The Russian issue


Russia is beginning to prove, under the leadership of President Putin, a former KGB leader, to be not only an authoritative state, but one of the most homophobic in Europe. The city of St. Petersburg and the nation itself have passed several antigay laws, including one that mandates gays cannot get permits to hold Pride events or meetings — and if they do so anyway, they risk physical attack.

Now comes the new antigay propaganda law, signed by Putin. Under the law, any LGBT person caught talking about gay rights, demonstrating for gay rights or two men or women showing affection — i.e., holding hands — can be arrested. Think it’s just a joke? Ask the people who have already been hauled off to jail, including four Dutch tourists. They were eventually deported.

Giving credit where it’s due, actor/writer Harvey Fierstein first made an issue of Russia’s policies, followed by Dan Savage of the “It Gets Better Project.” Then, HRC does what it does best: puts out a press release. Now I’m a supporter of HRC, but their press release was a little strange. They publicly called on NBC to use its clout, since it has the broadcast rights to the Russian 2014 Winter Olympics. I found that a little strange since HRC already has a line of communication open with NBC and its parent company, Comcast (I’m a member of the Comcast Joint Diversity Board and know this personally). Broadcast is usually an issue of another organization, GLAAD. Finally, if they had realized point one, they would have discovered that NBC is obliged by not only legal issues but is also a highly regulated business that deals in news and international trade, so it was in its best interests to work behind the scenes with the International Olympic Committee and the Obama administration quietly. But press releases are very important to HRC. On the other side of the scale were the thousands of gay businesses that took it upon themselves from coast to coast to toss Stoli liquor and other Russian-made products out of their bars and businesses. That action, which should be highly praised, along with behind-the-scenes diplomatic work, started to get results by weekend’s end. Russian officials told IOC that the ban would not be used during the Olympics. Stoli has issued numerous press releases themselves — as good as the HRC press releases on the same subject, meaning not at all.

So, LGBT bars, thumbs up. HRC, learn diplomacy or learn how to communicate with those you have relationships with. And let’s remember that President Obama will be meeting with Putin in September. I’m sure it will be one of their topics of communication, but this comes at a bad time since there’s this guy named Snowden living in the airport transit area in Moscow.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at [email protected].