Published on November 13, 2013 | by Laure Fourquet1
Putin – Tsar of homophobiaAs the 2014 Sochi Olympics draw closer, opponents of Putin’s anti-gay laws all over the world plan to shed light on discrimination against minorities in Russia and increase pressure on the administration.
But to what degree is oppression against minorities still an issue in liberal Western nations who are so keen on presenting themselves as sophisticated and tolerant examples?
In June, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed a federal law that bans “the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”. Widely recognised as an effort to suppress homosexuality, the execution of this law provoked global outrage.
In early November this year, the UN General Assembly reacted by demanding an international truce during the February Olympics and pressed Putin “to promote social inclusion without discrimination”.
The LGBT community persistently campaigns against the imposed laws: two representatives from the Russian LGBT organisation Rakurs – which means perspective – are currently lobbying in major cities in the US.
Oleg Kluyenkov told CNN: “In practice, other social groups are permitted to express their problems but not LGBT people. And that is discrimination. They are not equal when it comes to their right to freedom of expression.”
Performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky chose a more painful way of protesting; he nailed his scrotum to Moscow’s Red Square to boycott “apathy, political indifference and fatalism of Russian society” on Monday.
The anger about and support for suppressed minorities has swept over to fellow artists, students and human rights activists in Britain.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has organised a protest against London Symphony Orchestra conductor Valery Gergiev, who publicly supported Putin before his concert at the Barbican on November 7.
James Howarth, 25, executive assistant, took part in the protest and told ALN: “Gergiev has actively supported Putin who has introduced anti-gay propaganda laws and other laws that go against the human rights of minority voices in Russia.”
After members of the controversial punk band Pussy Riot were imprisoned in 2012 for staging a similar anti-Putin protest at a cathedral in Moscow, Gergiev claimed that the band’s motivation was to “boost their musical careers by causing controversy”.
Pussy Riot were formed in 2011 after Putin announced he would run for yet another presidential election in March 2012. Popular themes of their songs include feminism, LGBT rights and strengthening an aggressive opposition to governmental policies.
Edwin Sesange, of the African LGBT Out & Proud Diamond Group, said: “If all musicians started thinking against homophobia it would stop, because they influence people. Art inspires people. Through it we can inspire people to stop Putin.”
The director of the acclaimed documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, Mike Lerner, has stressed the message of hope during the fight for LGBT rights: “There is hope that things can change, that people can be shaken from their misogyny and bigotry and accept everyone as valuable citizens and people in their own right.
“Pussy Riot have shown that this is such an important goal that it’s worth risking everything to try.”
Although Putin played a major role in passing anti-gay laws, the injustice and violence faced by the LGBT community is also directly linked to the Orthodox Church, which remains influential in Russia.
“There is hope that things can change, that people can be shaken from their misogyny and bigotry and accept everyone as valuable citizens and people in their own right.” – Mike Lerner
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, views the legal recognition of same-sex marriage as an “apocalyptic symptom”. The Muslim cleric Mufti Ismail Menk goes one step further: “With all due respect to the animals, [gay people] are worse than those animals.”
Filip Bigos, president of the LGBTQ society at UAL acknowledged the mounting pressure that comes from the combination of being gay and religious: “Being gay and actively practising a religion, whether that’s being a gay Christian or gay Muslim, is not easy. Many LGBTQ people out there who practice a religion, and struggle with their identity because of the constraints their religion places on them.”
Despite same-sex marriage’s impending legality in England and Wales, disparity and discrimination are still everyday issues that the LGBT community in the UK has to face. Gay in Britain, a report by charity Stonewall, found that one in five LGBT employees have experienced verbal bullying from colleagues, customers or service users in the past five years.
One quarter said they were “not at all open” to colleagues about their sexual orientation.
In August 2013, ministers, opposition MPs and gay rights activists accused 40 schools in Britain of returning to the anti-gay prejudices of the 1980s.
Academies across the country allegedly adopted sex education policies that resembled those of the controversial Section 28, such as banning teachers from “intentionally promoting homosexuality”; Margaret Thatcher’s government introduced the legislation in 1988, which was overturned by New Labour ten years ago.
Stonewall also founded the website Gay By Degree – an online guide that measures how gay-friendly individual universities are, based on a range of factors.
Chief executive Ben Summerskill explained: “It’s no longer enough for universities just to have an anti-homophobic bullying policy; we want to see them training their staff on how to deal with bullying as well.”
Based on the Gay By Degree guide for 2014, UAL has been pro-active in supporting students and engaging with the wider community; however, the report urges the university to take further decisive action in providing specific career advice for LGBT students, as well as implementing an anti-homophobic bullying policy and mandatory training.
Responding to the demand, Bigos from the LGBTQ society announced: “Our plan for the year is to work on other issues like building an LGBTQ staff network. We have set up a mentoring scheme to help people with their coming out and we will be working closely with the SU to achieve these and other goals.”
“At the end of the day, all discrimination against minorities has one cause,” concluded Lerner, director of A Punk Prayer. “I think the reason there is still inequality in UK is the same reason as anywhere else in the world: fear. I’m sure in time people will realise how pointless their intolerance and bigotry is and I do imagine a future where everyone is equal.”
The Gay by Degree report can be obtained here.