What Are Folks Really Protesting?


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106 Responses

  1. zic says:

    But I still can’t help but think that some of the outcry over Russia hosting the games has more to do with anti-Russian sentiment than it does genuine and honest support of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender brothers and sisters.

    I wonder if theres some sort of bigotry transference going on. The shift in marriage rights has been long in coming, but once begun, is spreading through the states rapidly. One of the long-held tenets of conservatism is tumbling. By shifting that social hatred to the good ol’ evil empire, or what remains, it makes accepting gay marriage and gay rights easier. They’re against it, so it must be okay.

    I was a bit unsure of the word ‘hatred’ in there, too; but am not sure what other word to use that has the nuance ‘hatred’ misses. But I’m looking for a term that describes othering, active dislike, and social condemnation as a way of defining social norms and and identity; a term that helps describe why, in us-and-them construction, ‘them’ is bad.

    (And have you ever noticed how ‘them’ is the ones that do bad stuff you don’t like but aren’t necessarily impacted by in any way, while ‘they’ are the ones how do bad stuff to you?)

    So on the protests, it’s probably mixed; some legitimate outrage and civil rights violations. Some outrage that’s generated by transference of ‘them’ from gays here to Russian gay-bashing, which makes gays here the good guys.

    And an there’s probably some just going along for the party, their convictions stirred by the mob.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to zic says:

      I failed to note this in the OP, but I also think there is an extent to which the Russian laws are perceived to be worse than they are because it “them” doing it and not “us”. I was actually surprised to learn that gays weren’t being rounded up in the streets or pulled from their beds and sent to Siberia. The laws are still bad and wrong, mind you, just not what I was led to believe given what I’ve seen people (both media and regular folks) saying about them.

      On the one hand, if the spotlight on Russia gets folks in America to say, “Holy shit, that’s fucked up!” when they might not have had similar laws been spotlighted in America, that’s probably a good thing. On the other, if people take the “Well, it’s just different when we do it” tack and go back to supporting or ignoring similar laws here, that’s probably a bad thing.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Kazzy says:

        Much like when the Nazis used genocide, it was bad, but when the US did it, it was alright.Report

      • zic in reply to Kazzy says:

        I was actually surprised to learn that gays weren’t being rounded up in the streets or pulled from their beds and sent to Siberia.

        The law is a serious curtailment of freedom of speech and press; children are everywhere. So I’m not convinced, that taken to its Vonnegut trajectory, that rounding up and taken to Siberia might not be the result.

        The law targeted speech and the press for a reason, Kazzy, so I wouldn’t be quite so dismissive of it and its potential use.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I think the laws are awful, no doubt. They just aren’t as awful as I thought they were based on some of the reporting I’ve seen. Then again, I don’t know the in’s and out’s of how they are being enforced. If they are being used to basically round up the gays then they are far more awful.Report

  2. ScarletNumbers says:

    (Photo courtesy of ABCNews)

    Did ABC News give you permission to use the picture?Report

  3. Will Truman says:

    My understanding is that the problem with Russia are off the metrics we would use here in the state. Which is to say that we would not – in the modern day – ban “gay propaganda” the way that Russia does. Along with institutional concerns, which is to say that Russia may be using these laws to target the LGBT community more broadly.

    Whether this is sufficiently worse than the USA to justify the outrage, I am not sure. It seems to me that there may be worse things to criticize Russia for, but I’m not LBGT… and I don’t mind – too much – using the Olympics as a banner for drawing attention to and furthering the cause worldwide.

    It’s worth noting, though, that a lot of the outrage is coming from different quarters than what one might usually expect from anti-Russia sentiment. Not all that long ago, far too many conservatives were in the odd position of singing Putin’s praises or at least defending him for standing up to traditional values. Most of the protests I’ve seen have been coming from other places (though I haven’t been watching the story as closely).Report

    • Michelle in reply to Will Truman says:

      Agreed. The laws may have changed, but Russia has a long history of deep hatred for homosexuality. When my husband was growing up in the former USSR, being openly gay could not only get you beat up but also sent off to Siberia.

      Putin is smart enough to realize that re-criminalizing homosexuality would greatly diminish Russia’s standing in the West. But the anti-propaganda law provides a wink and nod to those holding traditional Russian views of homosexuality. My husband reads Russian news sites and, if the comments sections are any indicator, this law is extremely popular with the public. (As a side note–The comment sections in these newspapers also feature some pretty extreme racism and Jew hatred. Irina Rodina, who helped light the Olympic torch, gained noteriety for posting a doctored picture of the Obamas delighting over a bunch of bananas).

      So yeah, while the anti-propaganda law doesn’t, on its face, seem particularly heinous, a whole lot of symbolic hatred can be read between the lines. Russians aren’t exactly known for being straightforward.Report

  4. Michael M. says:

    There is too much non-specified finger-pointing in your post for me really to understand who you’re complaining about. That’s probably a result of me not following this issue too closely. Nevertheless, I don’t know who you’re referring to when you say “within certain circles” or “people who were … silent … until … a convenient bogey man presented itself.”

    But what I do know is that the timing of Russia passing a draconian law six months or so before a major worldwide athletic/cultural event makes said event a golden opportunity for activists and organizers worldwide to focus attention on how difficult life is for LGBT people in Russia. Locally, it’s also a great opportunity to focus attention on the pernicious efforts of extreme American evangelicals like Scott Lively to criminalize the existence of LGBT people overseas, efforts that have paid off to varying degrees in Russia, some parts of Eastern Europe, and some parts of Africa (most notably, Uganda).

    Yesterday I got an email from Oregon United for Marriage, which is leading the campaign to repeal our state’s Constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage, praising Obama for sending openly gay athletes in the U.S. delegation to the Sochi Olympics and for not sending high-ranking government officials that would bestow some degree of respect to Putin’s regime. So they are even using the games as an opportunity to 1) support Obama; 2) build support for repeal of the amendment; 3) call attention to the draconian Russian law; and 4) tie local efforts for LGBT equality to worldwide efforts for the same. This seems to me to be what any self-respecting advocacy group should do. It only uses Russia as a “convenient bogey man” to the extent that the timing of Putin’s opportunistic crackdown on LGBT activists at home has moved Russia closer to the center of LGBT advocates’ radar. That was happening well before Sochi started, as some of the few prominent LGBT activists in Russia decided it was no longer safe for them there and sought asylum elsewhere.Report

  5. StevetheCat says:

    Do you really have an idea of what is happening to gay people in Russia?
    Why don’t you do a search for “anti gay violence in russia.”

    You can start here: Human Rights WatchReport

    • Kazzy in reply to StevetheCat says:


      Violence by citizens, while undoubtedly awful, is different than state orchestrated violence. At least in terms of how the international community should respond. If the state is standing idly by while violence is perpetrated by citizens, I would consider that state-sanctioned violence and not really different from state orchestrated violence.

      I do not want to downplay the very real awfulness of the situation in Russia. But, to really affect change, we need to make sure we are responding to the right things in the right ways. I’d need to know more about how Russian authorities are responding to the violence. Things often get lost in the translation that is the media, especially when crossing international boundaries. For instance, the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial could easily be reported overseas to show American authorities standing idly by while black teenagers are shot to death. That would be an overly simplified understanding of what actually happened. And while America no doubt deserves criticism for our continued failings with regards to our treatment of people of color, an oversimplified account of a single incident fails to capture that.

      Again, I have no objection to people who are sincerely and genuinely disgusted by the Russian laws and I stand with them in opposing them. What I will not do is engage in anti-Russian bigotry — which I have begun to see — that seems aimed more at attacking Russia than it does actually supporting LGBTQ folks. My sense is that the majority of the folks protesting are sincere and genuine in their efforts, for what that’s worth.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

        Violence by citizens, while undoubtedly awful, is different than state orchestrated violence.

        If the state implicitly approves the citizen violence, by not acting to prevent it, is it really that different?

        E.g., were private citizen lynchings of African-Americans in the U.S., with perpetrators purposely not punished by the governments of the states within which they happened, significantly different–as in, not as bad or the state less responsible–than those states using kangaroo courts to convict and punish African-Americans without benefit of due process?Report

      • LWA in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’m also skeptical of the litany of laws that demonstrate that gays are not so bad off.
        Isn’t it a fact that in the Soviet Union, religous freedom was written into their constitution, or so my old socialist friends during the Cold War told me.

        But- especially in Putin’s Russia- there is the law, then there is the real law.

        Given the scary fate meted out to various Putin enemies, I don’t think hostility towards his regime is unwarranted.

        But you may be on to something in that the imprisonment of an oligarch is a vague and unsexy issue to hang ones protest hat on, whereas video of people beating up on gay men is easier to focus on.Report

      • Murali in reply to Kazzy says:


        It depends on whether other violent crimes against not-disfavoured groups are not punished with as high a frequency. This goes back to the rape kit discussion. The fact that X% of rapes are not punished does not mean that the law is procedurally or even substantively unfair against women.

        Consider, if Russia, for a number of reasons (say it just has too many damn laws or its police are corrupt and lazy, evidence is difficult to collect, logistical problems, bad process rules) is unable to punish a large number of violent crimes, then, even if gays are disproportionately a target of violence, the government is not being discriminatory against gays. It may not even be the case if violence against gays was disproportionately not punished. If local sentiments against gay people are so bad, it would be difficult to find a witness willing to come forward against the killer or for that matter, a jury willing to convict.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Kazzy says:

        Eh, Murali, if the public doesn’t support gay rights, beats the hell out of gay folks, and the gov’t just shrugs its shoulders because it’s too hard to to convict? Then you’ve pretty well demonstrated Russia’s a hell of a lot worse than Utah. If you’ve undermined my specific argument, you’ve done so by supporting the general argument.Report

      • Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

        No doubt its worse than Utah, but its a different matter to assign responsibility for this particular aspect of the badness to the government in a such a way as to make boycotts sound reasonable. That general corruption and ineptitude of government is going to make it worse for minorities (especially minorities in a culture that is already hostile towards them) is par for the course. That is not to say, that the government isn’t discriminatory against gay people, but the ways in which the government is discriminatory against gay people is AFAICT not qualitatively worse (i.e. the difference is a matter of degree) than how a lot of state governments are. In fact, if you look purely at the laws, Singapore’s laws with regards to gay people are worse. Not only does Singapore censor speech (even for adults) that says that gay relationships are just as acceptable as straight ones, sodomy is illegal in Singapore. And the locals here are very intolerant of gay people*. Even so, the everyday life of a gay person is better here than in Russia since the rate of violent crime in Singapore is ridiculously low and the government takes an attitude of benign neglect when it comes to enforcing anti sodomy laws**. Now, it may very well be better to be a gay person in the US than in Singapore, but the difference between life for a gay person in Singapore and life for a gay person in Russia is roughly the same order of magnitude as the difference between life for a gay person in the US and life for a gay person in Russia. The Russian government is still blameworthy for the censorship and the lack of SSM, etc, but if that was sufficient to disqualify Russia from hosting the Olympics, that would mean that few countries outside Europe could host the Olympics.

        *except for their favourite celebrities. Apparently, its not okay to be gay unless you are in show business.

        **Roughly, its okay as long as you do it in the privacy of your own house or hotel room. Doing it in the men’s toilet gets you charged for both public indecency and for performing “unnatural” sexual acts on another male. And yes, that means that lesbians are fine.Report

      • Creon Critic in reply to Kazzy says:

        Taking a quick look at the US State Department’s country reports on Russia and Singapore (2012)* there’s a significant difference that @russell-saunders comment further down the thread gets at: government severely restricting avenues of protest in Russia, while Singapore appears more open. Compare the experience of Moscow Pride and Singapore’s Pink Dot. Moscow has outlawed pride parades until 2112 (not a typo, they banned pride parades for 100 years). Notably, this was after Russia lost a 2010 case in the European Court of Human Rights (Alekseyev v. Russia) finding Russia’s treatment of such events as violative of freedom of assembly (and two further violations of the European Convention concerning remedy and discrimination). In contrast, Singapore permitted the Pink Dot SG events in successive years since 2009. Singapore isn’t a member of a supranational human rights enforcement system akin to ECHR, so 1:1 comparison there is more difficult. But from all indications, were the courts in Singapore to rule in favor of gay rights, it doesn’t appear that the apparatus of the state would proceed with entirely violative measures as Russia has.

        if that was sufficient to disqualify Russia from hosting the Olympics, that would mean that few countries outside Europe could host the Olympics.

        I think you’re missing the point (along with @kazzy ‘s original post) that, there would be human rights related protests were the Olympics hosted by any country with a poor human rights record. There were protests when China hosted the Olympics (the torch relay protests in London for instance). Activists use the fact that, as the protest chant goes, “the whole world is watching” to shine a spotlight on human rights abuses. Human rights activism’s strategy has not been to select the worst violations and exclusively focus on those – there’s a human rights critique on every country in the world. Why shouldn’t the Olympics be used as an opportunity to focus on Russia’s failings?

        * Section 6, the subhead, “Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”Report

      • Murali in reply to Kazzy says:


        I got the idea that in addition to the usual protests, there was talk about boycotting the Olympics (unless that too is part of the usual protests).

        Regarding avenues for protest in Singapore, it is illegal to protest without a license except at Speaker’s Corner which sort of defeats the purpose when you are tucked away at a public park more or less dedicated to staging protests and other non-sanctioned gatherings. Otherwise, you need a license which to my memory has never been granted.Report

      • Creon Critic in reply to Kazzy says:

        Admittedly this is a rather narrow axis on which to judge, but the Pink Dot SG* events have gone ahead without disturbance (so reports the US State Department). By way of contrast, even in the face of a ECtHR opinion on freedom of assembly (and non-discrimination), Moscow Pride has been obstructed or proceeded only with significant incidents (arrests, violence, etc.). That’s a qualitative difference (again, acknowledging the significance of the many, many axes that’ve been excluded by this particular parallel).

        A significant qualitative difference for the reasons @russell-saunders outlined “when those lives are further compromised and constrained, what are you to do about it? You may not protest.” (You’d written, “That is not to say, that the government isn’t discriminatory against gay people, but the ways in which the government is discriminatory against gay people is AFAICT not qualitatively worse (i.e. the difference is a matter of degree) than how a lot of state governments are.”)

        except at Speaker’s Corner which sort of defeats the purpose when you are tucked away at a public park more or less dedicated to staging protests and other non-sanctioned gatherings.

        In Singapore there’s at least that avenue of protest. Gatherings in parks can be very significant, 20,000+ Pink Dot participants in Singapore (2013) is an important expression. One of the iconic events in the US Civil Rights Movement, the March on Washington, was a gathering in a park.

        In addition, in Singapore there are the courts. In Russia’s case, even victory in front of the ECtHR did not inhibit further restrictions like the 100 year ban. Another qualitative difference that’s worth noting.

        * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_Dot_SGReport

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        Are Russian hackers really all that much less bad than Chinese Hackers, because they’re run through corporations and not the state?Report

      • Michelle in reply to Kazzy says:

        The anti-propaganda laws provide cover for this kind of violence by saying, between the lines, that gay hatred is okay and natural. It gives a wink and nod to long and deeply held Russian prejudices toward male homosexuals in particular. The common term for gay man in Russian is “pederast,” which, my husband assures me, has nothing to do with pedophilia is a term of contempt meant to convey that gay people are less than human.Report

  6. Mike Schilling says:

    The protests about Sochi are a direct response to Putin’s anti-gay rhetoric, which is recent and extreme, and given the amount of power he has, far more dangerous than anything the most outrageous anti-gay officeholder in the US might say. It’s no more complicated than that.Report

  7. NewDealer says:

    I’m going to join with Michael M and StevetheCat. Things are bad in Russia for LGBT people and I think looking for lingering anti-Russian sentiments from the Cold War is rather silly. Most of the people who are protesting Russia are young. They are in their teens to thrties/forties. This means they were either very young when the cold war ended or the cold war passed them by completely.

    I don’t think there is any jingoism or that the protestors would claim the US exists on a super moral high ground. Many of them are aware about combating anti-LGBT bigotry in the United States and know the US is still pretty homophobic and genderqueerphobic in many areas.


    There is something kind of comical in this post. It is almost like a parody of a liberal who can’t say anything bad about anyone and you are drawing a bit of false equivalence.Report

    • LWA in reply to NewDealer says:

      If it was lingering anti-Russian sentiment, I would expect it most loudly from the right side of the aisle. But when I read (OK troll) rightwing blogs it seems like most of them have a thinly closeted mancrush on Putin.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to LWA says:

        Nah, over at blogs like Rod Dreher, the man crush is open, obvious, and kind of funny considering his obsession with gay marriage.Report

      • J. Otto Pohl in reply to LWA says:

        I have the most extreme right wing blog I know about and I a have never written anything positive about Putin.Report

      • Michelle in reply to LWA says:

        Jesse–Dreher has gone overboard with his numerous posts on how the nasty Western press is being unduly critical of the Russian Olympics because of the gays. Of course (she says, rolling her eyes). It doesn’t seem to occur to him that Putin’s recent very public criticisms of Western materialism and moral degradation might have a lot to do with the media’s joy in pointing out his country’s shortcomings. Not to mention that Putin is basically a dictator. And yes, lingering Cold War distrust and hostility. The Cold War may be over but a lot of the animosity remains.Report

  8. greginak says:

    I think Will has got most of it. The people I see criticizing Russia about LBGT issues are LBGT advocates and supporters here. There is no hypocrisy in that, there advocacy is consistent. There is a set of conservatives who have turned into fans of Putin since he is a strong, powerful, moral, churchly leader as opposed to our godless muslim fraidy cat who is afraid to have the military kill people. Pat Buchanan and his ilk has been a bit of fan of Putin. The fans of Putin are not the ones criticizing Russia about LGBT issues.

    There is also a sizable group of people who have been criticizing Putin for being a quasi-dictator who is pulling Russia back towards losing what freedom they have had. There criticism has also been consistent and comprehensive.Report

  9. j r says:

    Here is another question: if the olympics were happening in another lesser-developed country, or in a lesser-developed province of a rich country, would we still be seeing the same weird dogpile on the condition of the Socchi hotels?

    This seems like a pretty obvious exmple of hipster ethics at work. It’s a chance to signal your social justice bon fides in the least meaningful way possible without having to do any actual work. I wonder what it would look like if the Olympics were happening in Uganda?

    This is a very typical response of the internet hive mind. “Russia has some troubling issues with anti-gay sentiment and some very obvious corruption problems. I know, let’s make fun of their plumbing!”Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to j r says:

      @j-r This, too, is excellent.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to j r says:

      Eh, I don’t know. Russia fancies itself a first world country, not a Uganda. If the SLC or the London Olympics hadn’t been able to get all the facilities done on time, they would have deserved mockery, too.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to j r says:

      I’m with James on this one. Russia fancies itself to be a developed nation and on equal standing with the UK, France, and USA in terms of amenities. The rampant amount of cronyism and corruption involving Sochi (and everyother Russian project from what I read) is significantly larger than anything in the US, UK, and France.

      Construction as an industry does seem prone to corruption though and this is world-wide. It seems that many to most corruption scandals do involve construction in some way, shape, or form.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

        I will say, so, that I thought their opening ceremonies were awesome. Sure, they whitewashed their history, but everyone does. Visually and technologically, they were just beautiful to watch.

        And I don’t normally like opening ceremonies, superbowl halftimes, etc.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to NewDealer says:

        Agreed. The animations on the floor were a really creative way to create a larger tableau for the storytelling, and impressively realized. And the music was clear and beautiful and at times innovative, not the usual generic-sounding synthesized brass fanfares (at least not all the time).Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        One thing I will say is that Russians do appreciate their culture and there were many nods to the avant-garde that would not be seen in any other country.

        Soviet Constructionism and Meyerhold’s Biomechanics featured heavily in the production:


        Though this could be political because Meyerhold was persecuted and killed in Stalin’s purges. You also had Stravinsky and Tolstoy being featured heavily.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer says:


        Yes. Although I consider it part of the whitewash, I loved seeing the homage to early socialist avant garde styles…if only they had never been shut down in the first place.

        It’s ironic that in the USSR the avant garde came to be regarded as reactionary, while in the USA the avant garde was regarded as socialist. 😉Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        I think the cronyism and corruption there has severely impacted the quality of results.
        I’m not going to say that their corruption is worse than ours, though.

        Did you know, in some cities(not mine!) you have to bribe someone for a building permit? Every single building permit requires a bribe.

        Is sochi worse than that??Report

      • Michelle in reply to NewDealer says:

        Soviet Constructionism and Meyerhold’s Biomechanics featured heavily in the production:

        My husband’s reaction to this part of the program was “constructivism, bleeck.” But it was clearly recognizable to anyone in the know. I have to agree that the opening ceremonies were beautiful and among the most memorable I’ve seen.Report

    • LWA in reply to j r says:

      Yeah, its not like this is Darfur, which was totally ignored by the liberal Hollywood crowd.Report

    • Damon in reply to j r says:

      Ofc not.
      My god, can you imagine the cognitive dissonance that would be generated by the western press and groups who tried to criticize a bunch of “brown skinned” folks about their “backwards opinions on gays, etc.”? Their own support groups would either freeze up or eat their own.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Damon says:

        Weird, it’s almost like you missed the intense protests about Uganda’s “death to gay” bills. I’m pretty sure the people of Uganda aren’t white.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Damon says:

        I will push back at least a little here.

        I do remember the outcry about Uganda, which was contemplating things far darker than Russia. And I actually don’t remember it being nearly as well covered by the MSM nearly as much as Russia, and I don’t remember it being talked about nearly as extensively at liberal blogs.

        But as I say, I’m only pushing back slightly – It was indeed covered, and condemned.Report

      • Damon in reply to Damon says:

        Yah yah, it was a blip on the newsies and was condemed.


        Compare to Sochi-24/7 “Russia hates gays!”

        I’d really like to see the olympics held in Uganda. Let’s see how the western press would react then….Report

    • j r in reply to j r says:

      This is an interesting thread, but a lot of it misses the point that I was trying to make. I start from the recognition that the LGBT activism and the Buzzfeed-type articles on Sochi are two separate phenomena and I am talking about the latter, not the former.

      And while I recognize that they are two separate phenomena, I do think that the latter wouldn’t be happening if the former hadn’t made criticism of Russia fair game. Whether Russia deserves it or not, is another discussion. What I am focusing on is the ethical posturing of the people doing this kind of reporting.

      I will say that I have seen some actual reporting on the corruption that likely took place, so the good news is that some people are doing real journalism.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        Katherine makes a similar point over on Nob’s post. I suppose a better way to have framed my issue is that Russia’s deplorable and very-deserving-of-criticism aimed at curbing the rights of LGBTQ people seems to have made it open season on bashing any and all things Russia. I don’t like when that happens.Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:


        Like I said in another thread, one of the problems with affirming the mob, even a righteous mob, is that sooner or later it stops being righteous.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        Very well said.Report

  10. Both @will-truman and @michael-m mention timing, and I think that’s a key point. For me, the recency of the Russian government’s passing the laws to roll back gay rights–and really, curb the civil liberties of anyone who might wish to speak in favor of gay rights–is a stark contrast to the “legacy” restrictions here in some of the states.

    Now, maybe the “legacy” restrictions are more recent than that and I might be off base. I don’t know when the anti-distribution-of-pro-gay views in public schools laws were passed, and most of the “marriage protection” laws have been passed in the last 10 or 15 years. But if we’re talking about federal policy, the general trend, since the nadir of 1996, has been to liberalize and not restrict.

    I think we also need to distinguish between “hatred” toward Russians and “hatred” toward Putin and the policies of his government. (And as Zic suggested above, maybe “hate” is not the operative word here.) I do not feel as if I hate Russians. But from what I know about Putin, he strikes me as a violent autocrat. Maybe the almost civil war in that area of his country is something that’s at least partially beyond his control and maybe, given certain assumptions, there’s no easy answer. But he doesn’t need to champion restrictions on others’ rights or pursue Draconian enforcement of what any honest person would recognize as a low-level trespass (I’m thinking of the p#ssy riot’s flash mob concert in the Orthodox cathedral that landed them a much longer term in prison than was expected). Also, Putin’s posture toward his neighbors, such as Ukraine or more distantly (i.e., Syria), seems a bit imperialistic. Maybe his posture is understandable and is the almost inevitable one a leader of Russia would be inclined to adopt because of the incentives he/she would face, but it still seems wrong.

    (I admit I’m biased. I live in a heavily Ukrainian part of Chicago, and at least the more vocal ones seem to really dislike what appears to be Russia’s heavy-handedness with the recent and abortive efforts to take steps to joining the EU. I do realize that they don’t necessarily speak for all Ukrainians everywhere, and that the situation is probably more complicated than it appears from the cheap seats here in my comfy U.S. apartment.)

    I’m not sure what the solution is to any of these policies. As for what the US government should do, I tend to be more a realist than a Wilsonian-Bushite-Idealist Interventionist on such matters.

    Is there a double standard here? Probably. The US has been acting in an imperialist matter at least since that improvident complaint in 1776 when that the king of England had”endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” Does the US and its subfederal governments single out minorities? Yes it does. Look at the demographics behind our incarceration rates. I might get a little testy if I heard of a strong movement to boycott any Olympics held here in the US. But if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I can really criticize the logic and be consistent with my beliefs.Report

    • @kazzy

      Your response to @stevethecat above really clears up, for me, your position, and I have don’t have a problem with it. I personally haven’t seen anti-Russian bigotry, but that could just be because I’m not in a position to be sensitive to it, not being Russian and not being around a lot of people who (as far as I know) are Russian. Also, and strangely enough, I wasn’t even thinking of legacy Cold War animosity until I read @newdealer ‘s comment above. Shows how a good a historian I am, I guess 🙂Report

    • Michelle in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      Putin, the violent autocrat, is extremely popular with ordinary Russians. They love him and eat up his recent criticisms of the West. Even if Putin ignored the LGBT community, his recent pronouncements and his arrogance would be reason enough for Western journalists to take him down a notch or two.

      Ukrainian-Russian hostility goes way back. Ask a few Russians what they think about Ukranians and you’ll get an earful. One of the most surprising things I’ve discovered in being married to a Russian Jew and spending a fair amount of time around Russian immigrants is how deep hostilities run between varying ethnic groups. So much history there.Report

  11. Tod Kelly says:

    I think you bring up some excellent points, Kaz, and I think you’re on target that a great deal of the hostility is based on the fact that Russia is Russia. I would be curious to know, for example, the degree with which we might be dealing with another foreign country that had similar laws on the books had they hosted. For that matter, is the previous summer Olympic host China all that much better than Russia? (Seriously, I don’t know.)

    That being said, Russia does strike me as being different in a significant way. Even in the SLC Olympics, you’re talking about a state going out of it’s way to be discriminatory. And as awful as that is, it seems me as being different from a federal government insisting that a state be discriminatory. In other words, a federal government that allows pockets of extreme discrimination shows up on my radar as being immoral, but on a different plane of immorality than a federal government that mandates universal extreme discrimination throughout its borders.

    (OT conservatives and libertarians will no doubt strongly disagree with me here (and perhaps not unjustifiably so), but I have long believed that in the US so-cons painted themselves into a corner with their states’-rights SSM arguments. I suspect that states’-rights was less a “values” argument than it was a strategic argument of convenience, and that they never would have used it if they would have known in advance how rapidly states would begin approving SSM.)Report

  12. I can’t speak for anyone else, and I’m not really *protesting* much myself. (I don’t really think things like boycotts and protests are particularly effective, and certainly for those of us engaging in that kind of behavior in the United States I wonder how much of it is motivated by signaling. But perhaps that’s uncharitable of me.)

    But what I find striking about the Russian laws are a couple of things. One is that they represent a reversal of equality. Much of what is noted in the OP is true as far as it goes with regard to the status of LGBT families and individuals, but from what I gather many of those people are afraid that what protections they currently enjoy are eroding. I heard one interview with a Russian lesbian who had moved to the US with her family because she feared her children might eventually be removed from her custody. Russia wants to take its place as a modern nation, but these new laws are counter to the trend that the Western world is experiencing, and is thus startling for those of us here.

    Further, there is something deeply insidious about being told you may not speak about your lives freely. Enforced public silence makes those forced into silence markedly unequal in status. If you may not speak about your lives publicly, then when those lives are further compromised and constrained, what are you to do about it? You may not protest.

    Finally, as has been noted, this measure clearly enjoyed the support of the leadership of a country that may do what it wants in a way that the government in the US may not. If Putin is happy to silence LGBT voices in Russia, what hope do LGBT people have for justice there? What advocate has any countervailing weight?Report

  13. Tod Kelly says:

    Totally off topic, but I for one will be happy when protesters/internet-memers the world over figure out that photo-shopping a person they dislike in Heath Ledger-Joker makeup isn’t nearly as clever, insightful or interesting as they all seem to think.Report

  14. Nicholas Costo says:

    Persecution against LGBT Russians is intensifying. There is a strong possibility that criminalization of homosexual conduct will follow from the current anti-propaganda laws. The laws as they exist now are used to shut down any LGBT organization or website that draws the ire of Russian officials. The scale of and sheer virulence of homophobia in Russia has not existed in the United States for decades, and the current legal push is only feeding into the fundamental intolerance of most Russians towards LGBT citizens.

    In any case, to the extent that Russian culture is defined by authoritarianism, viciousness, bullying, and utter disregard for human rights, I don’t see why Russia-bashing is terrible or counter-productive.Report

  15. KatherineMW says:

    I think all the criticism of Russia on gay rights issues is just people wanting to find something to go after them for during the Olympics due to enduring Cold War mentalities. They’re not significantly different than, say, Utah in 2002, and nobody was getting on America’s case about gay rights then.Report

    • zic in reply to KatherineMW says:

      Doesn’t the arch of change since the 2002 Olympics matter?

      My brother couldn’t get legally married here in the state he lives in, and if he could have in another state, those marriage rights would not have been protected by the Federal Government.

      He is married, and his marriage rights are protected.

      Similar change has happened in other nations to one degree or another around the world. There are two nations I’m aware of (there are probably others, too) where gay rights have regressed — Uganda and Russia.

      I do agree that activists look for reasons to protest. The timing of restricting rights and the Olympics would seem to make it a natural choice for protest. Which leads to another thought: Putin’s pretty politically savvy. Perhaps, he’s intentionally used the issue to garner political gain with social conservatives; Tea Party politicians in the US, for instance? The general nationalism expressed in the games, so gold medals, and yeah, they don’t like the gays over there.

      Does he perceive some gain here, beyond his own borders? Perhaps, he views it like rock bands have bust-up parties — bad publicity; gives you a cool reputation in certain circles, and they’re the ones who support you. But the coin here is political influence, not ticket and record sales.Report

    • Nicholas Costo in reply to KatherineMW says:

      “They’re not significantly different than, say, Utah in 2002, and nobody was getting on America’s case about gay rights then.”

      Yes, yes they are. The legal similarities are superficial and misleading. Everyday life for LGBT citizens in Russia is far worse than the everyday life for LGBT citizens in Utah circa 2002. Or circa 1992. There are no free speech protections, no enduring channels for positive dialogue or community for LGBT Russians, nothing to give hope for mainstream tolerance, let alone acceptance. There is only the ever-present hostility of the state and society that is making life worse.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Nicholas Costo says:

        Everyday life for LGBT citizens in Russia is far worse than the everyday life for LGBT citizens in Utah circa 2002. Or circa 1992.

        Repeated for emphasis.

        It’s not only what the laws say, but what is actually allowed or encouraged to happen.Report

  16. LeeEsq says:

    When your determining the sincerity of a protest and whether its noble or not noble, you need to look at a variety of factors. One of the factors is the the demographics of the protestors. In this case, most of the protestors seem way too young to have picked up residual hatred from the Cold War. Another thing you need to look at is the language used to protest, does it involve using negative stereotypes directed against the target of the protest. In this case, the answer seems to be no. Therefore, its safe to assume that the protests are legit in this case.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Also, most of the protestors are from the side that wasn’t particularly hostile to the USSR. If this were coming exclusively from libertarians or conservatives, anti-Soviet sentiment might make sense, but it’s not.Report

      • Michelle in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Please. Even liberals hated the Soviet Union and harbored no illusions about its abuse of human rights at home and abroad. Hence the term Cold War liberal. Jewish liberals, in particular, were highly critical of the oppression of Soviet Jews and the general oppression of all religion within the former USSR. In short, liberal criticism of Russia is neither new or unusual. All but the extreme left abandoned its brief fascination with communist Russia sometime during the 1930s when it became clear the totalitarian and oppressive nature of the beast.

        Anti-communism unified the country. It was not the sole province of the right, although the right certainly tried to use it to beat down liberal programs like Social Security or Medicare or to press liberals into voting for excessive defense spending. No liberal wanted to be tarred as being soft on communism.Report

  17. One thing that hasn’t been discussed here (probably because it’s mostly off topic) is what is the president’s authority to order a “boycott” the Olympics (as I’ve heard a very small number of people suggest he do)? I mean, realize that Carter boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980, but where does the president get the authority to do so? Are the Olympics ultimately an extension of the diplomatic functions of the presidency? Or could the “US Olympic Committee” (or whatever it’s called) just decide to go anyway regardless of what the president says?Report

  18. Brandon Berg says:

    Steven Landsburg notes that Russia has conscription, which is worse. But oppression of straight, white men isn’t interesting.Report

  19. Zane says:

    I’m really disappointed by both the OP and much of the discussion that has followed. I value Ordinary Times as a place where thoughtful and informed discussion takes place. This time, I feel let down. In fact, I get the sense that Kazzy and many (though not all) of the commenters really have no idea just how bad things are in Russia for gay people. Utah in 2002 was paradise indeed for gay people compared to Russia today.

    I know that I follow this issue especially closely because I’m a gay man. But if I were to write an opinion piece about, say, the impact of violence on everyday life in Venezuela, I think I would have hit more than just some stats in Wikipedia before I got started. There’s a lot of information out there. NPR’s Terry Gross just did an interview with Russian journalist Masha Gessen where she discussed Putin, Pussy Riot, and why Ms. Gessen felt she had to flee Russia. She is a lesbian parent who had already sent her adopted son to boarding school in the US and feared that the rest of her children might be taken away due to another law likely to be passed soon.

    You can find that interview here: http://www.npr.org/2014/01/08/260746432/the-pussy-riot-arrests-and-the-crackdown-that-followed

    Dispatches, a documentary television show produced by Channel 4 in the UK, just did a piece called “Hunted” addressing homophobia in Russia. It talks about the synergy of the state, church, and vigilante groups bringing violence to gay men.

    That documentary is available on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfoeEpASnmc
    (There’s a fair amount of violence in it, not for the kids and probably not safe for work.)

    These are both relatively long, but they aren’t the only options to learn more.

    And honestly, why on earth wouldn’t people protest now? If the PGA has a tournament at a club that excludes women, we would expect protests to follow. Are things worse for women in many other places? Yes, but does that mean we should ignore the lesser injustice because it’s worse someplace else?

    And conscription? Really? I’d much rather be a conscript in Finland than a gay man in Russia. But I guess there are so relatively few gay people we can weigh the injustice as less important.

    Part of the reason to protest Russia is that the Olympics have focused world attention there. There is a hope (probably unrealistic) that Russia might be more amenable to negative world opinion than Iran, for example.

    I apologize that this comment isn’t especially well-organized. I’m tired and upset.Report

  20. Shazbot9 says:

    I’m worried about two fallacies.

    1. Ad hominem. “Those protestors are just saying such and such because they are moralistic hipster anti-Russian racists.”

    2. Two wrongs make a right. “We protested Russia but not China. So why are we protesting Russia?”

    I’m certainly not saying Kazzy is committing either fallacy. Indeed, he seems to be just asking a question. But you have to be careful about these fallacies in your thinking and argumentation on this issue.

    Also, there may be legitimate reasons to treat Russia differently than China with respect to what to protest, just as there might be reasons to protest the Israeli government for allowing settlements but not the Palestinian Authority for not working harder to stop terrorism. (Both actions are immoral, but focusing protests on one but not the other might be warranted. We need to argue that before we start screaming hypocrisy.) Clearly, we should condemn all immoral action, but we have more of a duty to say more to those we have closer ties with. And we should protest more against the actions of governments in democratic places where our protests will be seen and could be more effective.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Shazbot9 says:

      +1, with the quibble that I think Russia 2014 needs the qualifier “purportedly” before the word “democratic.”. Which kind of gets at one of the reasons why this is legitimately a big deal- the law doesn’t merely discriminate against gays (and gay rights supporters) it actively seeks to bar their political participation and eliminate whatever free speech rights gays otherwise would have. I’ll say this until I’m blue in the face: free speech is absolutely the most fundamental of human liberties, and singling out a particular group of people to deny that liberty is a special kind of evil. This isn’t merely denying gays the right to marriage- it’s denying them the right to even ask, and even worse effectively uses the full power of the state to enforce the closet.Report

  21. Morat20 says:

    I think lingering Cold War animus is, bluntly, a non-starter. As noted upthread, the demographics most unhappy with this were, at most, 10 years old when the Cold War ended. Many weren’t even born.

    I don’t think you can claim lingering Cold War hatred when the younger you were when it ended, the more strongly you support gay and transgender rights. Well, you can — but it’s not going to be very believable without a bit more evidence than handwaving.

    There’s lots of reasons why Russia and why now. The fact that Russia claims to be a democracy but really isn’t, the fact that it claims to be a first world nation but really isn’t, the fact that rights are rolling backwards (it’s one thing to accept that, yes, country X’s laws are horrific. It’s another to see “They’re getting markedly worse), the fact that Russia’s currently in the world’s eye….

    And, you know, the fact that with gay marriage slowly settling in American minds (especially those young, don’t remember the cold war minds) as a ‘right’ as opposed to a ‘social issue still being resolved’ means more and more Americans are going to view it as especially heinous in a way they wouldn’t even a decade ago.Report

  22. Kazzy says:

    I feel like people are vastly misreading my piece here. I know I stepped away from the comments to deal with meat world stuff but in what little presence I did have and within the OP, I thought I made clear that I do not in any way support what the Russian government has done with regards to the rights of LGBTQ people within its borders. Further, I stand fully in support of those who sincerely and genuinely agitate for equal rights for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identification here, in Russia, and around the world. If you are one of these people, than my beef is not with you. My beef is with the people who I’ve encountered in real life and in the media who were eerily silent on issues related to equality for LGBTQ people yet suddenly find themselves championing their cause because the perpetrator of the behavior is someone easier to hate.

    It is no different than when these same people — who almost all skew conservative — want to discuss gay rights or women’s rights when it is evil Muslims who are exacting horrors upon those groups but when the conversation returns stateside, suddenly they are mum on the topic, if not actively antagonistic to those same groups.

    So, if you are not one of these people… not someone who was silent on gay rights or who was actively involved in engaging gay rights but suddenly did an about face when Russia became the topic of focus… than this piece isn’t really about you.

    To the extent that I may be underestimating just how awful it is in Russia for LGBTQ folks, I apologize if it seemed I was taking the issue lightly. I trust that those who know me best here would understand that was not my intent. I appreciate those who offered a better and more nuanced understanding of the situation on the ground over there. But ultimately that changes little of the calculus in terms of criticizing people who are not being genuine or sincere in their outrage. Which his what this piece was about.Report

    • veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

      @kazzy — I’m sure some folks are protesting for shitty reasons. Fine. Whatevs. I’m sure some of the protests are a bit childish, since protestors are people, some young, some foolish, many of them filled with pain and anger.

      But they are protesting. While you stand at a safe distance and nag.

      Shame on you.Report

      • Murali in reply to veronica dire says:

        What’s wrong with criticising protests? At least some protests are ill founded. In fact I think most protests are ill founded. they are more about making the protestor feel good about themselves than enacting any genuine change. (You think Putin is going to give a shit what American liberals think of him?) But if it makes people happy to protest and doesn’t cause too much harm, I’m not going to stop them. As it is, there is too much action and too little thought in modern politics but maybe I’m being curmudgeonly.

        Now, even if criticising this protest is wrong, is it so wrong that it requires a shame on you as if it was somehow obvious that we should either shut up or join the protest?Report

    • Zane in reply to Kazzy says:

      Kazzy, I hope this is not too late for you to see it. I know from reading your very thoughtful essays here that you do not condone what’s happening in Russia (or Nigeria or Uganda or where ever). Your posts about teaching, in particular, show a rare sensitivity to how kids who are seen as “different” are treated.

      The problem with your OP is that you appear to bring together two arguments. The first is that some people appear to be Russia-haters, maybe of long-standing, and these people are using the controversy to stick it to Russia. That in fact, this set of people seem pretty silent on the issue of LGBT issues except as it gives them an anti-Russia angle. You don’t exactly say who these people are, but seem to hint that they are people you’ve conversed with. Some responses argue that many folks who had been Cold Warriors are actually all cozy with the Putin exactly because of this issue, and maybe there isn’t as much overlap as you see.

      Only the first and last two paragraphs of your OP address that first argument. The bulk of the essay takes a look at the legal status of LGBT people in Utah in 2002 and Russia today. Even though you note that you aren’t trying to establish an equivalency, you actually have made the argument for an equivalency. Inadvertently or not, you’ve made at least part of a case for “maybe things aren’t as bad in Russia as people think”. I know that’s not your intent, but it is the result.

      Things are bad in Russia and every indication seems to be that after the Olympics things will get worse. Whether some subgroup of protesters’ motives are problematic is really of the smallest concern.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Kazzy says:

      I guess this gets at a larger schism in modern conservatism, right? I mean between conservatives who care about defense issues without caring about culture war issues very much, like say Jennifer Rubin, those who are the reverse, and then the conservatives who see the two as somehow related. The two camps can sort of come together on the larger ‘defense of our civilization’ theme, but not really very well.Report

  23. Cdono4 says:

    Yet fails to mention the punishment associated with anti-Putin activists and gay rights supporters. Peaceful protests turn into brutal beatings by the Russian policy force. Lengthy Jail sentences. ie The band pussy riot.Report

  24. veronica dire says:

    I do enjoy the occasional quip that the Olympics are supposed to be above politics, as if there is something sacred happening here, some higher purpose of pure athletic competition.

    Which is bullshit. This is a giant corporate spectacle. And the masters of the coin care not at all for the lives of gays, except insofar as we buy shit.

    So come the slick ads, with practiced sanctity.

    ’Cause, you know, politics are so gauche, whereas profits for Nike and Coca Cola are as pure as the virgin birth.

    Fuck the Olympics.

    (I’ll probably watch the figure skating. They’re pretty.)Report