Crucial leadership emerges on boycotts against anti-gay Russian laws


By Melanie Nathan, August 22, 2013.

While the less educated on the realities and impacts of boycotting Russia because of its new Putin signed anti-gay laws, are quick to draw conclusions that boycotts are not working, relevant leadership emerges calling for persistent boycotts. Masha Gessen is emerging as the new and prized leadership, an imperative voice for the plight of LGBTI Russians.

Much harm can be caused by those less informed, such as an obscure adjunct professor, trying to plug a new book.  Mark Lawrence Schrad, an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University, ‘shooting from the hip,’ wrote an OPED published by the New York Times stating that the Russian Vodka boycotts are not viable:

“The Kremlin is no friend to gays, but a symbolic and ineffective boycott won’t help. A better approach is for gay activists in Russia and their allies abroad to link the (otherwise unpopular) cause of gay equality to problems that have a broader resonance in Russia, like endemic corruption and the weak rule of law. Framing the struggle for equality in these terms will likely win greater sympathy than railing against the bottle.” But then Mr Schrad is promoting his forthcoming book called  “Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State. and the new York Times fell for the ploy.

Schrad is no leader on the issue of LGBT Russia and his voice should drown in one shot of vodka. He also did not live through the collapse of an Apartheid South Africa.  His narrow article fails to acknowledge that there is a much bigger picture to the vodka boycott and that what he writes is trivial in the big scheme of things. So narrow minded and no foresight and yet possibly destructive as mainstream press fails to hear the real voices. Boycotts of vodka is a means to gain attention and is a mere start to the calls for much bigger and widespread boycotts and actions.

He fails to note that this is indeed what the LGBT Russian leadership would like to see happen. That the vodka boycott will empower the Winter Olympic Sochi Games boycott which will, in turn,  empower the Miss Universe boycott. Sponsors of events, conferences and competitions, such as Donald Trump, McDonalds, VISA, GE and others will start to feel the heat and as time goes by less and less people will be inclined to organize or support events in Russia.

Until the anti-gay propaganda laws change, Russia will feel the sting. And so we cannot give up. Just like an Apartheid South Africa, when the boycotts started, the sanctions movement grew bigger, and it was slow, but eventually the traction resulted in huge divestment.    Even if it takes years and years, now is it’s genesis and we must participate.   Apartheid never had the advantage of fast moving social media and so I suspect that this movement may gain traction a lot quicker.   And that said, how dare we as a global LGBTQI community marginalize ourselves by thinking we are not worth the ultimate in advocacy and activism. We must call for an end to all global victimization and criminalization of all gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and gender non-conforming  people and we should consider Russia as the start, because it has so much to lose. If we are successful, those smaller African countries and some Middle Eastern countries may find they will get the same treatment, in good time. But we must start somewhere – and Russia is the perfect place to start this new global movement.

It is clear such calls will not see results overnight and that means such calls should be louder and noisier. We already know that tens of thousands of people are starting to protest in Denmark, Netherlands and the United Kingdom and Putin is getting the cold shoulder on his European tours. Now it is our turn here in America to show up and to be adamant that we will boycott Russian Vodka and we will end the Sochi Games.

This week, a report from Queer Nation indicates that Russian LGBTI issue is starting to gain traction here in the U.S.A. Roughly 100 people, including many Russian and Eastern European emigres, gathered at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center to hear author and journalist Masha Gessen, who described the dire circumstances for LGBT Russians in Russia.

“We’re kind of past the point where silence can ever protect,” Gessen told the crowd during the August 21 meeting. “At this point, the more Russians know and the Kremlin knows that the world is watching, the safer we feel on the ground.”

And Russians and the Kremlin are watching and listening to the response that has swept around the globe since Russia enacted its anti-gay propaganda law in June. The law bans any pro-LGBT statement in public or private and on the Internet. With the law, Russia has effectively criminalized being out of the closet or supporting the LGBT community.

“One of the best moments of my time was when I was in my car 10 days ago in Moscow and I turned on the radio and they were talking about the vodka boycott on every radio station,” Gessen said. “That is getting media attention. It was really, really amazing, Suddenly we’d been granted visibility that we hadn’t had in years.”

Gessen, now may emerge as the ‘go to’ person for media to interview on the issue of gay oppression in Russia. She has been living in Russia for the past 20 years. Her writings are published by The New York Times and other influential media outlets. She wrote The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, the acclaimed 2012 political biography of the current Russian president. In a recent piece for The Guardian, she explained why she and her family will be leaving Russia for good. Gessen spearheaded the writing of a public statement released by Queer Nation NY now signed by dozens of Russians and their supporters — many taking great risks by adding their names — calling for a boycott of Russian goods and the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

And so with people like Gessen at the helm, we cannot fear failure, as there is no such thing as failure for a growing movement, there is only a start. It is for this reason that we cannot give up. So even if the Sochi games go on, as long as we make the loud noise and make it uncomfortable for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), for the sponsors, for the Miss Universe organizers and their sponsors, be assured that next time someone has to decide whether or not they want to host or sponsor an event in Russia, it is then that our voices will have been heard and it will be then that the impact of these, albeit mere calls for boycotts, will be heard.  Until they repeal the anti-gays laws in Russia, so be it!

So lets do it – in solidarity and please show up we need you!

Melanie and refael Vodka protest
Melanie Nathan protesting Russian vodka. Media coverage of this San Francisco City hall event spread to China, Australia and made National TV News in the U.S.A., together with the cumulative action of other such protests bringing attention to the Anti-gay Russian laws and showing the impact of CALLS TO BOYCOTT!

Melanie Nathan,

Related articles

San Francisco Castro to Protest Russian Anti-Gay laws

Sunday Protest | Gay Oppressor Russian Orthodox Church lives in the Castro

By Melanie Nathan, August 21, 2013.

This Sunday morning as San Francisco’s Castro awakens to its persistent rainbow flags, the heartbeat of gay America will show solidarity for Russia’s persecuted LGBT community. Who could have imagined that the Russian Orthodox Church would nestle itself in the land of gay glam. Yes believe it – it is true – the Russian Orthodox Church, complicit in the persecution of Russia’s gays,  has found its nest in the CASTRO and that is where we will be, bullhorns, flags and banners, chanting our disgust at Russia’s anti-homosexual propaganda law. READ MORE

Who: and Gays Without Borders  
What: Picket line and speak out  
Where: St Nicholas Cathedral 
Location: 2005 – 15th Street, between Church and Market Streets
Date: Sunday, August 25, 2013
When: 11:00 AM

7 thoughts on “Crucial leadership emerges on boycotts against anti-gay Russian laws

  1. The Kremlin have made being openly gay a crime in order to isolate and stigmatise a minority who weren’t disproportionately manifesting that behaviour in the first place. This was the rationale behind the Third Reich outlawing ‘Jewish propaganda’. No evidence was ever adduced to show that we are a disproportionate “danger to children”, because there is none. I taught in schools for over 30 years and never once saw any teacher, straight or gay, sexualising children under their care. In the West, that would result in instant dismissal. If the Russian law had made it an offence for anyone, straight or gay, to sexualise any child, straight or gay, then no-one would have objected.

    To illustrate, if a government were to pass a law making it illegal for women to murder their husbands, it would analogously make people believe women are more likely to murder their husbands than husbands are to murder their wives. Otherwise, so people would reason, why would the government have seen fit to pass such a law?
    Of course, people will always agree that wives should not murder their husbands, and likewise, people will always support laws that protect children, and so laws like this manipulate them into believing that we are a danger to children, just as Hitler’s regime portrayed Jews as “a danger to children”, despite the fact that they had children of their own, as do LGBT, and pose no more of a threat to children than anyone else.

    Totalitarian governments, like those of Hitler and Stalin, and now Putin, always hunt down and eliminate intellectuals, in order to consolidate their grip on power. Intellectuals are generally over-represented in both Jewish and LGBT organisations – hence the latest move by the Russian one-party state, moreover, this is a blatant grab by Putin for the Russian Orthodox Church as a voting bloc and to incriminate intellectuals so as to remove them from political relevance and social acceptability.

    Putin’s war against LGBT and his campaign to erase us from social acceptability and political relevance was never about the “protection of children”. How could it be? He personally authorised the genocide of over 200,000 Chechnyans, half of whom were children. In terms of being “a danger to children”, our alleged and nebulous “Homosexual Propaganda” doesn’t come close to Putin’s genocidal infanticide. Homosexual Propaganda is an invented crime to make ordinary people think homosexuals are spreading propaganda to children to turn them gay. Otherwise, so they reason, why outlaw it?

    In order to secure a fourth term in office, Vladimir Putin is blatantly and shamelessly buying the vote of the Russian Orthodox Church parishioners, who can be relied upon to hate gays, witness their priests leading and joining in the pogroms where crowds numbering tens of thousands bash tiny gatherings of LGBT to within an inch of their lives.

    Another motivation for Putin’s elimination of LGBT from Russian society is that like Jewish organisations, LGBT groups are usually driven by intellectuals with humanist and politically egalitarian principles, always a threat to a totalitarian regime, like those of Stalin and Hitler.

    If Putin is able to imprison all gay people then over time, he will be able to wreak an economic miracle by using Russia’s 7 million gays as slave labour. When you think about the regimes of Stalin with the gulags and Hitler with his concentration camps, this isn’t as far fetched as it sounds.

    With his unassailable grip on power, and annihilation of his political and commercial opponents, Putin can now do whatever he wants. That is, unless the people turn against him. Clearly, given the unanimous Duma vote to recriminalise homosexuality, Putin’s one party state is never going to repeal this law. The only way forward is to convince ordinary Russians to repeal Putin. That won’t happen overnight, but it certainly won’t happen at all if we do nothing, as advocated by those who criticise boycotts, but don’t have any other bright ideas.

  2. Great statement you have made here, Melanie! I was sitting next to you at the Queer Nation meeting on Wednesday. The NY Times had just contacted me an hour earlier to say they accepted my letter to the editor to protest that silly op ed by Michael Lawrence Schrad saying boycotts won’t help Russian LGBT people. The series of letters makes some important points, so here is the link:

    My short but sweet letter:

    To the Editor:
    Re “Boycotting Vodka Won’t Help Russia’s Gays,” by Mark Lawrence Schrad (Op-Ed, Aug. 21):
    Before the Stolichnaya vodka boycott, the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Russians went unnoticed. Afterward, it became front-page news, as images of people pouring vodka into the streets went viral; government leaders condemned Russia’s new discriminatory laws, and celebrities commanding huge audiences debated boycotting or even stripping Russia of the glory of playing host to the Olympics in Sochi.
    Our goal should be to help not only Russian gay people but all people suffering from human rights violations. Boycotts and other actions that heighten awareness of such abuses are a success.
    Our long-term goal should be to raise the standards of human rights, inclusive of L.G.B.T. people, using the tremendous opportunity before us with the coming Sochi Olympics, to let the world know that human rights violations are a stain on a country’s honor, disqualifying it from economic investment, prestige and the moral authority that entitles a country to respect for its national interests.
    Let other countries contemplating using gay people or others as political scapegoats beware. The world will shun you.

    New York, Aug. 21, 2013

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