Alice Board Co-Chair Ron Flynn
By: Ron Flynn
Alice Board, Co-Chair
On June 30, 2013, as we were all gathered to celebrate Pride and marriage equality, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” The law is the result of wide spread homophobia in Russia, essentially equating the LGBT community with pedophilia. While Russia denies any ant-gay sentiment in the law, and instead claims it is merely intended to “protect children,” the goal is to wipe out the LGBT community (and to shore up support for the increasingly unpopular president).
Many countries have anti-LGBT laws on the books. But Russia stands out for a few reasons. First, it one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: a de facto world leader. Second, the law comes on the heels of years of building anti-gay activity. Permits for Pride parades have been denied, activists have been arrested, and adoption by LGBT couples, or even by people in countries with marriage equality, have been banned. Third, Russia will be on the world stage in February 2014 when the Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place in Sochi.
Recently, I attended a meeting organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). It was a great event. JCRC worked tirelessly with other advocates to gain the release of Russian Jews, Refuseniks. Leaders in that movement, including Rabbi Doug Kahn, Executive Director of the JCRC, and David Waksberg, CEO of Jewish Learning Works, San Francisco’s Bureau of Jewish Education and the former director of the Bay Area Council on Soviet Jews, gathered to give a personal history of the successful activists movement in the 70’s and 80’s aimed at getting Russia to change its policies.
A few messages came out loud and clear. One was the need to listen to activists in Russia. Before we in San Francisco decide whether to push for an Olympic boycott, let’s hear from the LGBT community in Russia. Will it be better to take advantage of the world stage to show up and support individual LGBT community members, or to bring attention by simply not showing up? A second it that the Russia Consulate on Green Street can be a focus of protests that will get Russia’s attention. A third is that it is important to remember the goal is not “anti-Russia,” but instead to bring about change.
There are many ways to get engaged. One is to keep up to date and join other activists by regularly reading www.globalequality.org
. Another is to “like” and visit the Facebook page for Russian activists: https://www.facebook.com/LGBT.Russia
. JCRC has promised to continue to use its lessons learned from the 70’s and 80’s to work on the issue. On another front, Senator Mark Leno has put forth SR18 to urge California’s two largest pension plans, CalPERS and CalSTRS, to cease making direct future investments in Russia, to call on the International Olympic Committee to seek a written guarantee that athletes and other visitors to Sochi will not be prosecuted under the anti-gay laws, and to urge NBC Universal to discuss the negative impact of these laws on-air during its broadcast of the games.
The reality is that the fight will likely last beyond Sochi, but this is a golden opportunity to bring the homophobic laws to worldwide attention. Alice will continue to work with other activists and politicians to end these laws, and encourages all of our members to do the same.