Watching Russia’s roll-back on gay rights unfold, one strand has started to emerge: it’s apparently all about the children. Why is this, and why is it so dangerous?
Last week Russia’s President Vadimir Putin attempted to soothe fears about what will happen to gay participants and spectators at the Sochi Winter Olympics in February. In comments made to the press he contends that no discrimination will occur, but he also had a dire (and discriminatory) warning for gay visitors to the country: leave our children alone.
Said Putin: “We don’t outlaw anything and don’t nab anyone. That’s why you can feel safe and free here, but please leave our children in peace.”
At around the same time, stories began to emerge that a protester had indeed been “nabbed” under Russia’s much protested ban on “non-traditional sexualities” for daring to unfurl a rainbow flag during an Olympic torch relay. Said protester Pavel Lebedev to the Associated Press: “Hosting the games here contradicts the basic principles of the Olympics, which is to cultivate tolerance.”
The contrast in the two narratives really couldn’t be more stark. It is, however, a difference the International Olympic Committee, the Olympics’ governing body, has failed to recognize and is willfully ignoring.
It also came in the same week that Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a report in which the country’s officials outlined their views on Europe. As might be expected, they were non-too favorable. By advocating for the civil rights of gay people or, as an unofficial translation of the report terms the community, “queers,” Europe has become a “neo-liberal” dictatorship:
[...] the European Union and its Member States consider, as one of their priorities, the dissemination of their neo-liberal values as a universal lifestyle for all other members of the international community. This is particularly evident in their aggressive promotion of the sexual minorities’ rights. Attempts have been made to enforce on other countries an alien view of homosexuality and same-sex marriages as a norm of life and some kind of a natural social phenomenon that deserves support at the state level. Such an approach encounters resistance not only in the countries upholding traditional values, but also in those countries which have always taken a liberal attitude towards queers. Suffice it to recall the protest reaction of a major part of the French society to the decision on legalization of same-sex marriages in the country.
It is factually inaccurate that Europe is demanding same-sex marriage as a “norm.” Indeed, European officials, including the highest court in Europe, have all specifically refused to recognize a right that marriage equality should translate across Europe.
Ironically the report, which is titled “Report on the Human Rights Situation in the European Union,” also bemoans the rise of ”xenophobia, racism, violent nationalism, chauvinism and neo-Nazism.” That Russia appears blind to its own well documented rise in neo-Nazism, such as the vigilante groups who have released videos of them torturing gay and trans people, makes the hypocrisy from Russia’s officials almost laughable.
Then there’s the fear that Russia is poised to pass more anti-gay laws, including a piece of legislation that potentially could allow Russian officials to remove children from parents who are gay. We’ve come back full circle, and that’s essentially what Russia is doing with its roll back on gay rights. As more and more news stories mount up of Putin and other officials attempting to erase some of the damage Russia’s “propaganda” ban has done the country by minimizing the law’s effects, a strand wags above the rest: that Russian officials are almost paranoid that the Russian way of life is under threat of extinction.
During Putin’s conversation with journalists, he equated homosexuality and pedophilia, saying the “non traditional sexuality” ban was germane to child safety. The Washington Post notes that Putin then dropped the following clanger:
Putin noted with pride that Russia saw more births than deaths last year for the first time in two decades. Population growth is vital for Russia’s development and “anything that gets in the way of that we should clean up,” he said, using a word usually reserved for military operations.
Figures suggest that in 2013 Russia’s population indeed did rise for the first time in decades – by about 20,000 people. However, for Putin to imply that the country’s new anti-gay law had any hand in that is incredibly disingenuous. In terms of pure numbers, the population increase was much greater in 2012 than in 2013, and now if anything it seems to have plateaued. Putin is wrongly inferring a causal link between a rise in population and the gay propaganda ban, which is a terrible error of both logic and comprehension, but it does show a worrying path forward.
Russian authorities are contending that homosexuality is fundamentally anti-Russian, and not only that but is implying that being gay is a danger to the Russian people’s continued existence, the logic — and we use the term loosely — being that gay people don’t procreate and therefore the more people that are gay, the fewer Russia children will be born.
This is of course twaddle of the most pernicious kind, but it’s incredibly concerning because Putin and his ilk appear deadly serious about this line of argument. We know that this kind of rhetoric has been used to promote lifetime prison sentences and even death penalties for gay people. That spells trouble once the IOC swans off after the Olympics.
Finally, in case we should think this is overstating things, let’s end on what Putin said above, a potentially chilling refrain by any standards: “Anything that gets in the way of that we should clean up.”
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