Monday, January 19, 2015

Open Season for Intolerance: How Russia's Anti-Gay Propaganda Laws are Destroying Lives

by Nomad

Gay Laws RussiaA Russian newspaper article provides an example of how discriminatory anti-gay propaganda laws have become for Russia's gay citizens. In fact, it has become a tool for hunting down individuals and destroying their careers. 

Last month a music teacher at a school for disabled children in Saint Petersburg was fired for "an amoral action."
The crime? 
Her identity. Her sexual orientation.

According to the news report, the teacher was outed by an anti-gay crusader, Timur Bulatov, who then wrote a letter of complaint to the school authorities.  In a private meeting, the administrators told her that because she was a lesbian, she would no longer be allowed to work with students.  For a dedicated teacher, this decision was heart-breaking. 
She told one reporter:
"During all the years of my work at the school I gave all I had to my favorite profession, developing a love for arts, music among the children. ..Considering the capabilities of our children with moderate to severe developmental disabilities, I tried to make every lesson interesting, educational and fun."
What's important to understand here is that the teacher was not openly gay to her students. The anti-propaganda laws do not, it would seem, apply in this case. The incident shows the predictable outcome of the Russian duma's 2013 passage of new laws banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors.

In a country famous for its mastery of propaganda from the Soviet days, it's ironic that nobody thought to provide an exact definitive of the word. 
The new federal law is closely related to several regional laws that were already on the books, all of which seek to penalize “propaganda” of homosexuality, generally with the intent of “protecting” minors.
The original complaint was not however based on propaganda but solely on remarks she had made on social media. 
While a widely criticized Russian law prohibits the promotion of gay "propaganda" to minors, the young woman had not disclosed her sexual orientation to her coworkers or students, nor was she involved in any LGBT rights movements, news site Meduza reported.
As far as her career, by all reports, the teacher was of the highest quality.

The officials from the school seemed reluctant to remove the award winning teacher, but "was under considerable pressure from educational officials." She was also told that "she would never be able to work as a teacher again."
The action by the school marks a serious step in the persecution of gay Russians.
The dismissal marks the first known case in Russia when a school officially referred to a teacher's sexual orientation as grounds for dismissal.
(The school now denies that the teacher's orientation had anything to do with her dismissal. Yet according to a copy of the personnel order, the reason for her dismissal was listed as "After the teacher refused to resign voluntarily, the school dismissed her for an "amoral action, incompatible with a continuation of the work as a teacher.")

A Well-Rounded View of the World
According to the article, the anti-gay activist has boasted that he has been responsible for the firing of 29 gay and lesbian teachers from Russian schools. In his complaint, Bulatov wrote:
"This teacher openly shows herself on social networks as an amoral lesbian who cohabits, according to social network data, with another equally ill girl... A denial of traditional family values is considered amoral and incompatible with conducting this kind of labor activity."
Another excerpt from his anti-gay website:
“...  [Redacted] shows up at school with lesbian attributes: rings on her big fingers and pinky fingers, other specific jewelry, dressed like a man, cutting her hair short, which can be a bad example for the behavior of children.”
Big pinkie ring propaganda ploy?  The old short hair lesbian recruiting tool?

Although news agencies has not disclosed her name for fear of attacks, anti-gay websites have had no such hesitations. 
“It’s a crime to allow such teachers as [redacted] around children because communication with such teachers won’t teach children good behavior, it won’t give them a well-rounded view of the world, and it won’t give them the ability to respect the family and Russian tradition. A teacher who isn’t afraid to make faces at the camera and put the pictures up on the Internet already ruins the ethics and kind reputation of a teacher and dishonors the school where she teaches music. 
*   *   *
That however may not be the end of the story.  
Lawyers from St. Petersburg's Vyhod rights organization have filed a lawsuit with a city court on behalf of the music teacher, who was dismissed last month from School No. 565, and are seeking to get her reinstated and win compensation for lost wages and moral damages, the group said Monday in a statement.
The outcome of the legal action will be a challenge to the anti-gay measures that has had the support of the religious conservatives and traditionalists who make up a large percentage of Vladimir Putin's party. 

Hunted like Animals
If the lawsuit fails, the persecution of homosexuals will take a dangerous step. It will institutionalize the discrimination, more importantly, perhaps it will move from punishment for "propaganda" to punishment for existence. The courts, in upholding the school's decision, will be giving its stamp of approval to a wave of dismissals in public schools throughout Russia. That kind of "success" would inspire Bulatov and others like him to root out other gays and lesbians in other sectors.

Last year the documentary, Hunted, depicted how the anti-propaganda laws have been used to drive the gay community underground, force them to live in fear of entrapment, blackmail or much worse. British television reporter Liz Mackean describes what's going on as "a wave of terror."

Director Ben Steele said that the anti-gay hunter/attackers are brazen and openly proud of hunting down and destroying the lives of gay Russians. They were, he said, happy to be filmed because "they wanted to let the world know what they are doing." They have no reason to hide their faces and they have no fear of repercussions, even as they humiliate and intimidate their victims. 
Steele says:.
"They think they're doing a good thing..It's one of the terrifying things about it. They don't think they're the baddies. We're the crazy deranged Westerners. What can you say to that?"
When recent controversy erupted over the government's attempt to ban transgenders from driving, publicity proved to be something of a national embarrassment. Svetlana Zakharova, PR manager of the Russian LGBT Network told Reuters that, whether or not the laws were a serious threat is not the question.
"It actually shows that LGBT people in Russia feel extremely vulnerable."
 She added:
"The homophobic policy of the Russian state created an environment where LGBT people do not expect anything good and believe that even a nonsense regulation or law can be adopted."
Ominous Historical Parallels
If nothing else, the policy of orientation discrimination (as practiced by the public school in the article) demonstrates that Russia is simply not culturally a part of Europe, despite whatever pretensions it might once have had.

The European Union offers protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and requires the addition of laws by candidate states. Treaty of Amsterdam, for example, the first ever international treaty to explicitly mention and to protect sexual orientation in EU member states. 

In some ways, the crusades against gay citizens reminds us of Nazi Germany's anti-Semitic policies in the early 1930s, when the rights of Jewish citizens to hold civil posts were curtailed by the state. That policy of wholesale discrimination based on inherent characteristics, like the color of one's skin or one's lack of Aryan credentials, was only the first step toward the greatest catastrophe of the last century.

In fact, the ominous parallels between Nazi Germany and Russian today are much more obvious. One doesn't need to look at the Nazi's treatment of Jews. The Gestapo compiled lists of homosexuals, and according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, of whom some 50,000 were officially sentenced.
This historical fact had been long overlooked and it wasn't until 2002 that the German government apologized to the gay community. In 2005, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Holocaust which included the persecution of homosexuals

As one keen observer noted, in modern Russia, you have no official, formal assessment of this past. Unlike Europe, Russia, it seems, has clearly learned nothing from history. 
Lord Acton in his collection of essays on The History of Freedom wrote:
The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.
 The lack of security for the gay minorities in Russia has led to growing numbers seeking asylum in the West.. where pinkie rings and short hair are not a cause for dismissal.