The purpose of this blog is to discuss and promote beauty, and that includes beauty in many forms. Some aspects of beauty, such as beauty of intent and spirit, are universal. In that vein, I think that inclusion, acceptance, and respect are all beautiful things. Likewise, I consider cruelty, intolerance, violence, and and the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes to be ugly and inexcusable.
I think that Stephen Fry’s blog post this morning discussing the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi was truly beautiful. He spoke powerfully and compassionately on the basic human rights of LGBTQ individuals and how they are being systematically oppressed by Putin’s political machine.
The article does not address the root causes of Russian homophobia, which are varied. Firstly, Russia suffered a tremendous loss of population in both world wars from which it has only recently and partially recovered; sexual coupling which cannot result in procreation is viewed as a subversion of state goals to foster population growth. At roughly the same time, state-imposed atheism was guaranteed under the Soviet regime. A few decades later, the floodgates of religion opened with the dissolution of the Union in 1991. This culminated in a massive resurgence for the Russian Orthodox Church, which is very much wrapped up in post-Soviet politics and thus has a vested interest in conservatism and demonizing homosexuality. Concurrently, Russian culture received a bit of a sexual shock in the face of the Soviet Union’s dissolution; former content restrictions lifted and the populace was rapidly and aggressively introduced to porn with unmoderated access. As porn is often a caricature and overamplification of kink, this lead to some confusion regarding non-heteronormative sexual behaviors. To this day, the perceived conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia preniciously persists among many anti-LBGTQ individuals.
These are by no means excuses or equivocations; homophobia is dangerous and homophobic attacks are inexcusable. These historical conceptions of homosexuality merely serve to provide some context.
No, Fry’s article does not answer the question of how Russia became so systematically and legislatively homophobic. It takes on a much bigger question: why is this important in the context of the Olympic Games? Historically, the Olympics have given prestige to political leaders who went on to accomplish horrifying acts of human rights abuses (I’m looking at you, Hitler). Morevoer, there is an immediate threat to Olympic athletes and international tourists. Despite the International Olympic Committee’s assurances that “the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media,” Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko and St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov have both stated that athletes and tourists will be subject to national anti-gay legislation and may be prosecuted, subject to fines, imprisonment, and deportation.
The national “gay propoganda” law in question forbids “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” around minors, but is worded in such a vague manner as to criminalize all public advocacy or sexual/romantic activity that falls outside the narrow confines of cis-gendered heteronormativity. For openly gay individuals, this means no holding hands, no rainbow flags, no public displays of affection, and absolutely no public discussion of homosexuality or gay individuals in a positive light.
In addition to its blatant de jure oppression of LGBT individuals, the Russian government has done nothing to squelch strings of brutal attacks against gay males (sometimes lured into meeting by homophobic groups on social media, later to be entrapped and tortured), and the violent “corrective rape” of lesbians.
From a moral standpoint, this is egregious. From a standpoint of Olympic unity, it violates the very foundations upon which these ancient and venerated games rest. The sixth of the Seven Fundamental Principles of Olympism explicitly states that “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” Russia’s anti-gay legislation clearly demonstrates that the Putin administration fails to uphold these tenets of Olympism. Supporting Russia as an Olympic host betrays the very idea of Olympic competition, as well as demonstrates tacit support for the nation’s homophobic policies.
This law is not an isolated incident of Russian human rights abuses, but it is an important lightning rod to draw international dissent. It’s been nearly 17 months since three members of Pussy Riot were arrested for their art, performing songs with pro-feminism, LGBT-inclusive, anti-Putin, and anti-corruption themes. Two of them are still in prison, yet Western outrage diminished while nothing in Russia has improved. As a former global superpower with staggering future potential and influence on the world stage, Russia has a responsibility to amend its deplorable and dehumanizing behavior. It’s immeasurably alarming to see such abuses continue in the modern world.
While I don’t like linking to Buzzfeed because it draws web traffic away from the content creators, this powerful collection of images of violent reactions at Russian gay pride parades serves as a visual reminder that such policies and ideologies cause real and serious harm.
Ultimately, the criminalization of homosexuality is tantamount to criminalizing mere existence; it penalizes gay individuals for their very presence in the world. It pains me to think that so many intelligent, creative, loving, and beautiful people (who happen to identify as LGBT or advocate for the cause) are subject to such ugly actions and epithets. Stephen Fry has done a beautiful thing for these beautiful people, forging his words into a weapon against destructive ideologies. So today’s blog post may not have been the tutorial you were expecting, but it was a lesson in the beauty of moral character.
NOTE: I understand that making unfounded claims is bad science, bad journalism, and just bad all around. As I am currently writing on my phone, I am not in an ideal situation for adding sources, but they will be appended later this evening when I have access to my laptop.