation which would severely increase penalties against LGBT people. African LGBT advocates also warn that if changes in foreign funding force cutbacks in governmental services, the local LGBT communities would feel the brunt of the blame, making the work of LGBT advocacy much more difficult in countries where the prevailing belief is that homosexuality is a Western import.

None of that is to say that these pronouncements from the US and IK aren’t unwarranted or improper. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and as they say in Africa, when elephants fight, the grass suffers. Since Cameron’s announcement in October, there has been a measurable uptick on African newspaper articles mentioning homosexuality popping up through November and December in my Google Alerts for the continent, and those articles are rarely positive. The Ugandan Parliament revived the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by the end of October, and the Nigerian Senate greatly increased the penalties in a bill which makes same-sex unions a felony in November.

Now to be clear, neither action was a response to Britain’s announcement; both events almost certainly have occurred anyway. But if anyone had been inclined to speak out against those two bills before, the current politics now makes that all but impossible. No African politician has ever lost influence by standing up to “meddling” by foreign and (especially) colonial powers. And no politician anywhere in the world — east, west, north or south — has survived the taint of being accused of colluding with foreign governments, no  matter how manifestly untrue, unjust, or an irrelevant distraction those accusations may be.

In the short term, these announcements are likely to exacerbate the situation. That is just a simple fact of life, but pointing that out isn’t to say that this is not a good change in direction. It is merely to say that we will need to be forewarned and prepared for the inevitable reaction which will come of it. Fasten your seat belts.

Russian Deputy PM Suggests “Homosexual Propaganda” Bill Can Be Made Federal

Jim Burroway

December 2nd, 2011

The Interfax News service reports that Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak has suggested that the proposed bill in St. Petersburg which would ban the “promotion” of homosexuality could be made a federal law:

“Probably, we should consider this topic at the federal level,” Kozak told a press conference in St. Petersburg on Friday. Any propaganda regarding non-conventional sexual relations is “an abominable thing to do,” he said.

The bill also includes a ban on the promotion of pedophilia — is there a problem with this in Russia? — and therefore uncritically links homosexuality with pedophilia in the public debates taking place over the bill.

St. Petersburg City Legislature Punts Anti-Gay Bill Vote

Jim Burroway

November 30th, 2011

In a surprising development, LGBT advocate Polina Savchenko of St. Petersburg-based LGBT organization Coming Out reports that the city legislature completed its session today without voting on the bill which would ban “public actions aimed at propaganda of pederasty, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.” With this delay, the bill will not be adopted before the elections scheduled for this weekend. The danger that the bill could resurface in the next government, however, remains very real, according to the statement from Coming Out.

The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, November 30

Jim Burroway

November 30th, 2011

Ban on LGBT Advocacy Scheduled For Vote: St. Petersburg, Russia. The St. Petersburg City Duma is expected to give the third and final reading today for a bill which would ban all LGBT advocacy with a fine of up to $1,600 for organizations engaging in “public actions aimed at propaganda of pederasty, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.” The fine for individuals would be about $100. The U.S. State Department has expressed “deep concerns” about the proposed legislation and called on Russian officials ” to safeguard these freedoms, and to foster an environment which promotes respect for the rights of all citizens.” The Russian Foreign Ministry has, in turn, denounced the State Department’s comments. “We view with bewilderment the American side’s attempts to interfere, what’s more, publicly, in the lawmaking process.”

Local LGBT advocates fear that the measure would provide another tool for police crackdowns, not only on Pride events, but also on the numerous conferences, meetings and film festivals which take place in the city each year. What’s more, the bill’s very vagueness leaves open the question of what constitutes “public actions.” Two women holding hands in public or one man with a rainbow lapel pin may run afoul of the new law. Similar laws have already been passed in Arkhangelsk and in the Ryazan region, and the St. Petersburg bill is expected to pass as well. After all, elections are only four days away.

If you know of something that belongs on the Agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.

St. Petersburg Anti-Gay Bill Delayed One Week

Jim Burroway

November 23rd, 2011

The proposal in St. Petersburg, Russia, to ban all advocacy for LGBT rights was expected to sail through its second reading and become law today, but The Moscow News now reports that the bill has been delayed a week “to clarify all legal definitions connected to this law.”

Russian Cities Weigh Laws Banning LGBT Advocacy

Jim Burroway

November 23rd, 2011

Two Russian regions have already passed laws prohibiting all forms of LGBT advocacy, and now the city governments of St. Petersburg and Moscow are considering similar measures.

Earlier this year, Ryazan and Arkhangelsk oblasts passed laws banning what they call “gay propaganda,” which include public speech and advocacy on behalf of gay and transgender people. The St. Petersburg proposal includes a fine of up to $1,600 for organizations engaging in “public actions aimed at propaganda of pederasty, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.” The fine for individuals would be about $100.The bill doesn’t define what constitutes “public actions,” leaving LGBT advocates concerned that the law would be yet another tool for police to use to crack down on gay pride events. The bill has a separate but identical provision banning advocacy for pedophilia, thus equating it with homosexuality in the public debate. The bill, which is backed by the ruling United Russia party, passed the first of three required readings last week with a 27-1 vote, with one abstention.

Shortly after the bill passed its first reading in St. Petersburg, a Moscow-based newspaper reports that a similar bill is in the works in the Moscow Duma. There is also talk that Russian state legislators may take up similar measures. One delegate says the proposal however would not go far enough:

If this [law against gay propaganda] is meant for our state’s security, this is all good. Only the people who break that law should not be fined;instead, they need to receive punishment under the criminal code”, said deputy Ekaterina Lahova.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993 under President Boris Yeltsin.

Slavic Pride Attacked By Police, 14 Arrested

Jim Burroway

June 25th, 2011

Despite the ban imposed by St. Petersburg city hall, Russian LGBT advocates held a Slavic Pride demonstration near the monument to Peter the Great in central St. Petersburg. When Pride participants arrived at the monument at 2:00 p.m. local time, they were met by about two dozen militia police. Within minutes, police broke up the march and arrested eleven Russians and three Belarusians.

Gay activist Alexander Sheremetev attacked by thug during Slavic Pride in St. Petersburg today.

One LGBT advocate Alexey Kiselev, was reportedly beaten by police at the station. Another advocate, Alexander Sheremetev, was beaten by a skinhead. He has been taken to a hospital under police custody. The attacker was arrested and later released, but the LGBT advocates who were arrested will being held overnight. There is no word on his condition. They are being charged with organizing an illegal action and resisting a police order.  This second charge could lead to a 15-day prison sentence. It appears most of the activists are being held in the same cell and were able to keep their cell phones. They are tweeting and texting from inside their cell. But there is growing concern over trans rights activist Anna Komarova, who is being kept in a separate cell without access to a mobile phone.

My existence is not a violation of your rights

Timothy Kincaid

November 3rd, 2010

I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the notion of “balance” that some in the anti-gay industry are espousing.

I support the right of those who believe that homosexual acts are sinful and wish to encourage abstinence to have their voices heard. And those who think that the social acceptance of same-sex couples in society reduces public morality and will lead to social ills should be given the space to present their case.

But the false equivalencies that have been presented lately do not speak to an exchange of ideas, but rather to the assumptions of entitlement to which anti-gay activists think they are due.

The counterbalance to “I wish to advocate for gay rights” is not “you must be kept silent.” And there is no moral equivalency between “I wish to live unharmed” and “I wish to beat you to submission.” Yet these are not greatly exaggerated from that which we see presented.

Take, for example, Russian gay rights protesters who sued their country in the European Court after being denied the right to assemble. The court found last month that their rights had been violated and ordered that Russia allow for future gay rights demonstrations and assigned compensation.

The response to this decision by the Russian Orthodox Church is astonishing. (Interfax Religion)

“The decision made in Strasbourg essentially constitutes violence against the feelings and morals of the majority of [Russian] society. That will hardly help achieve the stated purpose to cultivate tolerance and achieve accord, mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence,” Father Filaret said in an interview with Interfax-Religion.

Peaceful assembly is depicted by the church as “violence against the morals and feelings of society.” The real violence enacted against the physical bodies of gay people in Russia was given less concern by the church than the “violence” against anti-gays feelings.

Howell Superintendent Ron Wilson

Or take note of the equivalencies assigned by the school board in Howell, Michigan. (Livingston Daily)

  • On October 20, Jay McDowell wore a purple shirt to class to express solidarity with students who are bullied for being (or being perceived as) gay or lesbian. This led to a discussion about bullying and why it should be opposed.
  • One student, who had come to class with a Confederate Flag belt buckle was asked by McDowell to remove the item (she did).
  • In response, a male student declared that he opposes rainbow flags because, “I don’t accept Gays. It is against my religion. I am Catholic.”
  • McDowell attempted to explain how “I don’t accept” followed by any group was disruptive and when the student refused to back down, suspended him and another student from the class for the day.

As the Michigan Messenger describes it:

That student … and another student, were kicked out of McDowell’s Economic class after debating with the teacher about a third student’s Confederate flag belt buckle. The student questioned why it was OK for students to wear clothing to support LGBT issues, but not for a student to wear a Confederate flag.

In other words, why isn’t “I support” equivalent to “I don’t accept”? Shouldn’t both positions be given the same prominence and legal and moral weight?

No. Perhaps in some settings, but not this one.

Because the context of the debate was over the bullying of children. And in that context, “I don’t accept gays” is an implicit endorsement of bullying of school children. When speaking of bullying, “I don’t accept” is a justification for bullying.

Yet the school board found that McDowell violated the rights of these two boys to their free expression and reprimanded him. And in doing so, they made the following comparison:

You also state you routinely do not allow [the Confederate Flag] in your classroom because it offends you, and you personally connect this symbol to a list of oppressions and atrocities. You do, however, allow the display of the rainbow flag, to which some of your students have voiced opposition.

McDowell actually does not display the rainbow flag. (And, indeed, if McDowell did use his class space to advocate for specific (or even general) political positions to the exclusion of other positions, I would agree that this was unfair.) But irrespective of that inaccuracy, consider what it means that the school board administration compared the two:

On one hand the Confederate Flag has a traceable history and an identifiable connection with acts of violence and advocacy of discrimination and intolerance towards people based on their racial and religious identity. In fact, in this particular high school it was linked to a Facebook Hate Group which, in 2009, used the flag as its profile picture and students have been required to remove the symbol from their cars. The Confederate Flag at Howell High was directly connected to a threat against some students.

On the other hand, the rainbow flag is linked with a set of social positions with which some students disagree. At most, it exists as a challenge to the beliefs of some students. But in the minds of this school board administration, a challenge to their beliefs is equivalent to – or worse than – a physical threat against others.

And so they accused McDowell of bullying the students, of denying their right to “not accept” their fellow students. In response to his defense of gay students from being bullied (or “not accepted”), they order him to “cease from engaging in the promotion of your personal social issues.”

For refusing to accept statements of intolerance in his classroom, the board accused McDowell of being intolerant.

Nonsense. Contrary to what anti-gay activists claim, tolerance is not defined by the extent to which it allows intolerance to prevail.

But perhaps most troubling is this instruction to McDowell: “Where controversial issues arise, be sure all sides of the controversial issue be explored without emotion and bias.” Think back to the originating situation, the reason for McDowell’s decision to wear purple: the suicide deaths of a number of gay and presumed-gay children.

What, I wonder, are “all sides” of the “controversial issue” that gay students should not be bullied to death?

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