Monday, January 20, 2014

Putin's Olympics: In the End, Golden for Gays?

This blog is about travel - but after recent experiences conversing with new friends abroad, I'm inspired to ensure other LGBT travelers are armed with cultural realities as well as reflect on how LGBT people can affect change.

It's sometimes difficult – especially after living inside the gay-bubble of Washington, DC - to imagine the difficult, solitary lives gays lead (and the entire LGBT family) outside of urban centers and the "civilized" West. For those with the means, we owe it to activists that suffered and even died to provide the better quality of life we lead - to do what we can to support LGBT people suffering abroad. The opportunities to affect change are global, but the problems (as well as solutions) can be summed up by focusing in on Russia’s new “anti-propaganda” law in the run-up to Sochi.

With swift pronouncements, protests and online posts, LGBT rights activists and right-minded politicians condemn Putin's law – galvanizing the western world to oppose the law. However, hidden from most people's awareness, is the reality that this plays exactly into Putin’s power at home. Also, his recent not-so-charming offensive to address the law's condemnation is not positive for the LGBT community; he's still playing to his base. Hatred abroad only shores up his most radical support at home. While he stands up to the West against "child-molesting" gays - who knows what shady deals he's hiding from his own people, let alone the world. Whatever transpires in Sochi, the LGBT rights issue has been brought to the fore, and with the correct thinking and directed work this might actually become a win for Russian gays and the global LGBT community.

All Russians are bottoms?

But first, you must step into the Russian psyche: they love strong, dominate leaders; one could say, the country is built for bottoms (they even love strong women)! Straight or gay, again and again Russians love to have a wayward leader who’s punishing. And all's “OK” because Russia is an advanced successful society, as my friends claim, much better off than the rest of the world. While a Stoli boycott (thanks Dan Savage) or even an Olympic boycott may raise western awareness - it will only re-enforce and justify the law to Russians many of which hate the West - and it will continue to push gay Russians into the background in Moscow (secretly & discreetly one of the gayest cities in the world!), where it seems things are already pretty bad!

To change Russia - the key will be opening mouths - and changing a deep-seeded culture of simply "quiet." We've got to get the Russians out of the closet! We can scream and yell from across the ocean, across the Baltic, and even down the road in Berlin, but that's only going to make Russians - and even gay Russians - upset. They love to be on top (even if they won't hesitate to submit at home) and they LOVE their country. You can't separate Russians from Russia - it's like nationalism + patriotism (maybe it requires a new word!) The west needs to look for ways to open the mouths of millions of Russian LGBT people - get them to tell their friends, parents and families and stop hiding in the shadows. Only this will bring acceptance to Russia - because only then will leaders like Putin be without a population to trash (perhaps back to immigrants, religious minorities and other ethnic groups).

Any public campaign will get immediate attention and swift action from the government - so this has got to be a quiet campaign. It's doable - but will require discipline in this the media-rich environment, not only due to mass media, but also to find a different way to create benchmarks and results. It's got to be Russians banding together to come out - whether it’s organized from within or from abroad - it must have a Russian face (Russians helping Russians) and it must fly under the radar.

Beyond Russia

But wait – we don’t have to travel to Russia to find anti-gay sentiment in Europe - what about the expanse of nations across the East that oppose an “LGBT lifestyle.” From Athens to Warsaw and Belgrade to Zagreb it’s difficult to be gay. Recently, as new Polish friends offered me shot after shot of Stoli (fitting right?) - I pushed them to talk about their country. With excited, embittered words, they relayed their hatred of new laws pushed in by the EU – and of course first on that list was gay adoption. Inexplicably (perhaps out of the latest propaganda playbook?) they appeared "fine" with gays – but NOT adoption. Why? They didn't oppose homosexuality for religious reasons or feel disgusted, as I might have (in horror) expected but instead these Poles feared for the poor kid who would need to explain his 2 moms or 2 dads in the classroom?! What about all the gay kids who are picked on – or kids abused and bullied for any number of reasons.... (insert long rant here).

Yet it didn't end - then they considered: What will happen in the future when “only gay moms and dads exist and can’t create children!” (insert further rant here).

It's just who you love!

Again – it’s the same problem – I can blog and scream all I want about it – but it will take people coming out of the closet, being fully open (not only to those best girlfriends) to make a change. Sadly, Grindr, other social media, and the Internet are making it easier to hide – but still attain some form of freedom. Hopefully these programs will be used to connect for more than just a one-time encounter and build nacent, native movements within society – but I lack confidence there is much chance this will happen; these programs provide a degree of safety and security to a repressed population – without the need to confront people with reality and break down that closet door. Thus, if gays continue to be repressed in the developing world – I suggest we blame our own devices & technology! Yet of course, I’m not suggesting we stop connecting online; it’s now an obvious and easy choice, important tool when traveling and social medium. I only call for people to be aware of the problems it creates - and do as I do, and attempt to be out and open and encourage that from the people I meet.

Of course, here Russia and Eastern Europe are getting attention, but the reality is that a lack of “coming out” is the main force preventing global acceptance. I’ve described a specific psyche here – but its not so very different in macho-South America, Christian-right-controlled Africa, the hyper-religious Middle East, or traditional family-oriented Asia. Many of these societies have provided roles for LGBT individuals while masking their true existence (or turning a blind eye to abuse) – not unlike what the western world has done with the Catholic Church (you didn’t know?). But why not open up the doors to discover what’s truly happening. The more people have conversations, confront their parents, kids or friends, the more societies can accept that same-sex attraction and love exists (as well as the realities of trans and cross-gender identifying people) however people decide to deal with this reality personally and inside society, at least more people could sympathize, end discrimination and prevent governments from taking advantage of this quiet minority that cuts across all minorities!

Of course, it all begins with you - are you fully open about who you love? Stop making excuses - help yourself and help others be all that they can be. While I don't know how it affected my Polish friends in the long run - I knew I had to come out to them and they didn't treat me any differently afterwards (so that's a start at least!).

(and now i'll start working on the Spanish translation!)

No comments:

Post a Comment