Google Doodles the Rainbow for Sochi
February 6th, 2014
If you go to the Google search page, you’ll see this Google Doodle in place of Google’s logo in honor of the Sochi Olympics, which officially opens tomorrow. In case anyone somehow misses Google’s message in the graphic, they helpfully quote from the Olympi charter:
The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” –Olympic Charter
This appears to be going on Google’s pages worldwide, including such anti-gay hot spots as Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Jamaica, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and, most importantly right now, Russia, where Google is likely violating that country’s “anti-propaganda” law.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Channel 4 is rebranding its during the duration of the Olympics by dressing its logo in Rainbow colors. And tomorrow, just as the opening ceremonies air on BBC2, Channel 4 will counter with the television debut of its “Gay Mountain” ad campaign:
The tongue-in-cheek ad, which will run for a week, features a “bear” cabaret act singing a song which features lyrics including “good luck gays, on gay mountain”. Using a play on the term “out”, denoting when a person declares publicly that they are gay, the TV ad runs with the strapline “good luck to everyone out in Sochi”.
“This is a typically Channel 4 way of celebrating the start of the Winter Games and showing our support to all of the athletes out in Sochi, gay or straight,” said the Channel 4 chief marketing and communications officer, Dan Brooke.
Something tells me you’re not gonna see anything like this on NBC:
Russian MP Temporarily Withdraws Bill To Remove Children from Gay Parents
October 19th, 2013
Russia’s RAI Novosti’s headlines makes it sound like good news — “Russian MP Withdraws Bill Taking Children Away from Gay Parents” — but you only have to go to the second paragraph to see the other shoe drop:
A bill that proposes stripping gays with children of their parental rights, introduced by Russian lawmaker Alexei Zhuravlyov, has been withdrawn from the parliament, a spokesperson for the lawmaker said Saturday.
“Yes, he has indeed withdrawn it,” spokesperson Sofia Cherepanova said, adding that the document would be later revised and again submitted to the Russian State Duma. She said that the author’s position on the matter “remains unchanged.” “Anyway, we are interested in passing the bill,” Cherepanova added.
The bill had been scheduled to come up for debate in February, at about the same time Russia would take center stage internationally as host to the Winter Olympics. Given that Zhuravlyov intends to resubmit the bill, this may be a delaying tactic to avoid drawing attention to Russia’s dismal human rights record while the television cameras are on in Sochi.
IOC Says It’s “Fully Satisfied” With Russia’s Anti-Gay Law
September 26th, 2013
According to the Associated Press:
The International Olympic Committee has dismissed concerns over Russia’s law banning gay propaganda, saying it doesn’t violate the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause, and pronounced Russia ready to host the 2014 Winter Games.
Jean-Claude Killy, chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission, gave his stamp of approval during a news conference Thursday at the conclusion of the commission’s 10th and final visit to Sochi before the games, which begin on Feb. 7.
…Killy said the commission deliberated for several days and concluded “the IOC doesn’t have the right to discuss the laws that are in place in the country hosting the games, so unless the charter is violated we are fully satisfied.”
This comes despite several contradictory statements by Russian officials about how Russia’s so-called “anti-propaganda” law would impact Olympic athletes and visitors. Earlier this month, the head of the Sochi Olympics asked the IOC to somehow make the rest of the world shut up about the draconian law. The IOC’s response then was to do Russia’s bidding, and ask athletes to keep quiet in Sochi like good Russian citizens. None of this was ever in any doubt, not with the real bottom line being:
Killy said the IOC commission was pleased with the ongoing construction ahead of the games, which with a total cost of $51 billion will be the most expensive Olympics in history.
The farce that is international gay “support”
September 15th, 2013
Ya know, you reach a point where you realize that it’s all just words, that the defense of gay rights has become less about gay people and more about the chance to pat yourself on the back. And nothing has illustrated this more to me that the recent “controversy” over Russia’s horribly oppressive anti-gay laws.
Oh, the international community is Raising Concerns. And leaders are Talking Sternly. And the International Olympic Committee is having meetings and getting Assurances. And everyone is oh so very very very concerned that Russia not … well, let’s not be too specific about what they’re concerned about.
It doesn’t seem to be free speech rights. The IOC is very clear that they don’t want to change Russia’s law. And every newspaper – other than gay media – uses the word “propaganda” or “youth” every paragraph so as to make sure that everyone knows that this is perhaps a tiny bit concerning but not really all that unreasonable. Because propaganda and youth, you know.
And they’ve heard our concerns and, goodness gracious, we can’t have conflict. Conflict is bad. And the Olympics is a time of coming together and getting along and setting aside differences.
So maybe it’s just best that we shut up.
The corporate sponsors of the Olympics have become concerned that their name and product will be associated with civil rights violations. And they’ve expressed concern to the IOC, who passed that on to Russia. And the response: (msnbc)
A senior IOC official said Monday that sponsors, especially U.S. sponsors, are concerned about the law and are “afraid” of the potential fallout at next year’s Olympic Games. “I think this could ruin a lot for all of us. We have to be prepared,” marketing commission chairman Gerhard Heiberg said. “We can see many ways this could happen. I heard a lot from the sponsors, especially the American sponsors, what they are afraid of could happen.”
IOC President Jacques Rogge allayed any fears of possible demonstrations in Sochi and said the committee will remind athletes to refrain from protests or political gestures during the Games. “The constitution of the Russian federations allows for homosexuality,” Rogge said. “And we have received strong reassurances that this law will not affect participants in the Sochi Games.”
And so what is the official position of the IOC? That which Russian assigned them.
The head of Sochi’s organizing committee, Dmitry Chernyshenko, said that the law which bans “homosexual propaganda” would not affect the games as it would not apply to Olympic athletes, fans and media. He said the law has been misinterpreted by protesters and activists, and urged the IOC to communicate the message to “those who are still trying to speculate on this very transparent and very clear topic,” that Russia does not ban homosexuality.
“It’s very important to have your support to stop this campaign and this speculation regarding this issue,” Chernyshenko said.
We’ve been told that there are no reasons for concern. No one will be arrested… unless they break the law. Unless they, as Olympians, make any statements of any type, verbal or otherwise, that express anything other than contempt for gay people or gay rights.
And that is far far more inclusive than the mainstream press is emphasizing.
Take, for example, the arrest of Dmitry Isakov, who held a sign “Being gay and loving gays is normal. Beating gays and killing gays is a crime!” Not exactly the most radical statement, but in Russia that’s propaganda.
But the real interesting part of Isakov’s arrest was not the message. (Buzzfeed)
Police filed the charges on the basis of a complaint from a teenager in the northern Arkhangelskaya province who had seen Isakov’s protest online.
Oh yeah, the internet is fair game. But we have nothing to fear. No sirree, we can rest assured that as long as an athlete has never, ever, made a statement in opposition to, say, beating gay people that can be found in the media or online, then they have nothing to fear.
And Russia need not even be the bad guy. The IOC will happily punish any athlete that makes a “political” statement, because of Rule 50: “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted”. Ah, there’s that lovely word again, “propaganda”. And the IOC has made it very clear that Russian President Putin gets to define that term.
Oh, and our “allies”, the representatives from enlightened nations to the IOC, they have our back, right? Nope. (USAtoday)
Dick Pound of Canada weighed in on the issue a bit more pointedly. He called the law “disgusting” but said athletes need to respect their status as guests in Sochi. Pound said national Olympic committees should warn their athletes about the consequences. “You say to your kids, ‘If you screw around with this we’ll send you home.”
And if an athlete challenges such a mandate? “If there have been lots of warnings, there’s no excuse for it,” Pound said. “Then it becomes a provocation.”
Yes, yes, it’s horrible that the official position of a nation is that your existence is illegal – and let’s be honest, any law that makes declaring one’s existence to be illegal is nondifferentiable from one that makes one’s existence illegal – but just be good little faggots and shut up. Don’t rock the boat. We have big important international cooperation here and a mutual congratulatory event and don’t you dare raise any issues which might disprove our display of consanguinity.
Hey, if you just be invisible, we’ll let you play.
Oh, and look at how wonderful we are for raising your little issue. See what an advocate of civil rights we are and such firm negotiators too; We convinced Putin to give “assurances”. You should pat us on the back!
And the US rep is no better:
American Anita DeFrantz, who was elected to the influential executive board on Tuesday, said punishment for small statements such as nail polish sounds a bit much. It also raises complicated questions. What if someone’s rainbow pin is just a good luck charm?
Surely we can allow a good luck charm, so long as it isn’t in support of the humanity of an oppressed minority. Cuz if you support humanity, then it’s only reasonable to send you home.
And meanwhile at the United Nations, a symbolic statement has allowed politicians another chance to look wonderful while doing nothing whatsoever.
There is a tradition at Olympics time for the host nation to write Olympic Truce, a resolution calling for friendly competition and the cause of peace. And this year Russia included a clause promising to include “people of different age, sex, physical capacity, religion, race and social status”.
It was pointed out that there was one group missing from that list, people of different sexual orientation.
Well there was no way – no way at all – that Russia was going to include people of different sexual orientation. So our “allies” brokered a solution; the language was changed to “promote social inclusion without discrimination of any kind.” And we can all pretend that this includes gay people, even though we know with absolute certainty that it does not. (NYTimes)
“I think it’s a very good outcome, and I think the Russians want to have a consensus to adopt this,” said Iakovos Iakovidis, a Greek representative to the United Nations, who was one of several officials in support of revising the statement. “I think people will be happy with this.”
No, Iakovidis, I’m not happy with this.
It’s bovine manure. It’s a bogus make-happy effort to do nothing while pretending to say something. It’s zero, nothing at all.
Meanwhile Bach and Rogge and Heiberg and Pound and DeFrantz and Iakovidis haven’t gotten around to noticing the latest Russian legislative proposal, taking away the children of gay parents. And when that passes, and it will, we can predict the result. “We are very concerned but Putin has given “assurances” that no athlete’s children will be seized (if they leave them at home). So shhhh, don’t rock the boat. We have a mega-billion dollar industry, ummm sporting event, to put on here and we really don’t give a flying fig about what Putin does to your type of people.”
But we Raised The Issue. And gosh, maybe we should get a medal for being On Your Side. And for Looking Out For Civil Rights.
Sochi Olympic Chief to IOC: Make the Criticisms Stop. IOC to Athletes: Stop Criticizing When in Sochi
September 9th, 2013
This tells you everything you need to know about Russia’s inability to cope with free debate:
The head of the Sochi Olympics asked the IOC on Sunday to help “stop this campaign and this speculation” related to the anti-gay law that has been overshadowing preparations for next year’s Winter Games in Russia.
The IOC would like all worldwide athletes to shut up and behave like good Russian patriots:
(IOC marketing commission chairman Gerhard) Heiberg raised the issue of concerns among sponsors.
“Lately there has been a lot of discussion, especially in Western Europe and in the United States, and I’m being pushed by several of the sponsors asking what will happen with this new law in Russian in connection with the gay community,” he said. “We are not to try to change anything over the laws in Russia. We will of course accept this as internal Russian decision. But what will the consequences be?”
Heiberg cited Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which says “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
“We have to be prepared,” he said. “We can see many ways this could happen. I heard a lot from the sponsors, especially the American sponsors, what they are afraid of could happen.”
Rogge said athletes would soon be reminded about their responsibility to abide by the IOC regulations related to protests in the charter.
According to the AP, IOC President Jacques Rogge said he “satisfied” with Russia’s explanations so far. What’s particularly chilling, if Heiberg’s words are to be taken at face value, is that Olympic sponsors’ fears about “fallout” from potential demonstrations appear to be resulting in pressure on the IOC and Russian officials to make sure they don’t occur.
Russia To IOC: We Won’t Arrest Gay People, Except When We Will
August 22nd, 2013
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak “reassured” — that’s the IOC’s word for it — the International Olympic Committee that Russia will comply with the Olympic Charter’s provision against discrimination. But…
In his letter, Kozak said the legislation does not impose any restrictions on sexual orientation, and stressed the Russian constitution prohibits discrimination against anyone based on sex, race or religion.
The law on gay propaganda, he said, centers on the “restriction of information that promotes non-traditional sexual relationships among children.”
“These legislations apply equally to all persons, irrespective of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, and cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation,” he said.
The letter added: “These requirements do not attract any limitations for participants and spectators of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi on their legal right of residence in the territory of the Russian Federation or participation in any events stipulated in the Games program that are contradictory to the Olympic Charter or universally recognized standards of international law on human rights.”
Kozak’s vigorous defense of the law and his laughable definition of discrimination leaves unanswered what will happen to athletes or spectators if they make any statements or gestures that could be interpreted as “propaganda.” Which is fine with IOC President Jacques Rogge, who just wants everyone to forget that anything is happening at all. He hailed the letter as “strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation.”
The Unique Challenges of Russian Homophobia
August 13th, 2013
It’s important to understand the particular nature of Russian homophobia if we ever hope to address it. In the U.S., much of our anti-gay politics emmanates from a politically influential religious class, and so it would be reasonable to assume that Russia’s anti-gay animosity springs from a similar source. And while the Russian Orthodox Church is virulently anti-gay, Masha Lippman says it would be a mistake to try to address Russian homophobia on religious grounds.
The country may appear to be fairly conservative, if one looks at its widespread homophobia or public condemnation of irreverence toward Russian Orthodox Church. Yet when it comes to other social habits, such as divorce, abortion, or birth rate, the picture is very different. Russia has one of the world’s highest rates of both divorce and abortion, and some of the most liberal laws on the latter. Russia’s birth rate is not dissimilar from that of secular cultures of western Europe. Premarital sex and single motherhood are fairly common; in one survey, a mere fourteen per cent of respondents said they believed a single parent can’t raise a child properly. And while a large majority of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, the proportion of those attending services or observing religious rituals in Russia is not dissimilar from many European countries.
A partial explanation of this discrepancy can be found in Soviet history. The early Soviet period involved a radical rejection of the ancien regime, a forced modernization by the Bolsheviks that included universal literacy and suffrage (along with the elimination of political choice, of course), as well as brutally imposed secularization, among other things. But the Soviet Union mostly missed the later, post-war stages of the Western social modernization, and especially the gay-rights movement. In the U.S.S.R., it was a crime to be a gay man. The atmosphere grew much freer for gays in the post-Communist period, yet gay rights have not become a nationwide issue until now, as the government has abruptly moved toward social conservatism.
This diary over at Daily Kos goes into it deeper, where Russian homophobia is seen in the context of Russian nationalism and distrust of foreigners. This is not the first time I’ve seen this; a number of Russians and citizens of former Soviet countries themselves have said this over the years:
In every way the homophobic tendency in contemporary Russia is riding the coattails of a decade’s worth of ethnic violence and xenophobia. Even the horrific videos of Russians torturing young people because of their perceived sexual identity are a recent addition to an already crowded field of anti-immigrant videos, in which Russian neo-Nazis beat up, and in some cases kill, people they suspect of being non-ethnic Russians. They share these videos on the internet for fun. (If you can bear it, this short documentary on anti-immigrant crime is as eye-opening as it is horrific.) On their own, these are the acts of fringe neo-Nazis like Maxim Martsinkevich (a major player in the torture video genre, who takes shirtless pictures and sexually violates LGBTs… read into that what you will.) Taken more broadly, once you throw in mass unemployment, frustration, and malaise, you start to see these hateful, exclusionary beliefs drift more and more into mainstream discourse.
Another important aspect of this is still-widespread nostalgia for the USSR – not the totalitarian policies per se, but the feeling that, for a couple of decades, Russia was an unchallenged world superpower, secure in its central place in international politics. Not for nothing did Putin call the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” This is all of a part with Russia’s attempts to assert itself on the national stage – think oil pipelines, Syria, etc. – as a pathetic echo for the glory days of Soviet power. The gap between Russia’s (belief in its) former greatness and the inability to assert itself in the contemporary world has led to an ideological vacuum, conveniently filled with desperate nationalism.
Later, he adds:
No exaggeration here: there is a sadly widespread belief that the LGBT movement is a CIA-funded operation à la MKUltra. For a local example, check out the current wiki page on Patriarch Alexy II, cached here, and note the section on his opposition to homosexuality.
That’s been one of the challenges in dealing with anti-gay politics in Africa, the belief that LGBT rights and that gay people themselves are a product of foreign meddling. Those charges find fertile ground in Africa where European colonialism — and its import of sodomy laws — still casts a long shadow. That is why public threats of cutting foreign aide (as distinguished from private diplomatic engagement in which the same messages have been delivered) have sometimes been much more disruptive than helpful to LGBT advocates on the ground. The same potential effect could conceivable play out in Russia, where an attack on its laws, however repulsive and oppressive to human rights they may be, is seen as an attack on Russian sovereignty itself. This is where foreign protests can backfire.
That’s not to say that I’m against, for example, the Russian vodka boycott. I personally think it’s been a smashing success, although you won’t be able to measure it in economic terms. I don’t think you will see any impact on Russian vodka producers’ balance sheets, but you do see it in how people are suddenly talking about what’s happening in Russia, and their doing it on a daily basis. The so-called “anti-propaganda” law has been on the books since June, but it wasn’t until Dan Savage issued his call for a vodka boycott a month later that the media decided to take a look. And it has been a daily topic ever since.
Recognizing that this kind of pressure can exasperate Russian nationalism at the expense of LGBT people there doesn’t mean that we should suspend the boycott and call off all protests against Russia’s gross violations of human rights. I don’t see how we can cater to a culture’s xenophobic biases any more than than its homophobic ones. But I do think that there are some smart ways to go about it, and that we should consider following the lead of Russian LGBT activists who know their country and culture far better than we do. I think these examples are good ones to keep in mind:
In responding to the charge that queerness is a Western import, the St. Petersburg advocacy group Vykhod (“Coming Out”) put together an astute set of advertisements aimed at dismantling the rhetoric of Western cultural imperialism by showcasing various figures from Russian history. It’s hard to argue that homosexuality is a CIA plot when so many famous Russians, particularly in the reasonably relaxed culture of the early 20th century, left such a prominent legacy on their culture while living quasi-openly as gay, lesbian, and bisexual. (Transgender history is less prominent but no less there, especially during the early Soviet years and, surprisingly, the 1960s.) Tchaikovsky is of course the usual starting point, but actively open and out Russians included a diverse slate of artists, politicians, scientists… names like Georgy Chicherin, Marina Tsvetaeva, Sergei Diaghilev, Sophie Parnok… The list is very long, because turn-of-the-century Russia’s queer history is actually richer than anything contemporary in the West, where it was handled with much more euphemism. … For their troubles Vykhod was labeled a “foreign agent” and fined 500,000 rubles. So there’s that.
Quite a lot of Russian LGBTs have not kept silent, risking arrest and condemnation in order to make their existence known. One worth getting to know is the “404” movement (like their FB page here), a Russian spin on the “It Gets Better” web presence. Celebrity culture, so vital in turning around attitudes in America, has been considerably more muted, but there are exceptions: e.g. actor Aleksei Panin came out as bisexual in an interview earlier this year in order to draw attention to the widespread cultural intolerance; socialite and media figureKsenia Sobchak has been very outspoken against the homophobic law; news anchor Anton Krasovsky came out on air and was immediately fired, etc. My first and most important piece of advice is this: get to know these people, share their stories, and don’t let them disappear into the memory hole.
Show Solidarity in Sochi by Holding Hands
August 11th, 2013
It appears that a boycott of either Stoli or the games in Sochi is unlikely to affect real change in Russia. On top of that, athletes competing in the games can’t, according to IOC rules, wear rainbow shirts, pins, etc. So, what to do? Why not something more subtle but ultimately more powerful, an image that would be broadcast silently across the globe, an unmistakable, but politically neutral act: same-sex hand holding. Regardless of orientation, athletes from around the world can grab the same-sex hand next to them and hold it. While waiting for their turn on the slopes or the bobsled or while receiving their medals — regardless of nationality or orientation, this is something all athletes in the games can do and it would be difficult for the IOC to do anything about it. It’s not a kiss or an obvious political sign, it’s just two people, of the same sex, holding hands.
What better way to show solidarity with lgbt teens across Russia and the world? It’d make for some pretty great images that could go viral across the globe.
Russian Officials Commit Human Rights Violations While Denying Human Rights Are Being Violated
August 8th, 2013
Black is white, up is down, Russia’s anti-gay laws are in compliance with “international obligations”:
On Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry’s rights envoy, Konstantin Dolgov said: “As to the criticism of our law banning homosexual propaganda we have to reiterate that this criticism is absolutely invalid and groundless”.
He added: “It is an attempt to accuse us of violating international obligations that do not exist”.
He also said that Russia is a party to a number of international conventions that prohibit discrimination on any grounds, including the UN’s convention on the Rights of the Child.
“This convention aims in part to protect children from harmful information, and we believe that promotion of homosexuality could harm them. Therefore, we are fulfilling our obligations, but our critics attempt to accuse us of violating some obligations that don’t exist. It is a misleading substitution of notions”.
Contrary to assurances from the IOC, Dolgov issued a veiled warning to athletes and visitors to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi:
Mr Dolgov also stressed that all athletes and guests of the Olympic games in Sochi would be treated “with maximum hospitality,” but Moscow was expecting them to respect the Russian legislation, including the notorious ‘gay propaganda’ law.
…He added: “No one is banning a sportsman with a non-traditional sexual orientation from going to Sochi. But if he goes out onto the street and starts to make propaganda, then of course he will be brought to responsibility.”
And what about the athlete who wears a rainbow pin or carries a flag inside the Olympic venues? Well the New York Times yesterday suggested that the IOC and US Olympic Committee will have Russian’s back there.
Meanwhile, Russia s scrambling to clamp down on internal criticism of the Sochi Olympics. Marat Guelman was fired as director of the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art and his offices were raided after he backed the controversial “Welcome! Sochi 2014” exhibit by Vasily Slonov. Perm was the site of Perm 36, one of the more infamous gulags under Joseph Stalin. And Human Rights Watch says that Russia is going after those reporting on irregularities surrounding the games’ construction projects :
Human Rights Watch has documented government efforts to intimidate several organizations and individuals who have investigated or spoken out against abuse of migrant workers, the impact of the construction of Olympics venues and infrastructure on the environment and health of residents, and unfair compensation for people forcibly evicted from their homes. Human Rights Watch also documented how authorities harassed and pursued criminal charges against journalists, apparently in retaliation for their legitimate reporting.
“Trying to bully activists and journalists into silence is wrong and only further tarnishes the image of the Olympics,” said Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “One of the non-negotiable requirements of hosting the Olympics is to allow press freedom, and the authorities’ attempts to silence critics are in clear violation of that principle.”
NYTimes: IOC May Do Russia’s Bidding
August 7th, 2013
There have been conflicting reports over whether LGBT athletes, officials, and spectators would face harassment or prosecution under Russia’s anti-gay laws by police during the winter games in Sochi. The New York Times reports however that it is the International Olympic Committee which may step in and squelch expressions of support for Russia’s LGBT citizens:
Just as Russia now prohibits “propaganda” in support of “nontraditional” sexual orientation, the Olympic charter prohibits athletes from making political gestures during the Winter and Summer Games.
So it is entirely possible that any bobsledder or skier wearing a pin, patch or T-shirt in support of gay rights could be sent home from Sochi, not by Russian authorities, but by another group that suppresses expression: the International Olympic Committee.
Would the I.O.C. inflict such a public-relations disaster on itself? Perhaps not. But Olympic officials worldwide, including those in the United States, along with NBC and corporate sponsors, have put themselves and athletes in an awkward position by only tepidly opposing the Russian law that bans “homosexual propaganda.”
The Times adds that the US Olympic Committee has been similarly tepid, saying, “While we strongly support equal rights for all, our mission is sustained competitive excellence” and not political advocacy. The Times traces the US committee’s timidity to internal IOC politics as another vote to replace IOC president Jacques Rogge is set to take place next month.
Obama: No Patience For Countries Which Mistreat LGBT People (Updated)
August 7th, 2013
Jay Leno: Something that shocked me about Russia and I’m surprised this is not a huge story. Suddenly, homosexuality is against the law. I mean, this seems like Germany. Let’s round up the Jews, let’s round up the gays, let’s round up the blacks… I mean, it starts with that: you round up people who you don’t like… I mean, why isn’t more of the world outraged at this?
Barack Obama: Well, I’ve been very clear that when it comes to universal rights, when it comes to people’s basic freedoms, whether you are discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, you are violating the basic morality that I think should transcend every country. And I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays of lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them. Now, what’s happening in Russia is not unique. When I travelled to Africa, there were some countries that were doing a lot of good things for their people who we’re working with and helping on development issues, but in some cases have persecuted gays and lesbians. And it makes for some uncomfortable press conferences sometimes. But one of the things I think is very important for me to speak out on is making sure that people are treated fairly and justly because that’s what we stand for and I believe that that’s a precept that’s not unique to America. That’s something that should apply everywhere. [Applause]
Leno: Do you think it will affect the Olympics?
Obama: You know, I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure that the Olympics work, and I think that they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently. They are athletes. They are there to compete. And if Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track or in the swimming pool or the balance beam and people’s sexual orientation shouldn’t have anything to do with it.
That exchange between Leno and Obama took place last night on the Tonight Show. This morning, the White House has announced that Obama is canceling the planned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin which had been scheduled to take place next Monday ahead of the September G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. While press secretary Jay Carney cited “lack of progress” on a broad range of issues over the last year, the cancelation is seen as a display of White House anger over Russia’s decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum.
Update: A White House official confirmed to John Avarosis that Russia’s anti-gay law was one of many factors leading to the cancellation:
An Obama administration official just confirmed to me that today’s sudden cancellation of President Obama’s anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during next month’s G20 meeting in Russia was in part due to the President’s concerns about the deteriorating gay rights situation in Russia.
The official told me that among the concerns leading to the cancellation of the bilateral meeting with Putin was the worsening human rights situation in Russia, which specifically included the Russian government’s recent crackdown on the gay and trans community.
The Washington Blade confirms the statement.
Why Stoli’s protestations are not compelling
August 1st, 2013
Last week Val Mendeleev, the CEO of SPI Group, the makers of Stolichnaya Vodka (Stoli) outside of Russia issued an impassioned plea that the gay community not boycott Stoli. He insisted that Stoli was a supporter of the community and not responsible for the “recent dreadful actions taken by the Russian Government”. His appeal has been a colossal flop, and here are some of the reasons why.
First, Mendeleev confuses advertising with alliance. He lists, in Stoli’s defense, a number of sponsorships that Stoli has made recently of gay events and groups.
That does not impress us much anymore. While it truly would have been an act of courage – one deserving of loyalty – to sponsor gay pride events in 1993 or even to advertise directly to the gay community in 1983, there no longer is a social, political, or economic price to be paid for such action.
Placing your brand before one of the most influential trend-setters (when it comes to high end spirits) has no correlation with support. It’s marketing. Stoli doesn’t automatically deserve much more appreciation for target-marketing to me than does Christian Mingle for placing their advertising on television shows that I watch.
Secondly, Mendeleev demonstrates a lack of awareness of global attitudes impacting gay people. He insists that Stoli is not really all Russian, but really kinda more Latvian, you know. Which is a bit like insisting that your political alliance is not to Stalin, but to Stalin’s little brother.
Announcing that one of your main production facilities is in Riga, Latvia, does little to alleviate my concerns. Rather, it demands an explanation of what Stoli did in 2006 when local attendees at a Riga pro-gay worship service were pelted with feces or in 2009 when the Riga city counsel voted to ban Gay Pride. Did Stoli object?
Third, Mendeleev demonstrated a sense of separateness and otherness. Stoli fully supports and endorses “your objectives” in fight this vile situation. But it isn’t really their objectives. They passionately stand on your side, but their role is cheer-leader, not advocate.
Mendeleev did not offer to join forces in a campaign to educate the public about the abuse of gay people in Russia. They did not promise to fight for better treatment in the Baltic States. They did not own the problem in any way. Rather, they were offended that we were insufficiently grateful for their nominal support.
Finally, the most important reason why Mendeleev’s argument is not compelling, the strongest reason why I have little sympathy for SPI group, is that they are trying to have it both ways.
Stoli banks its image on linkage to Russia. For decades Stoli has used imagery and advertising to portray their product as traditional Russian vodka. And while they may insist that they are not the same as the Stolichnaya Vodka made in Russia, their bottling is as close to that of the “other” Stoli as it can get.
And it was successful. In fact, a measure of that success is that while Latvia was attacking gay people, it did not immediately result in a Stoli boycott. “Stoli” equaled “Russian”.
And that’s the tricky thing. Adopting and presenting a connection to the traditions of Russia – furry hats, icy weather, and the pure vodka that burns its way down your throat staving off the Siberian cold – means that you build a connection to the traditions of Russia – homophobia, human rights violations, and oppression.
And, as yet, SPI Group is not willing to give up that connection. They want to be not-Russian in the eyes of the LGBT community, but they still want to extol the virtues of Mother Russia – when we aren’t looking.
Yes, they’ve put a statement on the Stoli webpage. Yes, they have assured us that they are appalled. And I do not doubt that Mendeleev and the corporate structure at SPI Group are not personally in favor of the Russian legislation that essentially makes being openly gay a crime.
And yet, the SPI Group website has this to say about another of their products, Kaznacheyskaya Vodka:
Kaznacheyskaya is a quality brand created for the Russian market, designed to evoke a sense of national status. But since its launch in 2003 it has also proved to be a hit in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Austria.
Kaznacheyskaya is all about pride in Russia. The early 19th century was a golden era for Russian vodka when quality, solidity and strong character could all be taken for granted.
Having tied themselves to pride in Russia, SPI Group now owns it.
Russian Sports Minister Threatens Gay Athletes At Sochi Olympics
August 1st, 2013
The IOC insisted last week that gay athletes and spectators at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi will have nothing to fear from Russian’s “homosexuality anti-propaganda” law, which prohibits all public expressions of support for LGBT people. But Russia’s Sports Minister is sending a different message:
“The law talks not about banning a non-traditional orientation but about other things, about propaganda and implicating minors,” Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told the R-Sport news agency.
“No one is banning a sportsman with a non-traditional sexual orientation from going to Sochi. But if he goes out onto the street and starts to make propaganda, then of course he will be brought to responsibility.
“As a sportsman, he should respect the law of a country,” Mutko added. “Come (to Sochi), but don’t get young people involved, don’t make propaganda. This is what we are talking about,” Mutko said.
Those found guilty of “making propaganda,” however ill-defined that term is, will be subject to fines and jail terms.
Gay speedskater Blake Skjellerup from New Zealand has announced that he will be wearing a rainbow pin while in Sochi: “If it gets me in trouble, then so be it.”
Will LGBT Athletes Be Safe in Sochi? IOC Says Yes, Russian Pol Says No
July 31st, 2013
Following the passage Russia’s new law outlawing all advocacy by or for LGBT people, a law which includes hefty fines and potential jail sentences, there have been reports of increased violence against people perceived to be gay. This has led to worldwide concern over Russia’s hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Calls to boycott the games themselves have stalled, but a boycott of Russian Vodka and other products is picking up steam. It’s doubtful that the boycott itself will have much of an economic impact, but it has succeeded far beyond most boycotts in drawing attention to the problem. Meanwhile, one Russian LGBT group led by Nikolai Alekseev have announced a Pride event in Sochi to coincide with the games’ opening day. The International Olympic Committee on Friday released a statement reassuring the world that LGBT athletes competing in the games will be safe:
“The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games,” according to the statement emailed to USA TODAY Sports.
…”This legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi,” the IOC said. “As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media.”
Those assurances, obviously, miss the point. Conspicuously missing from the list of people who will not be affected by the new law during the games are LGBT Russians. And besides, St. Petersburg legislator Vitaly Milonov, the co-sponsor of Russia’s “homosexual propaganda” bill, says that the law cannot be selectively suspended:
The man behind the anti-propaganda law, Vitaly Milonov, reportedly said in an interview with Interfax that “if a law has been approved by the federal legislature and signed by the president, then the government has no right to suspend it. It doesn’t have the authority.”
Milonov also reportedly said he’s received support from both American and German politicians for his stance.
…Even if the laws are not enforced during the Olympics, gay visitors may face a local backlash. Three-quarters of Russians say society should not accept homosexuality, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Just 16 percent say society should be accepting of the LGBT community. The numbers aren’t much different among young Russians, either: Just 21 percent of those polled under 30 thought homosexuality should be accepted.
Boycott of Russian Vodka Spreads
July 26th, 2013
Buzzfeed on Monday published a photo essay titled “36 Photos from Russia that Everyone Needs to See,” which depicts the violence that broke out during St. Petersburg’s gay pride march last month. That violence took place on the very day that President Vladimir Putin signed a law which effectively bans all advocacy by or on behalf of LGBT people. Dan Savage finally decided that enough was enough. Six months from now, Russia will be hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics on Sochi, with many calling for a boycott. Dan Savage reviewed the pros and cons of boycotting the Olympics and proposed an alternative:
If there isn’t a boycott—if gay and pro-gay athletes compete at the Olympics in Sochi this winter—there must be a protest during the Sochi Olympics that is as powerful and indelible as Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s protest during the Mexico City Olympics. It should happen on the medal stand while the world watches.
But boycott or no boycott there is something we can do right here, right now, in Seattle and other US cities to show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, and straight allies in Putin’s increasingly fascistic Russia: DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.
Here is a list of Russian vodkas currently available in the US: Dovgan, Gold Symphony, Standart, Hrenovuha, Kauffman, Kubanskaya, Moskovskaya, Narodnaya, Pyatizvyozdnaya, Putinka, Rodnik, Ruskova, Russian Standard, Shustov, Starka, Stolnaya, Youri Dolgoruki. The two best known Russian vodkas? Russian Standard and Stolichnaya.
That was Wednesday. It only took Stolichnaya’s CEO, Val Mendeleev, a day to respond with “an open letter to the LGBT community”:
The recent dreadful actions taken by the Russian Government limiting the rights of the LGBT community and the passionate reaction of the community have prompted me to write this letter to you.
I want to stress that Stoli formly opposes such attitude and actions. Indeed, as a company that encourages transparent and fairness, we are upset and angry. Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community. We also thank the community for having adopted Stoli as their vodka of preference.
In the US, the brand’s commitment to the LGBT community has been ongoing for years. Among the best examples, I can cite the series produced by Stoli in 2006 called “Be Real: Stories from Queer America” which featured short documentaries on real life stories depicting the challenges and accomplishments of the LGBT community in the United States.
Stoli is very proud of the current exclusive national partnership with Gaycities.comand Queerty.com in search of the Most Original Stoli Guy. .. Previous national initiatives included serving as the official vodka of the Miami Gay Pride Week as well as ongoing events with focus on Pride month.
…This letter also gives me the opportunity to clear some of the confusion surrounding the Stolichnaya brand, based on facts found online that often inaccurately link our company to the Russian Government. The Russian government has no ownership interest over the Stoli brand that is privately owned by SPI Group, headquartered in Luxembourg in the heart of Western Europe…
(Update: Queerty, perhaps because of their entangling alliance with Stoli, has been practicing radio silence where the boycott is concerned, except to post Stoli’s open letter.)
For the record: Regardless of where SPI Group’s corporate offices are located, the company is owned by Yuri Scheffler, one of the 100 richest men in Russia. SPI is a Russian corporation, Stoli is a Russian vodka. And while it’s nice that SPI is willing to market to homos who are lucky enough to live in Austria, the US, and South Africa, what has SPI done in Russia? The group has sponsored gay pride events in Vienna and Miami. That’s nice. But have they sponsored gay pride events in Moscow or St. Petersburg? Val says that Stoli is upset and angry. That’s nice. So has Stoli said anything to the Russian authorities? Has Yuri Scheffler expressed his anger in an open letter to Vladimir Putin? Did the SPI Group speak the fuck up before the Russian government passed a law that made it a crime to be openly gay and a crime to publicly support someone who is openly gay? Frankly I’m not interested in Stoli’s marketing efforts in the West. I’m interested in what this Russian-owned company is doing in Russia. And from this letter it’s clear they’ve done and they only plan on doing squat.
But Scott Shackford at Reason posted a counter argument. He noted that there is a battle going on between Scheffler and Russia, which is trying to nationalize the company, which seized the internal brands and nationalized them in 2001.
There is a big, nasty battle between Russia and the private Stolichnaya company and its owner, Yuri Scheffler…. t doesn’t take that much research to see how difficult a position Scheffler is in. Russia wants his company. This story from The Guardian from 2002 makes it very clear that Scheffler is no friend of Putin’s … Scheffler himself is wanted for “questioning” for allegedly threatening the director of the parts of the Russian company that were renationalized.
What’s sad about this effort is that if Russia succeeds in getting its hands back on Stoli, then a boycott actually makes sense. But the consequence will be that a powerful businessman who does support the gay community will lose his company. Boycotting Stoli now is a very bad idea. Scheffler is an ally who the gay and lesbian community needs to work with, not alienate. From a Western perspective it may be hard to realize that an incredibly rich person like Scheffler has the potential to be a victim of Russia’s authoritarian regime like its gay citizens or members of Pussy Riot, but it’s extremely important not to look at the nature of power and influence there the way we do here.
Nevertheless, the Russian vodka boycott — which goes beyond Stolichnaya, although Stoli is the biggest, most well-known brand — is spreading like wildfire. At least two bars in the Castro have pulled Russian vodka from their shelves. Seven Halsted-area bars in Chicago have stopped selling Russian booze, as have bars in West Hollywood, Vancouver, Toronto, London, and San Diego. Dallas-area bars are still considering whether to join, but The Dallas Voice reports that, contrary to Stoli’s letter Thursday, the company had already decided to “pull out of the gay market“:
(Bar owner Howard) Okon said Razzle Dazzle Dallas, the city’s June LGBT Pride Month celebration, was hit hard earlier this year when Stoli representatives said they wouldn’t sponsor the event, after they’ve been the major liquor sponsor the past two years. Okon, who was in charge of sponsorships for Razzle Dazzle, said the company told him they were realigning their outreach and pulling out of the gay market.