Published on August 19th, 2013 |
by Jack Cowell
The fuss at the end of the rainbow
A great tumult has been kicked up over Russia’s treatment of LGBTs recently. Such turmoil has been caused by the passing of a law banning the spreading of propaganda to minors (those aged below 18), that the facts themselves have been mangled by the weight of it all. The facts now seem to be lost on so many, the public debate descending towards questions such as why do we allow a country as advanced as Russia to legalise the crucifixion of gay men? I thus suggest a deep breath is needed.
At no point is my assessment an indictment of the Russian government at large, nor is it an appraisal of the country’s human rights record. Putin’s Russia is far from a progressive society with countless social ills, deep-seated racism and homophobia. This is an attempt to shed light on the truth of the matter.
First, the facts. Russia has just passed a law, which explicitly proscribes the spreading of non-traditional value “propaganda” to minors. Here, propaganda is “the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating of non-traditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes non-traditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in non-traditional sexual relations”. To be gay in Russia is legal; same sex marriages are not. To be gay and serve in the army is legal; to tell people is strongly ill advised. It is in fact proscribed to tell people you are gay in the military, but this is cited as being for the benefit of the person’s safety; probably a wise move in a country which boasts strong conservative, Orthodox and Muslim populations, along with popular nationalist, right wing movements. That Russia contains a huge Muslim and Christian population is often forgotten, and is by no means irrelevant to the debate.
Now, the CREATING of non-traditional sexual attitudes strikes me as something we would not want in any society, just as we would not want the CREATION of traditional sexual values in individuals with sexual orientation some would describe as non-traditional. The prohibition of the engineering of sexuality is I’m sure something we can agree on. With regards to point two, I do not particularly want minors, that is, children, to be given any publications that make any kind of sexual relations particularly attractive. They can find out about sex the usual way, without instruction from a leaflet printed on someone’s home PC. Point four forbids the “creation” of an interest in non-traditional sexual relations. Again, I do not see why anyone need meddle in the personal affairs of individuals. Gay rights activists campaigned for years for recognition of their basic right to find attractive who they choose without encumbrance or interference. Why they are up in arms over an affirmation of this right is beyond me.
Point 3 is however a genuine and serious cause for grievance. The fact that the Russian government feels it necessary to prevent the equation of heterosexuals and homosexuals is absolutely outrageous. It is archaic in the extreme; it spits in the face of countless people who since the French Revolution have dedicated their lives to the furthering of minority rights and the betterment of life for homosexuals. Having a good hard look at this point however will soon bring out the thick smell of hypocrisy.
The illegality of gay marriage is a tacit endorsement of the life choice as disagreeable; not equitable with heterosexual relations. To think that Russia lingers so far behind England and Wales; some 5 weeks have passed since we made same sex marriage legal. When will they catch up? The lack of any great campaign for the boycott of the London Olympics serves to show the way that exaggeration spurs on the reactionary stupid of this country like turpentine encourages a flame.
Perhaps this is not fair. The public opinion of LGBTs in Britain is substantially more tolerant than that in Russia; the situation is incomparable between the two. Yet this is precisely the point. It is public opinion, which makes life nigh unbearable for gay people in Russia. It is not a systematic programme of persecution. The police are not allowed to attack gay people in the street, yet regrettably the police do not always stick to mandate, and insidious hatreds can run amok.
This is the real problem and anyone with real concern for the rights of the persecuted of the world will care less about seeming very current and politically active, ever so enlightened by signing a petition, and more about changing the way people think by taking the fight to them. The people who signed the laughable petition to boycott the Russian Olympics should think about what effect this will have on the people of Russia who hold these beliefs, because it is not a matter of bureaucratic hatred. It is individual attitudes which are doing the damage and it is deeply entrenched, religiously justified cultural attitudes which must be changed if gay people are going to be able to enjoy any kind of life in Russia as they thoroughly deserve to do. To quote 1930s Germany as a parallel is silly; Stephen Fry should no better than to arm stupid people with such comparisons that will make someone sound historically informed.
As a final point to note, it seems baffling to me that people wholeheartedly backing the boycott of Russian vodka do not boycott goods from countries where the treatment of homosexuals is much, much worse. I urge these people then, for the sake of not becoming hypocrites, to stop using Saudi oil to fuel their cars, stop drinking bourbon from the deep south of the USA, stop drinking Ugandan coffee and eating Ugandan bananas (where the government has genuinely turned a blind eye to viceral homophobia); the list goes on.
But this will not happen, because people don’t think. They see a chance to criticise and subsequently go ballistic. Some thought would be welcome in situations such as this, but it never gets a chance before the mob take hatred and run as fast as they can in any direction. The Putin regime has many serious flaws, and homophobia is one of them. Yet to get the facts wrong is only to arm the enemy. Each time exaggeration turns into falsehood, a bigot feels justified, as that most dangerous of convictions grows in him; that he is the rational one. Stop this from happening; stop embracing scandal so readily, and think. It’s not hard.