From Russia With Hate

arussiaAs much as we like to consider ourselves as living a civilized society, one of the things that should give us pause is the treatment of  lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, not only in what we might consider less-civilized societies but those, including our own, we expect to be more enlightened. It is sobering to remember that in seventy-six countries worldwide, to be gay or lesbian is a criminal offense and in eight it is punishable by death. Even in countries that could be considered progressive on social issues, there is often open hostility toward LGBT individuals. For example, within the past few weeks, two gay Russian men were brutalized and then murdered for admitting they were gay. One (in Volgograd) was beaten, tortured and sodomized before being killed. The other (in Kamchatka) was killed and his body put in his car and set aflame. Gay activists protesting the first murder were arrested for defying a government ban on protests.

During the same period, a popular Russian television commentator was fired and all references to him on the channel’s website removed because he announced on television, “I am gay, and I am a human being just like Putin and Medvedev.” Currently, the Russian Parliament is considering a bill (already passed in ten regions) that would outlaw “homosexual propaganda.” There seems not to be a counterbalancing enforcement of anti-homosexual propaganda in spite of legislation forbidding it.

Although Russia has had a mixed history when it comes to gay rights, during the past decade, homophobia has become increasingly hostile, driven both by the administration of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church. At present anti-gay sentiment is both deeply-seated and wide-spread in Russian society. According to one article, “Russia: the Country that Hates Gay People,” “Russia at large remains extremely homophobic.” According to an extensive Levada-Center poll on Russian attitudes toward homosexuality, 85 per cent of respondents are against same-sex marriage, 80 percent feel LGBT people should hide their orientation/identity, 34 percent classify homosexuality as a disease, 22 percent feel LGBT should be compelled to undergo treatment, 16 percent feel gay men and lesbians should be isolated from the rest of society, and 5 percent say gays should be “eradicated.” These are shocking statistics for a country that enjoys the status Russia does in the world community.

According to a recent study by the Pew Trust, Russia is much closer in the anti-gay sentiments of its populace than other industrial societies and is in fact much more closely aligned with Islamic countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and Malaysia and African countries like Nigeria and Uganda.

As in the United States, the anti-gay sentiment in Russia is heavily influenced by the religious right. The Orthodox Church, like its Roman counterpart, considers homosexuality a sin. According to Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Church’s department on liaison between church and society, homosexuality “is one of the gravest sins because it changes people’s mental state, makes the creation of a normal family impossible, and corrupts the younger generation.” While they would argue otherwise, there is a direct connection between such religiously-affiliated anti-gay rhetoric and the repression, persecution and violence against LGBT individuals. Somehow, Churches which assume a central role in preserving and enforcing morality seem singularly blind to the immorality that results when they choose to hate rather than to love any of God’s children. As Dostoevsky’s Father Zosima says in The Brothers Karamazov, “  ”What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” Unable or unwilling.

Unlike the Russian Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seems to be moving toward a more open, enlightened and loving position in relation to its LGBT members. That is especially evident in the messages on the Church’s new website, www.mormonsandgays.org. The emphasis there by top Church leaders on love, acceptance, support and compassion, gives one hope that Mormons have turned the corner on this subject, with hate giving way to love as the essential response of Latter-day Saints to LGBT individuals. One can hope that the LDS Church’s growth in Russia might in some small way influence Russian Christians to do the same.

7 comments for “From Russia With Hate

  1. Ryan
    August 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    In other words, this article reads as a nationalistic, west-is-best piece that attempts to other Russia and dehumanize them, evident by the introduction’s mention of civilized and “less civilized societies.” I find that appalling. Additionally, I found the article’s comparison of churches problematic: “Unlike the Russian Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seems to be moving toward a more open, enlightened and loving position in relation to its LGBT members.” Many members who are CURRENTLY being excommunicated, discriminated against, and not welcomed in church services because of their sexual or gender identity will argue otherwise.

    Perhaps a better approach would be to listen to Russian activists working to combat these recent events, and cease to assume the gay, male American narrative works best for all (coined as homonationalism by theorist Jasbir Puar)

    • Dan
      August 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm

      Well Russia was talked about as one of the “more civilized” soceities in the article.

  2. cmck0810
    August 14, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    With all do respect to the church the website is really a small move it was all about encouraging the rest of the gay mormon community to either accept celibacy or follow the example of Ty Mansfield. There has been no change in church attitude toward anyone identifying as LGBT there may be pockets of members that are compassionate but I honestly feel that the church views the LGBT community as an acceptable loss compared to the bulk of its faithful members or they would be doing much more. All that website did was get the policy on the internet so the world could see what it was. and it is almost identical to that of our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters The church made it quite clear in their response to the Supreme court rulings that they feel that honoring a same sex relationship would somehow undermine “traditional marriage”(I fail to see this but this is just the opinion of a gay man who has been in an 8 month relationship but that is beside the point)

  3. Bob Rees
    August 15, 2013 at 11:53 am

    My blog on the treatment of LGBT people in Russia was not meant to be “nationalistic” as Ryan accuses it of being. Had he read it carefully he would have seen that I include Russia in the “civilized” category of nations one expects to be “more enlightened,” but in the treatment of gays and lesbians clearly is not. I find Ryan’s argument irrelevant that a “gay, male American narrative” (which doesn’t fit me since I’m straight) is inferior to that of a “Russian activist.” Morally, all of us are responsible for speaking out against homophobia whether it is in our back yard or half a world away. Having lived in the former Soviet Union, I have some acquaintance with the kind of repression currently going on in Russia; but even if I didn’t, I would still feel compelled to counter it. There is nothing nationalistic or religionistic in my piece, as anyone who has read my writings over the past thirty years on the subject of gays in Mormon culture would know. Repression, injustice, and violence should not be tolerated in any community, nation or church. I made a comparison between the Mormon and the Russian Orthodox Churches because the former has made strides in moving to a more tolerant and even accepting position on gays than has the latter, which is vigorously supporting the repressive policies of the Putin government.
    In my opinion, “cmck0810” is not correct in characterizing the LDS Church’s new website as “a small move.” It is a large move when one considers the fact that it is the first time the Church as used the word “gay” and coupled it with Mormon, it contains the clearest statement that sexual orientation and identity are not chosen, it counters previous statements about the advisability of opposite-sex marriage, and, most important, it sends a clear message that Latter-day Saints should be loving, accepting and supportive of LGBT members. Consider the following words of Apostle Quentin Cook: “No family who has anybody who has a same-gender issue should exclude them from the family circle. They need to be part of the family circle. Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach to those and let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender. I’m sorry, I feel very strongly about this as you can tell. I think it is a very important principle.” Elder Cook’s statement, “let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender” represents a quantum leap from past attitudes and rhetoric.

    Having been involved in working for change on this issue for over three decades, I see these as significant changes. While I am personally disappointed that the new website does not go further, I am grateful that it goes as far as it does and hopeful that it portends even more progressive changes. For “cmck0810” to characterize the new website as “almost identical to that of our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters” makes me think that he/she and I obtain our information from very different sources. As the Los Angeles Times reported just today, “Pandering to the Russian Orthodox Church and to the homophobia of a huge share of the Russian people, President Vladimir Putin’s government has approved new laws that tighten the screws on gays and lesbians.” What I was trying to say is that these churches seem to be moving in opposite directions.

    • Ryan
      August 15, 2013 at 12:30 pm

      I have read this article multiple times, and carefully to ensure I didn’t jump to conclusions. And I have read many other articles like this across the web, all proclaiming a Western, American approach to Russia’s problems. But I wonder if the author has knowledge about the terms and pieces I’m referring to? I would highly recommend some Jasbir Puar (particularly “Queer Times, Queer Assemblages” and “Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times”) so that my critique may be better understood and given more merit.

      I find it problematic to place societies and cultures in a dichotomy of “civilized” and “less civilized” in the first place. If the qualifications for “living a civilized society” include the “treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people” (as is stated in the article above, since that treatment is “one of the things that should give us pause” “to consider ourselves as living a civilized society”), then yes, Russia does not meet the qualifications of a civilized society. Whether this was intended or not is irrelevant. What does matter is that the writing can be interpreted in such a way, and a way that is used by many other authors and activists as a way to position America as more progressive than other societies, or a West-is-best mentality that is the basis of nationalism and homonationalism.

      I agree that the homophobia in Russia and recent events need to be discussed and combated, but not using the discourse as provided in this, and many other, articles. And definitely not by positioning the Mormon Church as somehow more progressive. Cmck0810’s comments are completely valid and represent the reality of not only the website, but for many individuals currently within the LDS church. Many have written critique of the new website that are easily searchable on the Internet. And while we should commend the initial conversation that website starts, it’s important to not write it off as solely something positive (the website, by the way, uses “same-sex” and “same-gender” far more times than it does “gay,” which only reproduces problematic language and ideas. A simple word search of the home page illuminates this idea).

      Since the comment I’m responding to included the author’s disclosure of his sexual identity as a straight men, I’m going to resort to identity politics. In a movement that aims to represent LGBTQ members of the Mormon Church, it’s important to remember that the voices and people who should be prioritized are those who remain oppressed and at the center of the movement: in this case, the LGBTQ Mormons. I find it troubling when allies who do not identify as such tell LGBTQ members what to think, what to believe, and how to act. If a website or piece does reproduces problematic ideas that aid in my and my community’s continued oppression, I’m going to express it so and hope that the allies are faithful enough to listen to me and take my ideas into consideration. It’s not a personal attack, it’s simply reminding that I have to live with this everyday, and the fear of what is happening in Russia could very well happen to me. Allies, however, do not have to deal with such fears because of their heterosexuality.

      It’s great to see how much the Church has progressed since thirty years ago. However, I am an LGBTQ identified person living in the world TODAY, and I still find it very oppressed, and wish allies would listen and take my comments seriously instead of writing it off as a failure to “read it carefully.”

      • Daniel Parkinson
        August 15, 2013 at 3:27 pm

        I really disagree with you about the validity of a straight persons opinion. We absolutely need the voices of our straight allies in our fight for equality, and without them we will never have equality.
        I also really hope you’re horrified at the events happening in Russia. There is an oppression that is widespread, and we have to speak out when we see that teens can be tortured and killed openly (and on youtube) without any legal repercussion.
        I am in no mood to defend Russia right now, nor Uganda, nor Jamaica, nor Iran. We may not have a good solution, but hopefully by speaking out more people here will understand and sympathize with the cause.

        • Ryan
          August 15, 2013 at 4:49 pm

          I don’t have the energy to keep commenting and correcting how individuals misconstrue my words. I never said the LGBTQ Mormon movement doesn’t need straight people; allies are a substantial help and have their own issues with being related to someone who identifies as LGBTQ, which makes them a key part of this movement. What I am saying, however, is that people who are oppressed know what oppression looks like because they have to experience it, often on a daily basis. Allies, however, have the privilege of not having to deal with these same struggles (like being persecuted for sexuality, which I absolutely am horrified is happening in Russia and many other places. I just don’t agree with the framework being outlined above to deal with these issues). Being an ally is checking these privileges and listening to these voices and amplifying them, not silencing me and projecting how I failed to “read it correctly.”

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