How do you solve a problem like Vlad-imir?
Vladimir Putin is no stranger to world wide press attention, in his latest term as President of Russia he has imprisoned activists Pussy Riot for performing their punk prayer - asking the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin (some of us even have t-shirts calling him a pussy to raise money for legal costs to aid the release of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova).
More recently he has been behind a law forbidding the ‘promotion of non-traditional sexual relations’ to minors – a law that is so broad it now prohibits the promotion of LGBT equality, relationships and even families with same sex parents.
Vitaly Milonov who is widely recognized for writing this law believes most gay people are lying about their sexuality to become famous and want to invade kindergarten with ‘gay propaganda’. Putin’s is nurturing a government that has quickly become right wing and with it a growth in non-political, self-titled neo Nazi groups.
As a result attacks on minors who are perceived to be gay have increased and gangs of men are raping young women in an attempt to ‘cure’ them. Public opinion polls show that gay people disgust over half of Russians but if Putin’s re-election is anything to go by we can’t trust these figures to be accurate.
We are witnessing the start of an eradication of a section of society because of a few powerful individuals ignorance. The infamous Hitler is often thrown about when discussing the rise in right wing politics but the similarities between Germany in 1935 and Russia in 2013 are frightening.
With the Winter Olympics fast approaching many LGBT groups have been asking the Olympic committee to relocate this years events. The Russian government released a statement that said gay athletes would be welcome to compete at the games but it did not indicate whether athletes who openly show support for gay rights would face consequences under the law.
Groups like Out4Russia and Peter Thatchell’s OutRage! are putting increasing pressure on this years sponsors to pull out - Coca Cola are yet to decide whether they will be supporting this years games which seems like a completely ludicrous notion – this years host country has a judicial system that imprisons those who utilise their democratic right of free speech or same sex couples who have children for promoting homosexuality.
It might shock you to learn (or be reminded) we’ve seen similar legislation in the UK - between 1988 and 2003 under Section 28 it was illegal for any local authority, school, teacher or youth worker to ‘promote homosexuality’ or the ‘acceptability of homosexuals’. This led to an increase in suicide and self harm in LGBTQ teenagers and an increase in homophobic attacks, the effects of this in Russia can already be felt.
As I sit here in my flat on a council estate in North London with my newly engaged partner I can’t help but feel privileged and useless – I don’t know what I can do to help. I feel powerless.
If we boycott Russian goods and their trade decreases in value does that generate more homophobia when redundancies are issued to Russian working classes? If we visit or work in Russia are we contributing to an economy that penalises our community or can we help LGBT people while we’re there understand they are not alone and that they are not abnormal. If we email Cola and ask them to pull out of Sochi and then buy a Diet Coke next Wednesday after Sumba are we hypocrites? If we stand outside Downing Street and ask Cameron to talk to Putin are we barking up the wrong tree (after all it was the conservatives that brought in Section 28)? If we buy Pussy Riot t-shirts and send money to their law team are we fighting a loosing battle?
We can only hope that what happened in the UK with Section 28 will happen in Russia – the law repealed and government learn from their mistakes. Until then we must do what we feel is right to support our brothers and sisters in Russia, encouraging them to live their brave lives in the face of adversity.