For the majority you in this room, I would imagine the topic of my concern is something you would never have considered problematic enough to be worthy of your attention. And can I really blame you? Since the onset of the recession and the global economic downturn, you have seen your people suffer relentlessly for over six years. You have witnessed First World families living in Third World conditions. You have had hundreds of other problems that have been deemed more important than the one I am vouching for today. This issue has baptised many of you as procrastinators, yet now it can no longer be simply put off. Now I’m going to show you why homophobic discrimination can no longer be tolerated and why it is we must take action sooner rather than later.
When we cast our minds to homophobic violence, what country do we immediately think of? Yes, Russia. Since President Putin released a statement on January 17th announcing that gays would be permitted to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi provided they “leave the children in peace”, the outcry in the country has been phenomenal. LGBT activists in Russia are outraged at such a remark being made, and I don’t blame them. Suggesting that a person’s sexual orientation determines whether they are a paedophile or not is something I cannot quite fathom. Boycotting the games, which begin February 7th, was the immediate response formulated by LGBT groups across Russia but it was then reconsidered as the careers of many of the athletes would be hampered with. Isn’t it ironic that a community that has been socially hung by its own government decided against a decision that would violate the rights of a minority of people?
As most of you already know (or should know) it is illegal to be openly homosexual in Russia. Wait, that’s not how I ought to phrase it. Phrasing it like that would imply Russia is a bigoted, discriminating world power. How could I possibly imply such a thing? As the leaders of the country have put it, there is no problem with being gay as long as you stay in the closet and suppress your true identity. Does that sound any better? I didn’t think so. In Russia it is illegal to be seen promoting LGBT by any means of propaganda. Simply holding a rainbow flag warrants arrest in this country. Any sort of campaign or protest to regain their rights is prohibited and, you guessed it, warrants arrest. How can we watch as innocent people are detained and treated as inferior beings every day because of who they love?
In many ways the Russian Orthodox Church, of who over 70% of the country’s population belongs to, is largely responsible for this stigmatism and intolerance. The church openly believes and teaches that anything other than a male-female relationship is unnatural. They firmly believe that homosexuals are born heterosexual (straight) and merely choose to be gay. They don’t and won’t accept that a person’s sexuality is not a decision one could ever consciously make. Due to these religious beliefs, many Russians have no problem watching innocent LGBT people being brutally and maliciously attacked on the main streets of towns and cities in broad daylight. In fact, these vigilante groups that carry out the attacks are graciously welcomed by the majority of people as saviours working for the good of the nation. The attacks are seen as “social cleansing.” In reality, though, they’re more like the police of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 who unleashed vicious dogs and high-pressure fire hoses on the black community as they fought for their rights. It’s a shame Russia doesn’t have a modern day, homosexual Martin Luther King leading them to a reformed society.
It’s hard to believe that in 2014, with gay marriage now legal in so many countries, we have a nation that is so rigid in its customs and beliefs that it allows the murder of thousands to take place right under its nose and does nothing to prevent such atrocities. The suicide rate amongst young LGBT people in Russia has catapulted within recent years and I can’t say I’m surprised. YouTube is full of videos of vindictive groups of men attacking and abusing young people if they are thought to be homosexual. It is believed that pouring urine over the person’s head cures them of the “disease” and if that does not work, an even more severe beating is in store next time around. Since the passing of the anti-gay propaganda law in June 2013, seven suicides have been linked to homophobic intolerance in Russia. The law made it illegal for teachers, parents and psychologists to speak to children under the age of eighteen about LGBT issues, and this undoubtedly has caused problems amongst the LGBT youth of Russia. For example, if a sixteen year old boy is questioning his sexuality, he has no-one he can turn to for advice or support. This law was passed supposedly to protect children, yet ironically it is leading to more teenage deaths. Go figure.
The violence against the LGBT community has escalated to such an extent that they have set up self-defence classes in the suburbs of cities to learn how to protect themselves. One does not have to be engaged in homosexual activity to be attacked on the streets or followed home at night. No provocation is needed to become a target of these vigilante groups. Worse again, these murders are actually recognised by the Russian government as, and I quote, “Civil movements fighting the sins of society.” This law which officially banned non-traditional sexual relations is destroying the lives of thousands of citizens in Russia. In one case, two men were peacefully living together in Moscow, in no way showcasing their sexuality. One of the men’s family, however, turned the man’s partner in to the nationalists and he was taken away to be murdered. Can any of you imagine your own spouse being savagely killed and your whole life being uprooted? How would you react? Because in Russia silence is the only option for the victims’ families. The murders are not recorded or investigated and the community must accept this as law. Would you be so tolerant in your own lives?
I’m by no means suggesting that Russia is the sole nation discriminating relentlessly against the LGBT community. However, with the Sochi Winter Olympics just around the corner and with the threat of riots looming over the games, I strongly believe action should be taken immediately to ensure the safety of not only the LGBTs, but of everyone attending. There have already been two suicide bomber attacks recently in Russia which have devastated the country, and we must not let another occur. Then again, isn’t the similarity of the suicide bombers’ killings and the suicides caused by the Russian government’s policy towards LGBTs uncanny? Just a thought.