QUEER VOICES

A Reminder That Russia Is An Authoritarian State That Terrorizes LGBTQ People

Donald Trump, Jr.'s excuse that "Russia mania" only just began last year is incredible.

14/07/2017 1:32 AM AEST | Updated 14/07/2017 10:52 PM AEST

A bakery recently opened in Moscow, one of five owned by a Russian businessman, German Sterligov, whose four other shops are located in St. Petersburg. As Masha Gessen reported in The New Yorker last week, all five bakeries have signs in their windows that read, “No Fags Allowed.” The Russian media, Gessen notes, have “generally paid more attention to the stores’ high prices than to the signs at their entrances.”

While this might seem horrifying and far removed from American reality, let’s not forget that the U.S. Supreme just decided to take up a case, Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a baker in Colorado essentially wants the right to do the same thing based on his religious beliefs, having turned away a gay couple who sought a cake for their wedding ― before they even discussed the design of the cake. This and several similar cases were previously rejected by the court, but with Donald Trump’s court pick Neil Gorsuch, a hardline “religious liberty” crusader, having recently the joined the court, it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that the court now decided to take it up. 

That said, though LGBT rights in the U.S. are undeniably in danger of being rolled back in the Trump era (as I warned earlier this week),  they are light years from where they are in Russia, where queer people are terrorized daily under Vladimir Putin’s regime.  

Queer people are terrorized daily under Vladimir Putin’s regime.

It’s an issue that has received international media attention for several years. Protests and pride events are banned, and those who’ve organized have been regularly beaten and jailed by police and thugs whom the police allow to engage in violence with impunity. I’ve interviewed Gessen, a Russian-American journalist, from Moscow several times over the past few years, publishing those interviews here on HuffPost, including when she was part of a protest in 2013 at the Russian parliament, the Duma, and was violently attacked herself.

As Gessen described in the New Yorker last week: 

L.G.B.T. people have been a prime target of Kremlin propaganda since 2012. That year, Putin returned to the Presidency for a third term, amid mass protests. In response, the Kremlin started queer-baiting the protesters. A succession of cities and, eventually, the federal parliament passed bills banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” Television presenters raged against imaginary homosexual recruiters of Russian children...Vigilante groups that entrap gay men online and then humiliate and torture them on camera now operate with impunity in many cities. According to Immigration Equality, an American organization that helps L.G.B.T. asylum seekers, Russia has consistently been among the top five countries from which their clients flee; hundreds of people have sought asylum in the United States and in Western Europe.

The videos of gay men being held captive, raped, tortured, and attacked by vigilante groups have gone viral over the years. President Obama spoke out numerous times against Russia’s brutality against LGBT people, and it was one of the reasons he cited for having boycotted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (while sending openly gay athletes to represent the U.S. instead), a time when major corporations from McDonalds to Coca-Cola found themselves under attack and mired in PR crises because of their sponsorships of the games.

LGBT activists in the U.S. whipped an enormous campaign, which included a boycott of Stolichnaya Vodka and other Russian products

It’s ridiculous to think Trump Jr. didn’t know Russia was a foreign adversary and a violator of human rights. He clearly just didn’t care

You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have witnessed any of this. The brutality has continued, with pride marches banned and, most recently, with Putin looking the other way of a horrific gay purge in Chechnya, in which men have been rounded up, tortured and put to death. This week a list of 27 names was released by a Moscow anti-Putin newspaper ― a list that reportedly that includes some gay men who have been executed, one of them an 18-year-old. 

Anyone who has claimed that Democrats and progressives have only recently taken up the charge against Russia’s authoritarian threat in order to go after Donald Trump is simply ignoring the years-long outcry from LGBT activists, progressives, human rights advocates, and many Democratic politicians. 

And that brings us to Donald Trump, Jr. and his pathetic excuses for having met in June of 2016 with someone described to him in an email as a Russian government attorney with dirt on Hillary Clinton coming from the highest levels of the Russian regime. In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, he laughably pleaded ignorance about his taking the meeting: “This is pre-Russia fever, this is pre-Russia mania, before the rest of the world was talking about this trying to build up that narrative.”

The implication is that this was a time before there was enormous focus on Russia’s interference in the election. It’s untrue and beside the point, as Russia had been hacking elections and American infrastructure for years, and all of that, too, had been reported.

But more than that, as someone who was doing business in Russia himself and thus visiting the country and reading about it, it’s impossible that he didn’t know that Putin was a brutal authoritarian who invaded Ukraine, killed journalists and promoted discrimination and violence against minorities.

It’s ridiculous to think Trump Jr. didn’t know Russia was a foreign adversary of the United States, a violator of human rights and a regime that is in opposition to everything we stand for regarding freedom and equality. He clearly just didn’t care. And the fact that he didn’t seem to care, and that his father didn’t raise the issue in his recent meeting with Putin ― unlike the French president who told Putin to his face to end the violence against gay men in Chechnya ― also says a lot about the Trump family’s tolerance of brutality. 

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Correction: An earlier version of this post stated at all 27 gay men reported to be executed in Chechnya were gay; it has been updated to state, per the initial report from a Moscow newspaper, that some, not all, of them were reported to be gay.

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