So what IS happening in Russia?
Persecution of Russians due to their sexuality is not new. I, myself have been on an emailing list that signs petitions to attempt to end the persecution of hundreds in Russia for a few years now. However, this year Vladimir Putin signed a law which stated that gay couples in ANY country could not adopt children who had been born in Russia. This was followed by Putin signing a law which said tourists who the police believed were homosexual could be arrested and then detained for 14 days. Not exactly great publicity for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, seeing as any athlete, coach, team member, or spectator could be threatened with arrest. Recently, perhaps the most public of all of Putin’s anti-gay reforms was his decision to outlaw what he describes as ‘homosexual propaganda’ – essentially if you tell anybody that being gay is okay, you can face fines, or even worse can be arrested. According to the New York Times, it is even rumoured that he wants to pass a law which would remove children from their families if the parents are even suspected of being gay.
Perhaps one of the most shocking parts of this story, seeing as we are in 2013, where many would believe that societies such as Russia would have modernised like in Britian – where gay marriage is being considered for legalisation, is that this blatant disregard for homosexual people’s rights went unnoticed. The sad, but true, fact is that had Stephen Fry not written his Open Letter to David Cameron and the IOC (see here) it is likely the whole story would have gone unnoticed. Fry likened Putin’s discrimination to that of Hitler’s and called for a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. I agree that Putin is completely out of order but one point that has been raised is: Is it fair to punish sportsmen and women who have trained their entire lives and are at their peak in 2014? Are there better methods of protests that do not ruin somebody’s Olympic dream? Or is this a sacrifice that these contenders should be proud to make? More to the point, why should it just be Olympic Contenders who are, whether they like it or not, forced to make a stand? When are the people of other nations as a whole going to make their sacrifice to voice their protest? (-although I realise how easy it is to say this as I sit in my bedroom simply reading about the issue.)
Stephen Fry’s post has certainly drummed up interest in the issue however, which can only be viewed as a good thing. Following the post, the issue was raised on the comedic panel show “The Last Leg” which (if you can) you should try and watch on 4oD. It saw Putin ridiculed for his many homo-erotic pictures which even saw “#Putin” and “#gayicon” trending on Twitter. The homo-erotic images can also be seen on the post from BuzzFeed which will pretty much some up my entire argument for why he could be viewed as said “#gayicon” here.
Putin’s comments have had a great political significance in Russia’s standing in the world, particularly with the USA. Relations were already growing frosty after Russia gave asylum to the former National Security Agency contracted, Edward Snowden, who broke the news story on the USA spying on its citizens. Speaking on “The Tonight Show” Obama said he had “no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” The growing tensions have even seen it reported that a Summit meeting between the US and Russia that was due to take place in September has been cancelled.
However, Putin’s policies have not faced complete opposition. According to an article by The Telegraph, a poll in Russia by the Levada Centre in April found that 47% of Russian’s believed that homosexuals should not have the same rights as heterosexuals, while 39% of Russians believed they should. Not only this, his policies have even received support from BNP leader Nick Griffin. The tweets seen here, taken from the BNP leader’s twitter page show the conversation between Stephen Fry and Griffin which more than highlight Griffin’s opinions on the anti-gay laws in Russia and his support for them.
The divide this issue has caused is great. Stephen Fry was quoted as saying that “an absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 in Sochi is simply essential” in order to prove to Putin that this behaviour is not acceptable, while people like Nick Griffin come out to support the leader. The International Olympic Committee seems unphased by the situation as they believe that the Russian government has assured them that spectators will not be affected by the laws.
This debate is far from over, and it will be interesting to see if David Cameron, who has been seen to strongly support progression of the rights of gay couples, will bow to Stephen Fry’s suggestion and take a stance against Russia. One thing is for certain, it does seem like history is repeating itself, and this discrimination against the gay community is certainly not okay.