Rather than ending a sister city’s relationship, Dallas is engaging Saratov on Russia’s anti-gay policy
Physicians visiting Dallas from sister city Saratov, Russia, are proud their city is more open and accepting to gays and lesbians than other parts of their country.
“They’re proud of not being part of the terrible things happening in Russia,” said their host, former state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt.
Over the summer, a number of American cities considered dropping their sister city partners in Russia because of an anti-gay law passed by that country. The law bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.”
But the law is just part of an anti-gay campaign that has accelerated under the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pride parades have been banned in Russia, and a number of violent attacks on gays have been reported.
The law is vague, so it is unclear how it will be used during the upcoming Sochi Olympics. LGBT athletes, coaches and spectators fear they will be harassed, arrested or deported.
While other cities threatened to drop their sister cities, Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston suggested engaging Saratov.
Former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem John Loza visited Saratov twice, and he also called the city open and welcoming.
Loza described Saratov as a city of about a million people on the Volga River about 500 miles southeast of Moscow near the Kazakh border.
“I took my partner David on my second visit,” Loza said. “It didn’t seem to be an issue.”
Five physicians and their translator from Saratov are in Dallas for the week. Ehrhardt said they are spending most of their time at Baylor Hospital observing and participating in surgeries.
Ehrhardt is planning their evenings and weekend. On Nov. 9, the group will attend a performance of the Turtle Creek Chorale. She made it clear to her guests who the chorale’s members are, and she said the Russians were delighted to be attending.
When Ehrhardt served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1995 to 2002, she sponsored the hate crimes bill and anti-bullying legislation and was considered among the most liberal members of the Legislature and a staunch LGBT ally. She’s been a Pride parade grand marshal and is the only heterosexual winner of Black Tie’s Raymond Kuchling Award.
“I’m trying to plan nice things at night,” she said.
Ehrhardt also plans to take the group to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
“I went today, myself, which wasn’t an easy thing to do,” she said.
Ehrhardt said the museum is a very good presentation of the Bush presidency.
Ehrhardt also described Laura Bush as a friend. She taught the former first lady at Southern Methodist University, and Bush credits Ehrhardt’s children’s literature course with sparking her interest in libraries. When a library in a Dallas public school was named after Ehrhardt, Bush was there to dedicate it.
Ehrhardt said the visit to the Bush library would be a good lesson in American politics functioning as it should. While Bush was governor of Texas, the Legislature was controlled by Democrats. She said the parties disagreed on policies but then worked together to get things done. That lesson is one Ehrhardt hopes the Russian government can use to resolve its issues with its gay community.
Turtle Creek Chorale spokeswoman Caroline French said Artistic Director Trey Jacobs and members of the chorale would meet with the Saratov delegation at a reception after the Saturday performance.
The concert is part of the city’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy.
The chorale will perform with the SoCo Women’s Chorus of Austin. The performance highlights the fight for freedom and equality by those of earlier generations.
Remembering JFK at Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, 14115 Hillcrest Road. Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. Tickets at 214-526-3214 or TurtleCreek.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 8, 2013.