Just wanted to make a few comments on Paul Canning’s excellent article on the situation for LGBT people in Russia and the current state of gay rights in Russia. His article, which is extremely well-balanced and detailed; it can be found here http://paulocanning.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/some-contrarian-thoughts-on-russia-and.html

 would, however, like to make a few comments and do so here as tweeting back would require about 25 tweets. So here we go, in no particular order:

1) Masha Gessen has some special and unique concerns. Not only is she concerned about the proposed law about taking children away from gay people in Russia, there is the June law passed by the Russian Duma which prohibits gay foreigners from adopting Russian children. Gessen is an American citizen with an adopted child, so, indeed, at least theoretically, she can be affected by this other law.

2) While the new law taking children away from LGBT people is unlikely to pass, this must be understood in a wider context: In the US, for example, it was thought for 40+ years that voting can be made easier. Then with a sweep of legislation or a court ruling, it can be again made more difficult. The work of a generation of civil rights work, thought accomplished, can be erased very quickly. The same applies in terms of abortion in the US. It is more difficult to get an abortion in the US now than 20, 25 years ago in some parts of the country. One new administration can radically change the course of racial, LGBT and social policy and set back accomplishments made long ago!

3) The concern about this new potential law, and the law on “non-traditional relationships” is against the backdrop of Putin’s very unprecedented power grab. It is with a history of other recent attempts to weaken democracy and clamp down on free press. It is seeing things through the whole prism of the Pussy Riot episode. Now in Russia, we are seeing a similar attempt to tighten abortion restrictions. In the past week, I saw a tweet to a LGBT activist stating that people getting abortions, “should be executed.” The thing about serious calamities in history is that they are often unprecedented. Most often the terrible outcome does not materialize. At times, it unfortunately actually does. There are forces in Russia, even members of the Duma, who would vote and support  such a law which would take children away from LGBT people. The environment of homophobia in Russia is the strongest in many years. At the same time, this legislation and attitudes have given a new, unprecedented jolt to LGBT activism in Russia.

4) Part of the problem lies with the abyss between information exchanged on the LGBT situation abroad and in Russia.  At the eye of the storm of Russian LGBT activisit Nikolai Alekseev himself. Always a colorful, eccentric figure, he lost the respect of many in the past week with a series of very ugly anti-Semitic rants. It seems he was directing his ire at certain particular individuals but such language is unacceptable for a human rights activist, of any kind. (One of Alekseev’s harshest critics, Michael Lucas, also a producer of gay porn, has been critisized himself for what has been seem as extremely islamophobic rhetoric). The other thing about Alekseev is that he colors situations to his liking. In the past few days, for example, he portrayed the situation as “certain LGBT activists refused to meet Obama and he left in shame” - Actually, if you read the article he cites, the activists in question said it was scheduling issues that kept them from going, not some contempt for Obama or his efforts. Or today, Alekseev cited a poll done among St. Petersburg residents, most felt Obama’s visit not worth it. His headline, however, said Russians “condemned” Obama’s visit. This is not what the article suggests. He also regularly highlights extremely anti-Western rhetoric. He recently retweeted an extremely hostile tweet about Gessen (“The typical model of liberalism: American, Lesbian, rusophobic, fucktard”) . In this other person’s timeline could be found a translated letter from US anti-gay activist Scott Lively who thanked Putin for the anti-gay law in Russia. Strange bedfellows indeed. Or on Monday he tweeted that LGBT Russian groups should meet with Obama. On Wednesday, “Why meet with killer Obama?” Engimatic and unstable at best.

5) The very Russia vs. US dichotomy itself is also a bit bizarre. Alekseev is mad at the vodka boycotts and calls to cancel the Olympics in Sochi. Let’s face it, neither of these things is likely to happen at all. But he consistently states that he sees the LGBT struggle as a thing Russians have to deal with on their own. Yet 1/2 or more of his tweets are in English.  It is very true that people in the West often do not have a clear picture of what’s going on in Russia and things easily get minsunderstood or exaggerated. It is also true that foreign interventions can have the opposite effect on decision-makers in Russia and be counter-productive, much like foreign “interference” in US political issues would be met with equal antipathy. But this overt hostility to foreign LGBT or human rights groups seems downright odd at times. 

6) Equally strange is the general reaction to Obama’s visit by many activists in Russia. His visit with human rights activists was mainly political theater. It was a slam at Putin. His remarks were extremely general, touched mainly on the larger human rights picture and a few LGBT activists were in attendance. It was basically a photo-op. But on the other hand, it should be understood that Obama changed millions of minds virtually overnight when he took the pro-marriage equality stance. Can any one imagine the top leader of another country like Cameron, Hollande, Merkel, Asian leaders speaking to Russian human rights groups? I really cannot. (However, higher level officials have met with Russian LGBT representatives,like the Australian Foreign Minister Bob Karr, a day or so before Obama’s arrival). Obama’s visit was a symbolic gesture but not necessarily a  bad thing.

7) The Russian LGBT and human rights movements still seem fragmented. There seems to be a good amount of in-fighting (but there is in the US too). If you look at Alekseev’s tweets, a good number of them are slams against other Russian activisists or media personalities. Alekseev was quick to say that the “real LGBT” had not been invited. Actually Vykhod (Coming Out) is a St. Petersburg org that has done a lot of good work. Lev Sharansky, a major Russia human rights advocate, called Igor’ Kochetkov, one of the LGBT representatives who met Obama a “pretender.” But it seems counterproductive for all of this finger-pointing and name-calling to be going on. Meanwhile, environmental activist and politician Evgeniya Chirikova met Obama but is extremely opposed to marriage equality and called it “vile.” So again there are some very strange bedfellows in the mix.

8) Finally, while I strongly disagree with vodka and Olympics boycotts, I do think the international pressure on Russia is a good thing. Because, while there are a lot of factors internally that will keep the Russian “take the kids away from the gays” law from happening, I think people are also acutely aware that any more anti-LGBT legislation will be a clear signal to the West that the fears and concerns in Russia are justified, thereby even further polluting the environment for the Olympics.