Skip to main content

Today, the Opinion pages of the New York Times give us this story, by Mark Gevisser, a fellow of the Open Society Foundations, Life Under Russia’s ‘Gay Propaganda’ Ban. Arkhangelsk is on the Barents Sea, but, as the map shows, it is not all that far from St. Petersburg or Helsinki.

Arkhangelsk was the second oblast (Russian state) where the anti-homosexual propaganda laws were enforced, in 2011, and that has had implications for the LGBT population of the region.

Gevisser tells us the story of Varya, a 22 year old bus conductor and a lesbian. To refresh your memories, this is the problem LGBT people in Russia, and specifically Arhhangelsk, are facing:

Six months ago, Russia adopted a nationwide ban on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” which makes it a crime to so much as mention homosexuality around minors. The ban was piloted in two provinces: Ryazan, southeast of Moscow, in 2006, and then Arkhangelsk, in the north, in 2011.

There have been only a few prosecutions, but the law has begun to bite in other ways. In Arkhangelsk, it has been used to refuse authorization of street demonstrations. And the father of Varya’s child, heretofore absent, had begun using it to threaten a custody case. Varya contacted Rakurs, the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization, and after they sent a letter, the man backed off. “But something else will happen,” she told me. “We know we are vulnerable.”

After rehearsing the causes of all this, which Gevisser identifies as "traditional values" (making nice with the Russian Orthodox Church) and backlash (as in Anita Bryant-type activity), he discusses Rakurs (which means "Perspective"), a group founded by Tatiana Vinnichenko, who teaches Russian language at Arkhangelsk State Technical University. He observes that its office is in a reasonably visible location in a highrise downtown, which he takes as an indication that the LGBT center has not been marginalized, at least not yet. But there are signs that all is not that well. The case of Varya again:
She showed me a sticker she had found on her route that morning: “Stamp out faggots,” it read, depicting a jackboot squashing the head of a pink-haired youth. “It’s the neo-Nazis,” she told me. “The stickers are everywhere. They can do what they want because they know the authorities will not stop them.”
Probably because LGBT people ARE visible in Arkhangelsk. Gevisser tells us about Varya's friends Vadim, who is planning to go to Moscow
to begin the process of becoming a woman, and Sergei, who recently held a spontaneous one-man protest, yelling “Arrest me! I am propaganda!” to a passing patrol car. The police officers obliged, but decided to charge him only with littering. They seemed more interested, he said, in his involvement in the alt-music scene, or nefor (“neformaly” means “alternative”), than in his sexuality.
Alt-music! Subversive! Goth! If you feel different, there's a place for you.

And Gevisser observes that there's a BIG alt-music community in Moscow and online that has responded to the propaganda laws. Flash mob actions. Meetings in parks where other alt-music groups hang out (for camouflage).

An online initiative called “Deti-404,” or “Children 404” (“404” being the error code that appears when a web page can’t be found), gathers testimonies from queer youth all over Russia — precisely the minors the propaganda ban is meant to protect. The accounts of these isolated kids are harrowing. But, like Harry’s activism, they are shot through with such purpose that they suggest an inevitable dynamic: Even as the rise of a queer rights movement provokes a backlash, the backlash undermines itself — by strengthening the resolve of the movement and by publicizing (even if through hate) the existence of a group of people who were so long invisible.
Strengthening the resolve of the movement. One group in American history is always described in those terms: the abolitionists, both white and black, who worked tirelessly to bring about the end of slavery no matter how much they were vilified, especially in the 1830s and 1840s, before the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin. But I digress.

Professor Vinnichenko tells Gevisser that Arkhangelsk is a tolerant city which the state's actions are undermining. But Rakurs is not alone in the city:

Ms. Vinnichenko introduced me to a journalist, Aleksey Filatov, who has been covering Rakurs for a local news website. He saw no reason the issue should not be covered “objectively, just like any other subject.” He added: “Whatever one’s personal feelings, one must acknowledge that the world is changing.”
And Sochi?
Everyone I met at Rakurs was emphatic that Western activism on their behalf should be escalated before the Winter Olympics start in February in Sochi, if only to shine a light on their predicament. Still, actions like mass boycotts against vodka or Coca-Cola (an Olympic sponsor) carry a double edge: They reinforce the official line that lesbian and gay rights are an obsession of the decadent, commercialized West, from which Russian values must be protected.
This is an anti-modernizing effort by the Russian state, pure and simple. They can't go after Jews, and the McDonald's in Red Square is the highest grossing store in the chain WORLDWIDE, so LGBT people. We have our marching orders. And then there's this, once again vindicating the earliest gay liberationists and Harvey Milk. When Russians speak out for LGBT rights , what's important about that
is the counterpoint they give, by their very existence, to the official narrative that homosexuals are dangerous outsiders or, worse, child molesters.
It's not good. But the more time that passes that we don't hear about arrests or other atrocities is time that's letting our stories, EVEN IN RUSSIA, do their work. Now, what I'm afraid of is what's going to happen after Sochi, but don't expect my attention to flag just because the Olympics are over.

4:09 PM PT: Yep! Don't write about Russia for a few months, people lose interest. I see I have my marching orders as NBC ramps up to the Sochi Olympics.  Thank you, my Kossack friends, for remembering.

Originally posted to LGBT Rights are Human Rights on Sat Dec 28, 2013 at 12:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Milk Men And Women and LGBT Kos Community.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site