While Sochi Olympics Spark Global Outrage Over Anti-LGBTQ Laws, Local Groups Fight for Real Change

 

photo credit: http://www.towleroad.com/2013/08/la-councilmembers-protest-russian-sister-city-with-rainbow-flag.html

photo credit: http://www.towleroad.com/2013/08/la-councilmembers-protest-russian-sister-city-with-rainbow-flag.html

Russia’s recent surge of anti-LGBTQ legislation has prompted responses from human rights defenders around the globe. The upcoming Winter Olympics (set to be hosted in Sochi, Russia) has become a significant platform from which to demonstrate and encourage resistance, and activists have employed a wide variety of tactics to apply pressure and demand change.

The outrage resulting from Russia’s “anti-propaganda” law was initially channeled into a call for athletes to boycott the event (this approach was largely abandoned when folks eventually thought to consult with Russian LGBTQ activists who were unsupportive of the tactic). Other targets of protest have included the International Olympic Committee, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, as well as Stolichnaya (a popular Russian vodka).

As the games draw near, additional responses have emerged. FCKH8.com is producing a Russian language coloring book entitled, “Misha & His Moms Go to the Olympics,” set to be distributed widely to children in Sochi and Moscow. All Out and Athlete Ally have designed a strategy for athletes to display their dissent without risking punishment. The Human Rights Campaign is mass-producing t-shirts that read “Love Conquers Hate” in Russian.

Over the course of the last few decades, many cities around the world have developed ties with “sister cities” in Russia as a means of cultural exchange and economic advancement. These connections have also become a site of protest as city officials have responded to Russia’s anti-LGBTQ laws with condemnatory proclamations, by promoting asylum opportunities for LGBTQ Russians, or by simply severing ties completely. In one unique case, residents of Portland, Maine recently hosted LGBTQ activists from their city’s Russian counterpart, Archangel, as a means of identifying ways in which they can be better allies to one another.

The question remains, however, what will happen after the games? Who will keep watching after the athletes, spectators, sports broadcasters, and journalists have all gone home? Once Sochi is out of the spotlight, will we remember to be outraged?

While attention spans may dwindle elsewhere in the world, I have complete faith that folks in Springfield, MA will continue in their diligent watchfulness and relentless resistance.

Anti-LGBTQ crusader Scott Lively, who is currently being charged for “crimes against humanity” in Springfield’s Federal Court, is infamous for his role in creating the “Kill the Gays” Bill in Uganda. Unfortunately, his influence isn’t limited to Africa—just last month he was in Moscow, and he has longstanding ties in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, and Belarus. His rampant homophobia is echoing far and wide, but Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and a brave cadre of human rights defenders in Western Mass are hard at work, seeking to hold Lively accountable for the damage he’s done and to take responsibility for the role that their neighbors and community members play in the ongoing globalization of U.S.-born culture wars.

The Stop the Hate & Homophobia Coalition emerged in the Fall of 2010 when members of ARISE, a Springfield-based social justice organization, learned that their neighbor, Scott Lively, was a major propagator of anti-LGBTQ violence. Teaming up with Out Now, a local LGBTQ youth organization, and other concerned members of the community, the group began meeting regularly and strategizing ways to effectively “clip the wings” of their jet-setting neighbor. Their efforts have ranged from hosting vigils outside of the coffee shop run by Lively’s local ministry to publishing advertisements in the local newspaper exposing the true nature of Lively’s work, and through the help of Pam Spees, CCR’s lead lawyer on the SMUG vs. Lively case, the Coalition has established relationships with LGBTQ activists in Uganda with whom they’re able to consult and collaborate.

As Spees points out, “It is essential that those of us in the U.S. own the problem as stemming from the United States, and take the lead in this fight against U.S. extremists, in solidarity with those most affected, and not paternalistically. We can’t expect people abroad, who are being brutally targeted, to trace these guys all the way back to their home communities in the States. We are the ones to stem that tide.”

Proclamations, petitions, boycotts, and social justice swag may have their place, but nothing will ever compare to the on-the-ground work of grassroots, person-to-person movement building in our own communities. After all, it’s only when we’re in relationship with one another that we become able to see the deeper connections between our lives, our families, our communities, and our movements.

The Scott Lively Trial. Where are we and what happened yesterday?

 

United States District Court, Springfield, Massachusetts

United States District Court, Springfield, Massachusetts

Scott Lively, co-founder of the virulently anti-gay Watchmen on the Walls and a veteran of the broader anti-gay movement, will be tied up with legal proceedings until at least 2015. The African LGBTQ advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has sued Lively for crimes against humanity, specifically for inciting the persecution of Ugandan LGBTQ people.

The suit was filed last spring with the aid of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and hinges on the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign victims of crimes under international law access to American courts. Historically, the law has been used by human rights activists on behalf of victims of governments, multinational corporations, and other private actors. SMUG vs. Lively is unprecedented, however, as it is the first such case seeking accountability for persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Want to see our profile of Scott Lively? Click here.

Want to see our profile of Scott Lively? Click here.

After a series of appeals, in August, U.S. district Judge Michael Ponsor ruled against Lively’s motion to dismiss the case. In his ruling, he offered words that have inspired hope in many: “Widespread, systematic persecution of LGBTI people constitutes a crime against humanity that unquestionably violates international norms. The history and current existence of discrimination against LGBTI people is precisely what qualifies them as a distinct targeted group eligible for protection under international law. The fact that a group continues to be vulnerable to widespread, systematic persecution in some parts of the world simply cannot shield one who commits a crime against humanity from liability.”

Yesterday’s scheduling hearing in the case offered some interesting insights, and Political Research Associates was in attendance to observe them.

First, CCR and SMUG are attempting to get a protective order put in place for some of the data which could be obtained by Lively and his lawyers from Liberty Counsel. As discovery moves forward pre-trial, it’s entirely possible that Lively could request the identity and contact information of LGBTQ people in Uganda who may have attended rallies, protests, or meetings which are at issue in the trial. These are not people who are being called as witnesses in the court case, and CCR and SMUG are (rightly) concerned that if Lively were to gain access to these people’s identities, he may pass the information along to his anti-gay friends in Uganda and their lives could be put at risk. No agreement between the plaintiffs and defense has been reached yet, and the judge will likely rule on the issue around the beginning of December.

As Cathy Kristofferson of Springfield’s Stop the Hate & Homophobia Coalition reported in late September, Lively has already demonstrated his propensity for endangering the safety of those who stand against him. Using Peter LaBarbera, head of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) as his cover, Lively released a “hit list” of those who are supporting the prosecution of his persecution. The release of such a list targeting individuals in Uganda could have devastating consequences.

Unsurprisingly, Lively has rejected a settlement offer from CCR and SMUG. That document and the offer haven’t been made public yet, but any admission of guilt by Lively without a conviction is a near-impossibility.

It’s important to note that this trial could drag on for several years, and that’s a deliberate tactic by Lively’s defense team. Once Lively himself takes the stand and goes on record, he will be forced to admit under oath what he did in Uganda, much of which is on video thanks to PRA’s senior researcher, Dr. Kapya Kaoma. Discovery and other pre-trial proceedings are expected to last until early 2015, at which time Lively will likely ask the judge to dismiss the case once again. Presuming the court denies that request, the actual trial will then commence.

Lively ProtestWhile the trial itself is still a long way off, the energy around this case is already building. Prior to yesterday’s scheduling session, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Springfield Federal Courthouse. The crowd included members of Stop the Hate & Homophobia, a Springfield-based coalition of LGBTQ rights advocates; representatives of the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force (including two Ugandan refugees); members of Out Now, a local LGBTQ youth organization; supporters from the Western Mass Recovery Learning Center; and a variety of others, all boldly expressing their solidarity with the LGBTQ community in Uganda, in Springfield, and around the world.

PRA will be on the ground and in the courtroom to keep you up to date with the latest developments! For the full background on Scott Lively’s involvement in Uganda (as well as other U.S. conservatives who are exporting homophobia), check out politicalresearch.org/africa

**Eric Ethington contributed to this post

UPDATE: Here’s the official court schedule, courtesy of our friend Cathy Kristofferson at Join the Impact:

 

Scott Lively Held to Account Back Home for Anti-Gay Persecution in Uganda

Yesterday, I and about 40 others crammed into the Springfield, MA, office of Arise for Social Justice, fresh from the first oral hearing of the lawsuit brought by Ugandan gay rights activists against Scott Lively–the notorious holocaust revisionist who, as PRA broke in 2009, traveled to Uganda to promote the virulent homophobia that lead to the “kill the gays” bill. A delegation from Uganda, attorneys and staff from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and local supporters celebrated that whatever the suit’s outcome, Lively was being held to account.

The suit by Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), filed last spring with the aid of CCR, hinges on the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign victims of crimes under international law access to American courts. In recent decades, the law has been used by human rights activists on behalf of victims of governments, multinational corporations, and other private actors; however, SMUG vs. Lively is unprecedented as the first case such case brought to protect LGBTQ rights.

Scott Lively, who lives in Springfield, is accused of the crime of “persecution” as defined under international law by systematically seeking to deprive people of their fundamental rights not only of life, but of equality under the law including equal rights of speech, assembly, and association. Persecution is defined here as the “severe deprivation of fundamental rights” on the basis of identity, a “crime against humanity.”

Lively’s teaching that LBGTQ people are, among other things, predatory pedophiles has fueled rage against people not because of what they have done, but because of who they are. Even though Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill has not yet (and may never be) passed, CCR argues that both government officials and private groups are acting as though it has. SMUG members and those they represent live in fear of their lives and possible arrest, receive death threats, and are excluded from HIV-related education and health services. Meetings are raided and leaders and attendees rounded-up and arrested. Read More