Brutally Honest: Why should we care about Russia?

Denny Patterson, Senior Editor

As we all know, Russian President Vladimir Putin has basically declared war on the LGBT community. Being compared to Adolf Hitler’s war on the Jews, Putin has signed laws making it illegal to be gay in Russia.

Some of these laws include arresting or fining teachers and parents who tell children that being gay is normal and not evil, arresting tourists and foreign nationals suspected of being homosexual or “pro-gay” and detaining them for up to 14 days, banning the adoption of Russian-born children not only to gay couples but also to any couple or single parent who lives in a country where marriage equality exists and it has been rumored that Putin is about to sign a law that would remove children from their own families if they have same-sex parents – adoptive or biological.

Even though this isn’t happening in our own country, we should still be concerned – and I know plenty of people who are concerned, both gay and straight. The LGBT community has made significant strides in numerous countries. Hopefully Russia will someday soon catch up with the rest of the world.

Sociology professor Dr. Ken Laundra is an ally. He has proudly supported LGBT issues throughout his entire career as a sociologist. While teaching at Southern Utah University, he helped students form the first gay pride club on campus, advised the club for years as a straight supporter and he likes to discuss the need to support the LGBT community every chance he gets, in and out of the classroom.

“I think Americans should be aware of the newly-established anti-LGBT laws in Russia (and Ukraine by proxy),” Laundra said. “It reminds us of how far we’ve come as Americans in the struggle for human rights on our own turf.  I always feel proudly American when I return from my trips to Ukraine because I remember that I shouldn’t take basic human rights, including gay rights and the strong gay/lesbian movement in this country, for granted. Ukraine and Russia will get there too, but how lucky are we that we live in a country where reform is possible, and where the movement continues to grow.”

Human rights are exactly what Putin is taking away from his people. Why is he so determined to criminalize homosexuality? He has defended his actions in several articles saying that the Russian birthrate is diminishing and that traditional Russian families are in danger of declining. He also claims that his adoption ban was enacted to protect children from pedophiles. Hate to break it to you Putin, but studies have indicated that about 90 percent of pedophiles are heterosexual males.

At first, the rest of the world seemed to remain silent and oblivious to Putin’s agenda. Seems familiar, doesn’t it? Is it the fact that we are afraid or just don’t want to say anything?

What irks me the most is the fact that Putin has gone on record contradicting almost every policy he has enforced. Does this man have bi-polar disorder, or is he literally insane? He is constantly denying that gays and lesbians are facing discrimination and that the government is not infringing on their rights.

When Laundra visited Ukraine, which borders east of Russia, this summer, he said it was difficult to see any evidence of an LGBT community.

“If you walk around the largest city, Kiev, you will not see advertisements, banners, flags or events that obviously support the LGBT community,” Laundra said. “Because my wife’s family and friends are all from Ukraine, I have had several opportunities to talk to people there about various social issues, including the LGBT community. Most Ukrainians I talk to admit that they know it exists, but nobody seems to know of any organized activity or group. They really don’t want to talk about it, partly due to a lack of awareness about LGBT issues, and partly because the consciousness about civil rights in general is low. People speak in hushed tones and are reluctant (and sometimes confused) when asked about these things.”

“You know or at least suspect that Russians are somehow hostile towards gay people,” Laundra’s brother-in-law, Oleg Shubin, who lives in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, said. “It becomes very obvious after talking on this subject to people of different age, educational or social level. You won’t believe me, but some people, especially older generation that was raised in the Soviet Union think that gay people are fake – a creation of the fashion industry that doesn’t exist in real life.

“Yes, you’ll certainly find some that do not mind “minorities” around, but irony is that they definitely wouldn’t like to be around them or have their kids making friends with “those people.” There are just a few people, myself included, who know gays personally and be able to admit it publically and actually not be afraid of being judged by others.  After what I said, it is not hard to understand why Putin is doing what he’s doing.”

As for gay rights groups in Kiev, Shubin doesn’t know if any actually exist.

“I can say for sure that I’d be very careful if there in fact some do exist,” he said. “I think that Ukrainians are more liberal but nonetheless I really doubt that today you’d find many supporters of gay movement in Ukraine. It could be that situation will change in the future as we are moving further towards European Union.  It will change because more people will be able to travel and adopt the norms, rules and principles, rules and principles by which are more liberal and developed.”

Although there is still plenty of homophobia and discrimination towards the LGBT community here at home, our diverse society would not stand for it if President Obama followed Putin’s acts.  We are lucky to have a President who understands and values human rights.

As stated before, let’s hope that Russia catches up with the rest of the world sometime soon. The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics are sure going to be interesting.