Purely a figment of your imagination

What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz

Russia Running Rings Around Homophobia


Please go to More Links for updates since I wrote this.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time and after a loooong writing break, am finally getting around to it. It’s long, but I hope it’s worth it.

We can make it happen.

We can make it happen.

I went to Russia a few years ago. It was a great holiday, and I was hopeful about a return trip someday. However, developments since Putin somehow managed to retain his presidency have basically removed that option.

It is hard to say exactly why the “Gay propaganda law” has been put in place. A common (but not universally accepted) suggestion is that one goal of a ruler who wants to keep their power is to suppress views they do not like, and that’s precisely where these laws come from, pandering to the “traditional” views of some of the people, and the church. Create scapegoats that aren’t you, but some imagined “other” that are a real threat to your livelihood. In this case, it’s “protect children from things that might make them gay” – obviously based on a fundamental misunderstanding of both sexual orientation and what’s important for young people*.

These laws don’t just affect gay people, but the whole LGBT+ community; anyone who is found to be interested or engaging in any form of non-heterosexual relationship (or protesting the laws) is at risk of violence (up to, quite possibly, murder) and arrest. Russia has a well-known problem with racism and violence generally; the officially-illegal-but-generally-ignored violence of the skinheads now seems to be joined by the tacit approval of homophobic violence.

It has come to more people’s attention now because of the planned Winter Olympics in Sochi, February 2014. So there are several angles to look at here; the laws themselves (which admittedly I don’t fully understand, and I’m not sure the lawmakers even do), their effects on non-hetero Russians, international views, Olympics issues (such as boycotts and protests, the IOC’s pronouncements and implications of this), Russian citizens’ views and my personal views. I’ll start with the latter.

My views and Russian views

Personally I do have the privilege that my sexuality is generally not obvious to people who are just looking. This can be annoying at times, but overall it probably saves me from some negative experiences. But that doesn’t mean I want to hide in plain sight in a country that would quite happily lock me up just because of who I am or might be attracted to. I don’t want that for me, my friends, or people I don’t even know. Because it’s not right.

Yes, that means I also do not wish to visit places like Egypt, Moldova, Dubai, Iran, plenty of African countries… if I’m aware of laws that restrict my basic human rights and those of my friends, I don’t want to spend my money there, or risk being there at all.

That probably leaves me with a very limited travelling itinerary and I’m aware there are many other human rights abuses occurring globally (against women, children, poor people, the politically active, atheists and people of the “wrong” religion, LGBT+ citizens etc.) but let’s focus on Russia for now.

My favourite landmark from my trip; representing men's and women's contributions to the war effort.

Favourite landmark from my trip; representing contributions to the war effort.

I have some Russian friends and they are lovely people. Their views do vary – the population, while small for the immense size of the country and homogenised in certain ways because of its history, like any other holds diverse opinions. Their age, what they remember of Russian government from childhood and current locations also naturally influence these views.

One friend admits to largely ignoring politics, and it is clear that many of their views are influenced by what they hear from others and they’re not in the practice of questioning hearsay. Their condemnation of gay people has mellowed into a kind of received disapproval, with standard comments like “I don’t have a problem with it, but I wouldn’t want my children to be gay, and I don’t see why people need to do things in the street”.

It is genuinely a revelation for some people when they are told that the goal of the gays is not to be able to have sex in the middle of the road in front of everyone (maybe it is for some people, regardless of their sexuality, but hey), but just to be treated like the human beings they are, instead of being singled out for punishment because they happen to love and/or sleep with people of the same sex.

Some of this view is bolstered by the idea that the population needs to grow, so if you can’t have babies together, don’t be together. Or something. Then there’s adoption of course – millions of children need families, but gay parents won’t do – that’ll make the children gay, of course! Convincing people that sexuality is innate – just as heterosexual people do not choose this, nor does anyone else. [Edit: might have to retract this; if we accept that sexuality is fluid and changeable, our choices can and should be our own, still. Choosing our lifestyles is an important right to have, and we should be mindful of how we use the evidence we have, and what we lack. Good article here.]

Yet many are still convinced that a liberal attitude towards sexuality will make teens experiment, and possibly stick with the gay thing, thus destroying the world. I think that’s the argument, anyway.

The idea that maybe young people just don’t want to fear for their lives because of expressing themselves physically with others doesn’t seem to get through. “I know lots of gays in Russia, they are fine” – but without experiencing the situation from their perspective, that’s not really something you can insist upon. It’s up to the people these laws are affecting to explain it to the rest of us, if they can.

The European Parliament condemned the laws back in June as a result, being not only restrictions on free speech, but also putting the LGBT+ community at risk. Vera Kichanova reported a violent assault on her and some friends in a bar, complete with anti-homosexual slurs and death threats, which was reported by the Financial Times’ Neil Buckley. Also have a listen to Anita Anand’s interview with the Russian minister who drew up the laws and with a gay resident of St Petersburg who explains the fear people like her are living with every day; simply for being in love.

There are more reports coming of possible murders, suicides, horrific assaults and torture, sometimes filmed and put online. But the insistence is that these things are make-believe or Western anti-Russia propaganda [linked article likely to be upsetting].

The minister in the interview displays the unfathomable hysteria about the “sick” gay people who want to force others to view their naked bodies (?!) and repeatedly insists that gay adults are safe in Russia; they simply wish to protect children from the damaging influence of sexually liberal attitudes. It might be convincing, were it not for the implications of this and the reality for gay Russians, some of whom are trying to leave as a result. And I don’t blame them.

What was shocking to me was when my friend who clearly wants there to be reason and justice behind these happenings in her country – which they are largely unaware of – is taken in by things they have heard that make very little sense. They believe that Pussy Riot were naked and cavorting in the church, not just playing music (this might be a confusion with the Voina performance art group who staged an orgy as an election protest). While I won’t get further into this issue, it is worth noting that a priest who supported them was recently murdered. And let us not delve into the Navalny affair.

They also believe that the law restricting adoption is in response to a reported case of a gay couple in America abusing their adopted Russian son; tragically they happen to also be paedophiles. The facts that paedophilia is largely the domain of heterosexual men and abuse is about power, not attraction seem to have escaped Putin’s notice. But because of these stories and others, they believe it is right to protect children from homosexuality. Explaining how this could affect them or people they love just doesn’t seem to hit home… yet. I hold out some hope.

sochi handcuffs

What about the Olympics?

The question of boycotting/protesting/banning/moving the upcoming event is not simple to answer, and I’ll try to provide some information on that here. I’m not sure what the best thing to do is, but I do know it’s good that the issue is gaining more international attention, and it will be interesting to see how the situation develops.

It wouldn’t be the first time that countries have been banned from events for violating human rights. There was also some protest against holding the current World Athletics Championships in Moscow. Russia’s legal stance violates some of the Fundamental Principles of Olympism but for some reason this appears to be confusing the organising committees.

At the beginning of the month, the Russian sports minister confirmed the laws would be enforced during the Olympics; no-one would be allowed to be open about their sexuality, if not heterosexual, during the event. This despite the International Olympic Committee (IOC) being told it wouldn’t affect the games.

Some high-profile voices have spoken out. President Obama criticised Putin’s stance on The Tonight Show and “postponed” an upcoming meeting, while All Out delivered a petition for Putin to repeal the laws (with over 300,000 signatures) to the Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, along with an open letter from Stephen Fry calling for the games to be moved and likening the country’s crackdown to that of Hitler in Nazi Germany. But the Russian sports minister implored people to just “calm down” about it.

However, despite loud calls for a ban in some form, it is important to note that local activists’ views often differ, instead asking for a display of solidarity with Russian LGBT+ people, using the prestigious event to deliver this message.

International activism has also occurred, including a huge protest when Putin visited Amsterdam and an excellent demonstration (despite the slight colour mix-up) outside the Russian embassy in Stockholm.


The IOC recently demanded Russia clarify exactly what the law meant and how it might affect the games, around the same time that David Cameron and Sebastian Coe disagreed with calls to boycott the games.

A Russian minister then confirmed that anyone found to be “promoting” homosexuality in any way would in fact be arrested. This is far from the requested confirmation that people would not be at risk in Sochi during the games.

The next day, citing rule 50 of the Olympic charter, the IOC agree that people should not be openly gay during the games, or engage in any form of protest/display support for Russia’s LGBT+ citizens.

Some people thought it might be a good idea instead to boycott Russian vodka, but Stolichnaya quickly pointed out that it is in fact a Latvian product and to do so would harm the LGBT+ community there instead. Others have suggested targeting Olympic sponsors, as similar campaigns have seen success.


What do we do now? I’m not sure, besides continuing to be vocal about the rights of these people to lives that are not blighted by fear instilled by misguided legislation and a violent culture.

More links

See also Alex Gabriel‘s take, picking up the problems with Fry’s otherwise excellent letter and reiterating the need to listen to Russia’s LGBT+ voices on this issue.

This post also criticises the hypocrisy and “white saviour” mentality around such issues. Agree with most, except for the idea that LGBT rights have been made “superior to” other human rights; I’d say that’s nonsense.

7 things you need to know about Russia and the 2014 Olympics” – a short run-down by Steve Williams.

The Daily Mash wonders if some latent homosexuality might be behind the whole affair.

Here’s a petition from @scottwylie7 to have small rainbow flags added to athletes’ uniforms.

21/08/13: Orthodox activists also begin action against “atheist extremism”

22/08/13: Disturbing information about the skinheads’ torture of young gay men and cultural complicity

22/08/13: A reporter was cut off during a (govt-owned) Russia Today broadcast for protesting the laws

22/08/13: Mic Wright acknowledges that homophobia is a global issue, but that doesn’t mean we can’t focus sometimes.

24/08/13: Vice interviews a Russian teenager who posts about his life as a gay person on Twitter. Very sad insights.

27/08/13: @ru_lgbt_teen also gives Mic Wright an interview.

28/08/13: People now being encouraged to report (suspected) LGBT neighbours, and another activist’s home is raided.

29/08/13: Former US no. 1 tennis player criticises laws in his retirement speech. Russian athletes decline to comment in detail.

03/09/13: Protests in London, Madrid and elsewhere to show support for affected Russians

04/09/13: News that Alexander Ermoshkin, a geography teacher, was fired because of his orientation, while Putin insists there is no discrimination. Putin says he will meet with LGBT activists, but has not received requests. One activist has now publicly asked for a meeting.

05/09/13: Plans to make homosexuality a reason to deny child custody

07/09/13: More on the misguided Stolichnaya boycott (it’s Latvian)

04/02/14: A long wait, and a lot has happened. We’ll see what happens in Sochi. If you can, read this harrowing 6-page account on how the lives of LGBT people are affected by this state-sanctioned hate.

*Research shows that children growing up with gay parents are just fine – if not better than those in “traditional” families. What matters for us in our lives is love, pure and simple. Being looked after, protected, supported, encouraged and taught. It does not matter where that comes from, but that it is there. Gay people are just as capable of giving that as anyone else, and when you have to jump through hoops to start your family, rather than just doing a simple, fun thing and ta-da! Then you can be sure that love is there; that child is wanted and will receive the care and attention it needs.

PS. Thanks to Morgan for title ideas!


Author: noodlemaz

I prefer to think of myself as a realist rather than a pessimist, but perhaps that's just optimistic. Honest, atheist, scientist, feminist.

5 thoughts on “Russia Running Rings Around Homophobia

  1. M, I have often taken pleasure in the way you work with a concept. Rarely linear, you tend to come at a thing from different angles … I have an image of a craftsman given a new tool … she turns it in her hands, learning the heft, the leverage, the angles, the way it can be used. You think about a thing as you write about it. This article was excellent, in large part because it was so heartfelt.

    I also enjoyed that linked article from 2010 about your visit to Russia. You gave reasons to appreciate a country that I had not thought much about. It is too bad that you will have to wait for an opportunity to return.

    Life is a forward and back sort of thing. In the realm of gay rights, and gay acceptance, much of the world is moving forward. Currently, Russia seems to be a shameful exception.

    Thank you for this one.

    Regards. R.P.

  2. A few things to add based on Facebook/in person conversations because sadly people are still reluctant to post comments to blogs, *sigh*.

    – it should be noted that Obama’s reactions lately are of course very much related to Edward Snowden, so we can’t read too much into that in this context.

    – Something I could have highlighted more than just having the link buried in the text was that another option is to prevent Russian athletes from participating in their own games, rather than moving the event completely (which is unlikely to impossible at this stage anyway). This again penalises athletes, though, so I’m still not sure it’s viable. See here.

    – the comments in that article are also worth reading. Including points that have been discussed around commercialisation – is the Olympics really worth saving at all now? It is a profit-making machine, it is no longer solely about inclusion and athletic achievement. When we hosted London 2012, our laws were changed on the IOC’s behest to allow official Olympic sponsors to make tonnes more money. Hardly very Olympic principled. Is getting rid of the games altogether an option? Surely athletes will be able to compete on other stages. Consign it to history again, and maybe it can return at a later date less corrupt.

    – the commercial aspect might also suggest that protesting via the sponsors could indeed be the best/most effective way to go.

    – Of course homophobia is not the only problem in Russia. There are many, and there have been throughout much of its history, and as another commenter has said, few (if any) countries have spotless pasts (or presents).

    However, that does not mean that we cannot challenge human rights abuses where we see them. Similarly, just because our industrial revolution was shockingly polluted or doctors used to prescribe cigarettes – when we know more, we can do better, and with communication more open we can share that knowledge and support our fellow human beings.

    Bigger threats and problems do not negate also tackling smaller things. I find myself too often pointing out that people can hold several beliefs at once, can support many causes, can care about many things. It does not have to be at the expense of others. But solving problems means identifying them first, and uniting under banners. If it’s the rainbow flag for this one, I’m up for that.

  3. dear sir or vagina:

    regarding pro-gay bigotry:

    as a gay “man” or masculivoid, please keep in mind that i lust for my own gender, i am getting sick and tired of society putting homosexuality into a good light by not stopping to ask themselves anything that can be regarded as “homophobic”.

    why isn’t there a counterpart to the word “homophobia,” and why isn’t it considered a problem (or a “condition”) for anyone to judge gay people in a favorable light based solely on who they sleep with? how many times have we heard “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” with regards to homosexuality? how much is it hammered into our thoughts that “it’s okay to be gay,” and why is “matthew shepard” a household name when names like “jesse dirkhising” are not? it’s because matthew shepard’s situation wcould elicit sadness and pity and would spawn gay-affirmations from the public, and little jesse’s situation would not (jesse was bound, drugged, tortured and raped by gay people…come to think of it, matthew’s murder was more about meth than men. it seems that gay people love their drugs and anything that gets them away from their semi-charmed kinds of lives).

    homophobia. why is it a problem for people to automatically think bad things about “men” who lust for masculinity, why isn’t it a problem for people to automatically think good things about these masculivoids?

    homophobia. it’s like gay people got so tired of automatically being put in a bad light, so they all got together and organized a grand ol’ “pee-wee herman” defense of “i know you are, but what am i” to put their detractors in bad lights and to label whoever is anti-gay as the ones who have problems (or “phobias”), just to keep from facing their own problems. dare i bring up an old madonna-lyric sung by a self-righteous finger-pointer, “YOU’RE the one with the problem,” but gays are ones to point out other peoples’ problems in an effort to keep from acknowledging their own. “you hate me because you’re scared of yourself” and “you hate me because you really envy me,” how blind are gay people to say such things to their opposers without knowing anything about their opposers? don’t they like to say “you can’t judge me if you don’t even know me” and stuff like that? they are blinded by their own spite which they commonly regard as “gay pride,” but maybe we seem like we hate gay people because we don’t want to be around self-righteous people. i know that, as a proud (i was vengeful and spiteful) 18 year-old who was walking down the school’s hallway while smoking a cigarette, i realized that “gay pride” (or the ignorance and belittlement of any opinions, rules or customs counter to one’s own) is a problem that is born of a low self-image. i did what i did because i felt that i was as much of a “little bitty pissant” as was the “country place” that dolly parton sung about. my “pride parade” and all “pride parades” are better defined as “spite parades” – pride is not loud and it is not haughty and it is not ignorant of other human beings’ feelings.

    the roots of “gay pride” are so closely linked to the roots of “a woman can do anything a man can do,” i just feel the need to associate them. as gays hated their “bad light,” vaginas from coast to coast got so tired of automatically being put in a weak and lesser light, so the vaginas all got together and organized the whole “Strongwoman” campaign. nowadays, we don’t hear the word “woman” without hearing “strong” before it…unless, of course, it’s preceded by “violence against,” i guess. you know, because it’s kind of a slap in the face to suggest that the Strongwoman isn’t strong enough to prevent violence from happening to her.


    it is flat-out ridiculous that we use overcompensating placebo-words to placate the egos of members of the gender having the lesser physical statures. from athletic teams to eating competitions to the entry-level requirements of the military – there is a reason that these are all male/female and gender-based. the reason is that women are not strong, the reason is that women can only legitimately compete alongside of men (not with men). still,though, how they want people to know them as strong. this is the reason you rarely hear “woman” not having a prefix of “strong”. it’s like they all got together and organized that “i know you are, but what am i” defense…and called it “feminism: the strongwoman experiment”.

    just as ridiculous as the Strongwoman-placebo, is the overcompensating placebo to placate the gay “men” and their gender-identities. in reality, gay “men” are little boys who haven’t internalized any masculine gender-identity and who therefore feel blessed to be in the presence of naked men. as gay “men,” we rely on men as a crutch or as a seeing-eye dog to bring us to a state of masculine fulfillment, simply because we don’t have enough masculine self-respect to rely on ourselves to fill our void for masculinity. now, despite the gay male’s lackluster sense of masculine self-respect (just ask him who the man of his dreams is), he wants people to know him as a man who is all grown-up emotionally, so it is commonplace to hear gay “men” being referred to AS men – just as much as a vagina refers to her little son as a man – but an asexual “guys” is how we refer to the men who’ve developed both a physical superiority over vaginas and an emotional superiority over gays. the men who are justified both in body and mind AS men are not men in today’s society – they are referred to with as asexual a word as “guys”.

    why is it constantly impressed upon the public that there’s nothing wrong with finding security and fulfillment and something excitably taboo in other members of one’s own gender, why can’t anyone even fathom the self-compromising errs of homosexuality? speaking of which – why is it fine to regard as “men,” every clueless masculivoid who lacks masculine gender-identity enough to want to inspect the masculine gender? why are men who are straight with themselves AS men (and with masculinity in general) more commonly referred to as “straight guys”?

    manphobes. from vaginas to gay “men,” they both disrespect real men because they all want masculine identity for themselves (vaginas want to be regarded as “strong” and they want society to give them a facade of the PHYSICAL masculine-identity, while gay “men” want to be regarded as “real men” and they want society to give them a facade of having an acceptable level of PSYCHOLOGICAL masculine-identity). this is why i refer to feminists and gay “men” as “masculine wannabees”.

    mr. dylan terreri, i
    dr. sheldon cooper, ii
    miss abingdon blazavich
    “When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m thirsty, I drink. When I feel like saying something, I say it.” – Madonna

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