What's So Special About Russia?

Unknown anti-gay activist hits Russia's gay and LGBT rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev (C) during unauthorized gay rights acti
Unknown anti-gay activist hits Russia's gay and LGBT rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev (C) during unauthorized gay rights activists rally in cental Moscow on May 25, 2013. Moscow city authorities on May 15 turned down demands for a gay rights rally, but Alexeyev said he would fight a ban in court. AFP PHOTO/ANDREY SVITAILO (Photo credit should read ANDREY SVITAILO/AFP/Getty Images)

Recent developments in Russia worry me and other LGBT activists a lot. Putin is resorting to medieval ideologies of repression and blame. Gays have become the scapegoats of a tyrannical regime that continues to whip up public sentiment to detract from the simple truth that the government does not have the will or the skills to solve the country's economic problems.

I published an article about gay Russian émigrés earlier this year and received an angry response from a reader: "What's the deal about Russia? Muslim countries have been torturing, whipping, hanging and stoning to death gays for centuries and nobody has tried to change that really." The reader has a point. What, if any, is the difference? The answer is obvious: religion.

What is happening in Russia is state-sponsored violation of a minority's human rights. The authorities condone or perhaps even encourage attacks against LGBT people, and the police do nothing to protect them. The reasons behind this development are manifold, including incompetence in running the country and the prevalence of homophobia in the general population. From the perspective of a secular democracy, these trends are unacceptable. They violate the basic tenets of freedom of speech, expression, and LGBT rights that have become enshrined in many civilized countries in the past decades. They violate what we in democratic countries believe in.

In the Muslim world all violence against gays is based on religious doctrine. Religious freedom too is a value of our democratic systems, so we look away when violence against LGBT persons is apparently founded in religion (forgetting that essentially all religion is bigotry).

Anti-gay violence has to stop in every country around the globe. We cannot protest against Russia and ignore the hanging and stoning of gay teenagers in Iran or Saudi Arabia simply because we respect their religion. Where religion violates human rights and the dignity of LGBT members of the community, religion has to change. It has to go. No belief in any sort of godhead gives people the right to torture and murder other human beings.

Because violence against gays in the Muslim world is religion-based, the fight seems hopeless. Activists are up against not a government but a belief system. We value belief systems and respect them, perhaps too much. In order to change the situation, we would have to change religion. That is an arduous task.

In Russia the violence is based on the direct actions of a misguided government. We only need to topple the Putin government in order to get rid of the perpetrator of violence. That's easier than rewriting the Quran.

It is all right to fight Russia on all fronts, from petitions to boycotting the Olympic Games or the World Expo 2020. But the other countries wanting to hold the 2020 Expo are Turkey, Dubai and Brazil. Turkey and Dubai aren't exactly shining lights in the LGBT rights universe. Plus, what does boycotting achieve? Wouldn't it be better to join and come dressed in rainbow flags? Moscow is also hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup. That shouldn't be a problem if we believe FIFA President Sepp Blatter's assertion that there are no gay football players. But come on. Seriously?

Ultimately it is up to the leaders of democratic nations to speak out against anti-gay violence in any country, regardless of whether the violence is derived from ancient religious texts, part of a witch hunt by an ignorant population, or instigated by vile bureaucrats. Petition your local leaders to speak out against all anti-gay violence. More resistance should come from public figures and the online community. This is the time to speak out and let the world know that we will not sit idly by as gays are marginalized, attacked, and murdered, in any country. The time to act is now.