There’s been no glasnost for the gays in the former Soviet Union

Posted on 28 Jun 2012 at 10:31pm

LGBT activists brutally beaten by neo-Nazis in Kiev; Moscow bans Pride parades for 100 years; Russia considers federal anti-gay bill

Phyllis Guest

This is not a good time for gays in Georgia, Ukraine, Russia or — presumably — other parts of the former Soviet Union.

The glasnost, or openness, that was supposed to come with the breakup of the megastate has faded on many fronts. Not the least of them is the freedom for which LGBT people had hoped and planned.

It’s not as if the Russia of old was bereft of those whose sexuality strayed from the “norm.” Mere moments online turned up this factoid from a Middlebury College posting: “Some of the oldest original writing in the Russian tradition portrays gay love.

The 11th century Legend of Boris and Gelb tells of George the Hungarian, who was ‘loved by Boris beyond all reckoning.’”

Many creative Russians have been gay, among them composers Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, theatrical innovators Diaghilev and Cocteau, writers Mikail Kuzmin and Nicolai Gogol. I do not know Kuzmin, but a Middlebury posting attributes to him “the first Russian coming-out novel.” Kumin called his 1906 book Wings, because accepting homosexuality made his hero feel so free.

Gogol I did know and, like many of you, had read his work in school. That I found it depressing makes sense if, again, the Middlebury posting is accurate. It asserts that Gogol never “acted on his impulses” because he was so religious. No wonder his best-known work is entitled Dead Souls. Our souls would be dead, too, if we spent our lives trying to “pray away the gay.”

But let’s move forward some 150 years. In 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev had spoken of glasnost. On May 17, 1990, the International World Health Organization stopped considering homosexuality a disease, and activists declared an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO). In 1993, Russia decriminalized homosexuality and opened the military to gays.

But bigotry has made a comeback. In Georgia, homosexuality has been “legal” since 2000, but the state does not recognize same-sex relationships or marriages or permit same-sex adoptions. No physical crackdowns have made the international news, but that’s not to say that none have occurred.

In Ukraine, too, homosexuality is “legal” and a few brave people have created a Gay Forum. But recently, LGBT activists have suffered brutal attacks in broad daylight. A video of Kiev’s neo-Nazis beating two gay guys is posted online, a police edict cancelled the Gay Pride parade and a parliamentary “gay gag rule“ seems likely. Here’s one Ukranian lawmaker’s opinion: “If some people are suffering from the mental illness of homosexuality, they should not display it in public or promote it to children.”

The mention of children brings us to the heart of the problem: Russia. In St. Petersburg and three rural districts, an anti-LGBT law recently went into effect.

Introduced by United Russia, the party of President Vladimir Putin, it purports to protect children and imposes a range of fines for “public actions aimed at promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, or transgender[ism] among minors” and for “public actions aimed at promoting pedophilia.”

As the Daily Kos noted, “Bigots in Russia have been more successful than their American counterparts in linking the idea of non-normative sexuality with non-consensual rape of minors.”

Another ghastly aspect of the push against our community is its backing by the Russian Orthodox Church. The church couches its bigotry in terms of the right of children to be protected against “confusing and deviant behavior.”

If the support of the Russian church for St. Petersburg’s Article 7 reminds you of the heft the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) threw at California’s Proposition 8, you are not alone.

It is hard to know what to make of all this except that it bodes ill for members of our worldwide community who live in the former Soviet Union. We deal with just three states here, Europe-facing Georgia and Ukraine and giant Russia. The Asia-oriented states are no better.
So let’s just end with the latest information, posted online this month.

First, St. Petersburg courts ruled in favor of LGBT activists who had protested their fines under the new law. It’s hard to know what effect that ruling might have.

Then, Moscow banned LGBT Pride parades until 2112. Officials “justified” the 100-year ban by citing violence that marred the recent LGBT film festival tour of Siberia.

Next, Russian legislators began considering a federal anti-gay bill, which the United Russia Party and the Russian Orthodox Church favor. Presumably such a law would impose not just financial penalties but prison time as well.

One last note. At the recent G8 summit in Chicago, Russia vetoed a statement of protection for “sexual minorities.”

For the latest info, go to www.allout.org, a two-year-old organization based in New York, plus such older advocacy groups as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and is a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. Send comments to editor@dallasvoice.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 29, 2012.

 

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