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.