Russia Becoming the Next Uganda?
Russia may be on the road to becoming the next Uganda, with anti-gay sentiment spilling over from homophobic laws into society and everyday life and legal attacks on LGBTs spreading to nearby countries.
Moreover, the anti-gay fervor sweeping the region seems to have another commonality with the African nation that attempted to impose the notorious "death to gays" law: News reports indicate that one of the anti-gay U.S. evangelicals who reportedly helped spark the Ugandan wave of anti-gay violence has also been active in spreading animus against sexual minorities in Russia.
In March of 2009, several American evangelicals traveled to Uganda and presented what they called the "Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals' Agenda." Their talks contained assorted claims about gays and the "dangers" that gays pose to society, reported the New York Times in a Jan. 3, 2010, article.
The Ugandan group the Family Life Network, which purports to uphold "traditional family values," put the conference together. The speakers included anti-gay writer and missionary Scott Lively -- author of a book that purports to tell parents how to "gay-proof" their offspring -- and Don Schmierer, a board member of the now-defunct Exodus international, an organization dedicated to the idea that gays can be "cured" through prayer and counseling before the organization's recent demise.
A third speaker was also in attendance: Caleb Lee Brundidge, who claims once to have been gay, but now to be heterosexual. Mr. Brundage heads seminars focused on "healing" gays (that is, attempting to turn them straight).
The views set out by the Americans ranged from highly dubious claims that gays can be "converted" to heterosexuality to wild, undefined assertions that a "gay agenda" was at work "to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity," as well as stereotype-based pronouncements that gay men prey on teenaged boys.
Shortly after the conference, David Bahati, a Ugandan lawmaker with ties to anti-gay American evangelical organizations, proposed a bill that would have put gay men to death for having repeated sexual encounters with consenting adults of the same gender. The bill would also have imposed the death penalty on any HIV-positive men who engaged in sexual activity or sexually assaulted others. The bill also mandated harsh prison sentences for heterosexuals who knew about gay relationships but failed to report them.
In the wake of the American evangelicals' 2009 rally, the social climate for gays worsened as rapidly as the legislative situation. A Uganda newspaper published the photographs, names, and addresses of a hundred individuals the paper branded as being gay, under the headline "HANG THEM." Reports of anti-gay violence emanated from Uganda, culminating in the murder of GLBT activist David Kato, who was Tbludgeoned to death with a hammer in January of 2011.
A similar steep decline in social stability seems to have swept Russia with the approval by that nation's government of an anti-gay law purportedly meant to prevent pro-gay "propaganda." The bill punishes citizens and foreigners alike for any statements or conduct that might be construed as supportive, accepting, or promoting of a "gay lifestyle," including same-sex public displays of affection.
Reports from Russia in recent months have detailed group attacks on gays and trans individuals, some taking place in front of police who did nothing to intervene. Meantime, other nations in the region have made moves to adopt similar anti-gay laws of their own.
Predictably, the situation for gays in Russia has only grown more difficult and dangerous with each passing month since the Duma approved the anti-gay law in June. In some respects, the worsening situation resembles a systematic, incremental attempt to strip gays of rights and even human dignity; one official, Mikhail Degtyaryov, recently pushed for gays in Russia to be rejected as blood donors, and touted the idea of government-sponsored programs to "cure" gays. ""Many want to return to a normal life, to become heterosexual like 95 to 99 percent of our citizens," Degtyaryov claimed.
The idea that homosexuality is optional, and that gays can "choose" heterosexuality, has been soundly rejected by the mental health establishment, and contradicts all scientific understanding of why some individuals are innately attracted others of the same gender; nonetheless, it is a core tenet of anti-gay religious doctrine.
In another recent turn of events, Windy City Media reported that anti-gay fliers were posted at an apartment building in the Russian city Rostov-on-Don that warned residents of a homosexual in their midst. The flier came on the heels of a government advisory instructing Russian citizens to be watchful for any neighbors that might be engaging in "homosexual propaganda." The flier conjured notions of a lurking figure that was only waiting for an opportunity to sexually assault innocents.
"There is one step from being homosexual to starting homosexual propaganda and molesting decent people," the flier claimed, referencing the long-championed belief in anti-gay circles that homosexuals constitute a danger to heterosexuals, especially children, because they are inveterate sexual criminals.
The Windy City Media article also reported that the Russian government has targeted a high-profile Russian defender of GLBT rights, Nicolai Alexeyev. Following a complaint brought against him by a Russian politician, authorities tossed Alexeyev's apartment and confiscated his computer. Alexeyev has reportedly gone into hiding.
One common element to both nations, and the virtually overnight spike in legal and social homophobia Uganda and Russia have witnessed, is Scott Lively, the afore-mentioned American evangelical behind the book promising to help parents "gay-proof" their children. Lively is also the author of a tome that claims the Nazis were organized and directed by militant homosexuals -- but some activists worry that crusades such as the one Lively has mounted against gays resemble nothing so much as the deliberate and systematic campaign to dehumanize and obliterate Jews in pre-World War II Germany.
Lively recently lost a court case in which a Ugandan gay rights group sought to see him tried for crimes against humanity. But his work has not been limited to African nations; indeed, the New Yorker recently exposed the fact that Lively has also worked to bring about anti-gay legal action elsewhere, including Russia.
"Since as far back as 2006, he has been working to spread his anti-gay message in Russia," the Aug. 16 New Yorker article noted, going on to report that after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the new anti-gay law into effect, "Lively wrote on his Web site that Russia 'has just taken the very important and frankly necessary step of criminalizing homosexual propaganda to protect the society from being "homosexualzed." [sic] This was one of my recommendation [sic] to Russian leaders in my 50-city tour of the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007.' "
The New Yorker piece drew clear and chilling parallels between the actions Lively called for to be taken against gays, and the legal measures that Russia subsequently enacted.
"In 2007, Lively wrote an open letter to residents of Russia warning of the threat of the 'homosexual agenda,' a phrase he has often used when talking about Uganda," the article recounted. "He urged Russians to protect themselves and recommended making illegal the 'public advocacy of homosexuality,' " which is, in fact, the key element to the bill Putin signed into law in June -- and which is also, the article noted, a "key feature" of David Bahati's anti-gay bill.
Though Ugandan sexual minorities have made a brave comeback in the shadow of the "death to gays" bill, achieving a courtroom victory over Lively and celebrating a Pride parade this year, their future is still in doubt: Bahati's bill has never been withdrawn and might still see passage.
Moreover, the question hanging over other nations remains this: Despite recent history-making gains, could the successes enjoyed by gays in a number of nations be reversed by a focused campaign to erode their liberties?
Bahati and Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni both had ties to a right-wing American religious group called The Fellowship Foundation, a group also known as "The Family."
The Family sponsors an annual religious event called The National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., for the purpose, some claim, of influencing policy and giving like-minded, powerful individuals the opportunity to network. It is traditional for members of Congress to attend and for the United States President to speak at the Washington, D.C. event. President Obama has attended prayer breakfasts organized by The Family.
The Prayer Breakfast Network Web site set out the group's aims and motivations, with text informing readers that, "Our PURPOSE is to reach leaders for Jesus Christ.... Our STRATEGY is to use Prayer Breakfast events."
A more recent version of the text at the group's site has toned down the theocratic rhetoric, reading, "We believe prayer breakfasts are one of the most effective ways of reaching into a community and penetrating its leadership with the positive proclamation of the Good News."
But the underlying message remains one of faith-based political influence. A quote at the site attributed to the CEO of accounting firm McNair Associates reads, "I am more convinced than ever that prayer breakfasts can be a time of unification, reconciliation, and inspiration, as our leaders acknowledge the ultimate authority of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
Perhaps not surprisingly, some U.S. conservatives have expressed admiration for Russia's anti-gay law.