While a boycott of Russian vodka has increased awareness of the rising intolerance in Russia, some U.S. cities are reconsidering their Russian sister city programs and LGBT groups are weighing options regarding the upcoming Winter Olympics.
All Out, a group coordinating some of the response to the new Russian anti-gay law, held a conference call with the gay press and representatives from other LGBT groups this morning to discuss options available.
A boycott of Russian products including Stoli vodka is mostly effective in spreading word about the situation in Russia. However, despite the growing number of businesses not buying Russian goods, the boycott is expected to have limited economic impact.
Cities are re-evaluating their sister cities programs. Officials in Lansing, Mich., want to engage with their sister city, St. Petersburg, but Los Angeles is considering dropping or suspending its sister city affiliation with the city.
In an email to Dallas Voice, Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston said he would prefer Lansing’s approach with Dallas’ sister city Saratov, Russia. That remote city is on the Volga River near the Khazak border.
“Saratov has a reputation as a more welcoming city compared to the rest of Russia,” Kingston wrote. “I have heard that [gay former Councilman] John Loza was treated well there on his visits even after making it clear that he was gay. Social, cultural and economic engagement of the kind that sister cities foster is supposed to enrich each city with the best values of the other. Dallas can serve as a model for Saratov with regard to equality.”
All Out representatives said there are two upcoming opportunities to engage the Russians before the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend the G20 summit in St. Petersburg in September, and Elton John will perform in Russia in December.
Obama is expected to raise the question of safety of athletes, coaches, staff and fans at the games after Russia’s sports minister announced last week the country will enforce its anti-gay law during the Olympics.
In what might be a warning to Elton John, Russia announced it was investigating Lady Gaga and Madonna for violating terms of their visas when they performed in Russia.
Yesterday, Gaga tweeted, “Why didn’t you arrest me when you had the chance, Russia? Because you didn’t want answer to the world?”
Meanwhile, there have been reports of rising anti-gay violence by neo-Nazis in Russia, with no government intervention. Among the reports is one of a gay teen who was kidnapped, covered in paint, forced to pose for photographs with dildos, and call his parents to tell them he was gay. After being tortured, the teen reportedly died of his injuries.
All Out does not believe a boycott of the Olympics will happen. Rather, it expects athletes from around the world to show support for the LGBT community while competing. The International Olympic Committee has warned that athletes are expected to avoid any political statements during the games.