Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 12, 2014

House of Burgess: Mind the company you keep

Putin opposes LGBT rights, too.

By Rob Burgess
Tribune columnist

— You couldn’t pay me enough to be a LGBT person in Russia right now. Things weren’t great before, but they got a whole lot worse when a series of anti-gay laws passed last year.

“The law passed 436-0 … which bans the spreading of ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’ among minors,” reported The Guardian’s Mirian Elder on June 11, 2013. “The law in effect makes it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships, as well as the distribution of material on gay rights. … International rights groups have called the current situation in Russia the worst human rights climate in the post-Soviet era.”

Since then it has basically been open season on LGBT Russians.

“Moscow’s top court has upheld a ban on gay pride marches in the Russian capital for the next 100 years,” reported the BBC on Aug. 17, 2013.

Protesters have been arrested and beaten by police.

“Russian police have arrested four gay rights activists protesting in St. Petersburg,” reported CBS News and The Associated Press on Friday. “Four gay activists unfurled a banner quoting the Olympic Charter’s ban on any form of discrimination. The protesters, who gathered on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, were quickly rounded up by police.”

Rampant, often videotaped, attacks on LGBT Russians by neo-Nazi groups, including “Occupy Pedophilia,” have become the norm.

“‘Occupy Pedophilia’ is an explicitly homophobic movement that entraps [adult] men seeking a same-sex encounter [with other adult men] and then berates them with homophobic slurs and physically assaults them while recording the proceedings on video,” reads a Human Rights Watch press release Feb. 3. “The group posts the videos on various social networking websites to further humiliate the victims.”

Russia in particular is on everyone’s minds as of late because of the XXII Winter Olympics, which began Friday in Sochi, a formerly sleepy resort town now host to the most expensive Games ever.

“The mayor of Sochi … has said there are no gay people in the city,” reported the BBC on Jan. 26. (Later in the story it is revealed, of course, this couldn’t possibly be true. “BBC ‘Panorama’ reporter John Sweeney visited a gay bar in Sochi the night before he interviewed the mayor,” read the story.)

This has been dubbed President Vladimir Putin’s Games, and he is not a man to be trifled with. Putin has essentially been in control of Russia since 1999. He’s a 16-year KGB veteran. He stages photo ops demonstrating his alpha male dominance to his loyal followers, taking to land (tranquilizing polar bears), sea (scuba diving) and air (co-piloting fighter jets).

Putin has vigorously defended his Games.

“I’d like to ask our colleagues, my colleagues and friends, that as they try to criticize us, they would do well to set their own house in order first,” he told George Stephanopoulos on ABC News’ “This Week” Jan. 19. “There are a lot of folks in the U.S. who share the view that the [anti-gay rights] legislation in their state or in their nation is appropriate, well grounded, and is in sync with the sentiment of the vast majority of the population.”

This is what people mean when they say, “being on either the right or wrong side of history.” President Barack Obama is conspicuously absent from these Olympic Games, and many other public figures have also filed their discontent.

“[British Deputy Prime Minister] Nick Clegg has urged gay visitors to … Sochi to protest against Putin’s ‘appalling’ treatment of gay people,” reported Matthew Holehouse in The Guardian on Friday.

I am absolutely not saying everyone who wants to deny LGBT people human rights is like Vladimir Putin. But, fairly or not, you are often judged in retrospect by the company you keep. So, do you stand with Putin, or don’t you?

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.