Russia’s Gay-Bashing Culture, Ctd

HRW highlights anti-gay assaults in Russia:

I just recorded a new Deep Dish podcast with Masha Gessen on the state-of-play in Russia (stay tuned). Meanwhile, Jeff Sharlet traveled to Russia to meet with LGBT activists and their opposition. He talked to Timur Isaev, who torments gay Russians:

As young men, he and his friends liked to hunt and beat gays. “For fun,” he says. But then he became a father. Like many parents, he worried about the Internet. Late at night, he studied it. He watched YouTube. “Girls,” he says, “young girls, undressing themselves.” Using a special “tool for developers,” he says, he was able to discern that the other people watching these videos at 2 a.m. were homosexual men. “The analysis of their accounts,” he says, “showed that they also watched young boys.” That’s when Timur realized he must become an activist. For the children.

Timur bought a video camera, a very good one. He began documenting LGBT life. At first, demonstrations; then he began idling outside activists’ offices, filming and photographing people coming and going. He showed me one of his galleries: dozens, maybe hundreds of faces. Some he has photographed himself, others he finds online. He is a great policeman of VK, Russia’s version of Facebook. These days he stays up late at night searching for homosexual teachers. It’s kind of his specialty.

Notice the various leaps of logic: the Internet has porn showing young women; gays are into the Internet; gays are watching girls; gays are watching boys; gays are after our children. Worse: gays represent everything that’s terrifying about the sexual mores of the West, now available online in every Russian home. So bashing gays is a defense of children and of the fatherland. When these kinds of irrational, illogical memes are floating around, Putin’s endorsement of them pours gasoline onto the fire of hatred. What he has created is an atmosphere in which gay people are seen not just as a despised minority but as infiltrators destroying the nation. If you do not recall the dangers of that kind of eliminationist rhetoric toward a minority, you are in denial.

At the same time, it seems to me we need to be careful not to misread the specific cultural context here. There’s a worrying tendency for some gay activists to assume that because a foreign country is not identical to the US on the question of gay rights, it’s an outrage that must be immediately confronted and changed. But America, only a decade ago, was not identical to the US today. Many states still have in their very constitutions the relegation of gay people to second class status. The last president of the US, George W Bush, wanted to enshrine the inferiority of gay couples in the federal constitution. It’s been only a few years since gays were able to serve openly in the US military. To turn around and then be shocked and appalled that homophobia is still very much alive and well in the Russian rural heartland is more than a little obtuse.

These changes take time.

They may take decades to evolve, if ever, in many countries. And the danger of lecturing and haranguing Russians – or Saudis or Ugandans or Nigerians – is that it may make matters worse. It may actually buttress various regimes attempts to equate homosexuality with a foreign Western plot; it runs the risk of putting gay people in danger, of disturbing unique and different cultures in ways that hurt gays rather than helps them. What we’re seeing here, I think, is a consequence of the web creating a global virtual culture that  local actual cultures cannot easily absorb, and so precipitating a backlash. And it’s one thing if that backlash happens in response to domestic pressure, and another if it happens in response to foreign intervention. The latter could be far more dangerous.

We should be aware that our zeal may also not be matched by the gays in the countries we are protesting and confronting:

“I haven’t heard of these laws, but I think it’s fine,” a kid named Kirill tells me at a hidden gay club called Secrets. “We don’t need gay pride here. Why do we need to show our orientation?” He shrugs. He has heard of the torture videos popular online, the gangs that kidnap gays, the police that arrest gays, the babushkas with their eggs and their stones. But he hasn’t seen them. He prefers not to. “Everybody wants to emigrate, but not me.” He shrugs again; it’s like a tic. “I love Russia. This is their experience, not mine.” He says he does not know what the word closet means.

Meanwhile, Dickey finds that American anti-gay activists are having an impact overseas:

Take American evangelist Scott Lively author of The Pink Swastika, blaming the Holocaust on Nazi homosexuals. He is also the co-founder of a group that the hate-trackers at the Southern Poverty Law Center, calls “the virulently anti-gay” and “currently active more in Eastern Europe than in the U.S.” And Lively proudly takes credit for his role campaigning since 2006 for the law passed last year by the Russian Duma, which ostensibly bars homosexual “propaganda” targeting children. “Go Ruskies!” he proclaimed at the time.

That law was just part of a wider gay-bashing campaign in Russia. Paul Cameron, often described in the United States as a “discredited” psychologist, was welcomed in Moscow to talk about “family values.” Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, one of the most polished anti-gay activists, addressed the Duma last year to argue against adoptions by homosexual couples, and a few days later, the ban was written into law.

Previous Dish on homosexuality in Russia here, here, here, and here.