“All sports fans – regardless of sexual orientation – can expect a warm welcome while attending the World Championship in Russia,”
confirmed Alexander Agapov, head of the LGBT Sports Federation’s Russian chapter. While in Russia, a ‘warm welcome’ can mean anything from hospitality overflowing with Vodka, love, dancing and unrestraint emotion to kindling a stake and burning down a village, at present, let’s assume, that for the time being, at least, Russian representatives mean the former.
Still, it’s hard to forget that it was only as far back as 2012 when the Russian Punk Rock band, Pussy Riot, got arrested, convicted and sentenced to stiff prison terms simply for removing their tops while performing a protest song in a Russian Orthodox church. Reminiscent of pre-Enlightenment heresy trials, the judge pontificated, representatives from the church scowled, as the ‘deviants’ sat caged off from the rest of the court room as if they were bearers of black death. Vladimir Putin’s official response at the time amounted to a political ‘que sera sera, shit happens, the girls had it coming, they shouldn’t be too harshly judged perhaps, but don’t mess with religion.’
A year later, “gay propaganda legislation” was introduced – a law that equates gay activism with the corruption of minors, a law that has since doubled the number of reported hate crimes. Despite this recent history, it’s clear there’s genuine incentive (even if only financially motivated) at reforming society and raising the level of local tolerance.
What’s changed? For one, Putin already has Church voters in his pocket. He’s secured a fourth term as President, and his State machine is hungrier for foreign capital investment than it is for appeasing the Moscow Patriarchate – a merry band of Medieval zealots whose ambitions are only a bit left of Nikon, the 17th Century Patriarch whose theocratic designs inspired several burnings at the stake. So, in the Kremlin, for now, at least, international appeal and tourism are more of a driving force than orthodoxy.
FIFA Calls Penalty on Russian LGBT-Abuse
Russia’s World Championship Organizing committee has officially announced that there will be no discrimination based on race, gender, religion, ability or sexual orientation. They expanded by saying, “Persons will not be fined for expressing their feelings. The display of rainbow flags in the stands or at public celebrations will be allowed.” While original architects of the ‘gay propaganda laws,’ like Vitaly Milonov continue to call LGBT people sodomites while comparing them to chimpanzees, the laws, police, security details and militia will be present to ensure that all visitors – regardless of their choices, lifestyle, gender reassignment or bent – will be safe under Russian law.
Besides St. Petersburg and Moscow, locations in Russia for all newly constructed stadiums where the FIFA games will be held are Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd, Ekaterinburg, Saransk, Rostov-on-Don, Kalingrad, Sochi and Kazan. Throughout all these regions, no matter how remote or religiously inclined, LGBT community members are being guaranteed safety and freedom of expression throughout 2018. Clearly, pressure works. The international community is capable of leveraging economic pressure on Putin and Putin is equally, if not more, capable of putting pressure on local regions.
In fact, Putin power extends to the point where he was even able to put pressure on neighboring Chechnya – among the most grievous offenders when it comes to human rights violations and LGBT related state sanctioned crimes, to curb their systematic abuses. If such mounting pressure results in long term change, this would indeed prove to be a victory on a grand scale. As a rabidly theocratic regime where the Koran is literally translated, Chechnya is a den of inequity and human rights abuses on a scale paralleled only by other Islamic fundamentalist regimes.
Over the last year, LGBT rights groups have noted that a minimum of 200 gay and bisexual men have been detained by the government, while 26 of them have been murdered in state sanctioned Concentration camps. Their own participation is limited to hosting fellow Muslim football (soccer) contenders from Egypt, a country with a similarly abhorrent track record for human rights abuses when it comes to LGBT people.
For now, this is the play by play:
the FIFA ball is on the Russian field as their center, Putin, tackles years of civil rights fouls, minority misconducts and a series of abuses that have gine without penalties. The World Championships have headed the ball in the right direction, but it will still take years of proper refereeing to see if the LGBT community gets a home team advantage when it comes to dignity, civil rights and humane treatment.