Tuesday, 13 August 2013

BOYcotting Russia

Yesterday evening, I was catching up with a couple of close friends and seeing as we're a group of socially aware gay men, talk inevitably turned to what is going on in Russia with their anti-gay propaganda legislation, which was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in July. This legislation, in a nutshell, prohibits any discussion about alternative sexual orientation and lifestyle around minors. The logic, I'm guessing, is that hearing about the existence of gays and lesbians will automatically 'corrupt' children, 'turn' them and basically, there goes the perpetuation of the human race. Yes, because it is really that simple to turn someone gay. If this was truly the case, my local gym would be a whole lot more happening on a Tuesday night!

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about all the backlash that Russia is facing. I see on Facebook about people going to rallies outside the Russian embassy in London to protest this discriminatory law and I read about the city council of Amsterdam greeting Putin on his state visit to the Netherlands a few months ago by flying the rainbow flag across the city. I have read about gay bars boycotting Russian vodka to make a statement. While I think a statement should be made, I'm not sure if giving up vodka really says much about the character and integrity of the LGBT community. I mean, I get that vodka is more symbolic of Russia than most of their other exports but if we really want to have a substantial economic impact with a boycott, shouldn't we, maybe, boycott something like oil, gas, metals, minerals, machinery and other glamourous items like that? Of course, I'm only kidding...fuck their vodka; I'm more of a G&T man myself!

I read on a few gay news blogs today that on Russian television, a high-profile current affairs pundit by the name of Dmitri Kisilev said that gay people are of such low value that if they were to die and their hearts were to be donated to save the lives of others, 'their hearts...should be buried in the ground or burned as unsuitable for the continuation of life'. Now, as much as it makes me blood boil to read such hateful speech against people like me, I have to say that the comments posted by gay readers on these blogs, most of whom probably live in the English-speaking western world, do not exactly give me much hope for humanity either. One response said something about how 'the gulags didn't kill enough of these people'. While I am as guilty of generalizing as much as the next guy, I do feel like there needs to be some sort of measured response to the situation. We cannot lump all Russians into the same category. What about all the LGBT Russians who are living in a state that do not see them as citizens of equal value? Are they not worthy of our support and compassion? Similarly, I don't doubt that there are many straight allies who do not feel the same way as President Putin and Mr Kisilev. Recently, there has been a spate of gay bashings in New York but you don't hear people say, let's boycott New York coz every single New Yorker must be a goddamn homophobe! When La Manif Pour Tous, a French anti-gay marriage group, made headlines with their flamboyant and curiously homoerotic protests against the recent passage of same sex marriage in France, I never heard anyone suggest that we all get mad at zee French and start boycotting Champagne. Pourquoi pas? Probably because we're all a little hypocritical and hold a double standard for certain countries, especially the ones that are a greater cultural distance to ours...and also, because Champagne is fabulous.

Considerable brouhaha has been made about the idea of boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics, which are set to be held in the Russian resort city of Sochi. After all, not only would it send a big message to the Russian government and their gay-hating ways but if participating countries were to withdraw from the competition, they would not be putting their LGBT athletes at risk by sending them to a country that threatens to punish them for being who they are. I don't know if I agree with this, not necessarily because I agree that politics have no place at the Olympics. After all, the Olympics are supposed to be about unity and how can there be unity when the host country is threatening to throw certain members of their own society, as well as those from other countries, into jail just for their very existence. However, I agree with the notion that the people who will be competing at the games have trained so hard for years that it would be wrong to deny them their moment to shine. I can only hope that the Olympic committee will do as much as they can to protect all of their participants from the hostile elements of the host country's society.

One of my friends from last night made a rather good point that people seem to be making a bigger deal about what's going on in Russia than they do about all the anti-gay rhetoric, legislation and violence that we all know go on across many countries in Africa. Uganda's 'Kill the Gays' bill, in particularly, drew a lot of attention in recent years. How come we do not hold these African nations to the same standard that we seem to be applying to Russia? Again, it all boils down to our own double standards and hypocrisy. If we are to be self-righteous in the fight against escalating fascism in one of the world's super powers, let's at least acknowledge our own shortcomings so that we can improve our own society before try to change others.