Sunday, August 4, 2013


I began this post after Independence Day, 2013 with the recent US Supreme Court rulings regarding marriage equality on my mind and then I stopped to think of my LGBTQI brothers and sisters who are not as fortunate as we are.

In Russia, various levels of government have passed some of the most draconian laws targeting LGBTQI people. The local Moscow government recently passed a law prohibiting any type of Pride march for the next one hundred years. Taking the lead from St. Petersburg, which had passed a similar law earlier, the Russian Federal Duma (Parliament) passed a law banning "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" which is as vague as the law itself, for there is no clear definition in the law as to what is meant by the term "propaganda." So that could mean anyone- a Russian or a tourist; a teacher, a counselor or even a parent; who is straight, gay, or perceived as gay who, in front of minors, may mention being gay is okay; or may simply be wearing or holding a rainbow flag, button or sticker, or some other pro-gay symbol; or may simply be holding hands with someone of the same sex- could be subject to arrest, fines or both and in the case of tourists, deportation. Russian President Vladimir Putin also signed a bill that prohibits adoption of Russian-born children by same-sex foreign couples, or by a single individual or an opposite-sex couple whose homeland recognizes marriage equality. Gays are allowed to live openly, yet there are no laws against discrimination and anti-gay acts of violence are on the rise though are rarely prosecuted, let alone even investigated, so many LGBTQI people live closeted lives. Seventy-four percent of Russian society believes homosexuality is always wrong. There is also a rumored law that would remove children from their own home if  the parents are gay, lesbian or suspected as such, and the law could apply to biological, as well as to adopted children. 

Yet, my brothers and sisters continue the fight risking everything; losing jobs, being attacked and even death. A young man was brutally beaten to death after coming out to his buddies.

With many Olympians out of the closet, this brings up quite a conundrum for the Winter Olympics taking place in Sochi, Russia in 2014. Will Russia hold the athletes to Russian law? First, they said, "Nyet!" and now they are saying, "Da! The law is the law!" The International Olympic Committee has spoken with Russian authorities who have assured the IOC that athletes, trainers, coaches or reporter will be respected. Whatever that means. We shall see.

It has been suggested to boycott Russian products; specifically, Stolichnaya Vodka, and even so far as to boycott the Olympics. Boycotts don't always produce the desired results and often hurt innocent people in the meantime. Yet, the symbolism of the boycott draws attention to the cause. Seeing as I rarely buy Russian products, and I don't drink vodka anymore (not after a night with cheap vodka, cheap orange juice and cake), it's a boycott I can easily honor. But, will I have any effect? Nyet. I am not an Olympian, nor do I have the money to travel to Sochi to attend. So, again, what can I do? I can bring light to the cause. I can put pressure on my elected officials to try and do something.

I also would like to say that boycotting the Olympics may draw attention to the cause, but will it change anything? Who knows? But, it will disappoint and/or anger the athletes who have trained so hard for this opportunity. Many athletes spoke against the US boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow over the then-Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan which in turn prompted the Soviet Union to boycott the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, California resulting in nothing but a large case of You-boycott-mine-I'll-boycott-yours. Nothing was achieved by either boycott, though the Soviets did eventually withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989. The US is there, now. Okay, so some things do change.

While these anti-LGBTQI atrocities are indeed heinous, anti-LGBTQI attitudes, hatred, and violence are not limited to Russia.

Eric Lembembe
In June of this year, the very first Gay Pride Parade was held in the former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro. Forty marchers paraded down the street protected by policemen from about 200 protesters who threw rocks and bottles at the marchers and policemen. Only minor injuries were reported and some protestors were arrested.

Also this year, Eric Ohena Lembembe, a prominent Cameroonian gay rights activist was found murdered in his own home, his body bearing signs of torture.

In November 2012, the speaker of the Parliament of Uganda promised to enact a revised anti-homosexuality bill, providing for harsher penalties against suspected LGBT people and anyone who fails to report them to authorities. Punishments could include long-term imprisonment and the death penalty for what the law terms "repeat offenders". This bill has even targeted people who know or suspect someone is gay and hasn't turned them in, family members included. What makes this situation worse, if anything could, is that US Evangelical leaders have allegedly been linked to this bill, according to sources.

Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, has called for the decapitation of gay men if they can't produce children. "If you take men and lock them in a house for five years and tell them to come up with two children and they fail to do that, then we will chop off their heads," according to Zimbabwe's NewsDay

Seeing and hearing this makes me feel helpless. It also hurts. I can't stand to see any kind of discrimination. Recently, I read two articles about same-sex couples who were discriminated against for being affectionate. One case involved a kiss and the other, merely hand holding. A lesbian couple was being affectionate in a taxi when the driver threw them out of his cab along a dark stretch of an interstate highway. The other case involved  two men who were holding hands in an airport shuttle bus and were asked to move to the back. When a fellow passenger told the driver she thought his behavior was disgusting, he allegedly said, "Want to know what's disgusting?" and he pointed at the men saying, "Them." These cases were in Portland, Oregon and Albuquerque, New Mexico, respectively.

While I don't mean to minimize the pain or the loss of life my brothers and sisters around the world have felt; but I ask, please take comfort in one word:


I know. It doesn't necessarily help right now.

Laws can help protect against discrimination and both couples above have filed lawsuits. Yet, laws can only go so far. It's hard to change people's attitudes. It also takes time. Only by living openly, honestly and authentically can others see us as we truly are; human beings who have the same feelings, dreams, needs and desires as they do.

В знак солидарности с моими братьями и сестрами.

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