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Russia boycott calls divide LGBT activists

Group protested country’s gay rights record outside Russian embassy in D.C.

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Russia, anti-gay, gay news, Washington Blade
Russia, anti-gay, gay news, Washington Blade

Protesters gathered outside of the Russian Embassy on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

LGBT rights advocates remain divided over calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia and Russian vodka in response to the country’s gay rights record.

Author Dan Savage, LGBT rights advocate Cleve Jones and the group Queer Nation last week launched the “Dump Russian Vodka” campaign that calls for a boycott of Stoli, Russian Standard and other Russian vodka brands. The campaign also urges the U.S. and other countries to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

“Do not drink Russian vodka,” Savage said in an op-ed in the Stranger, a weekly newspaper in Seattle, published on July 24. “Do not buy Russian vodka. Ask your bartender at your favorite bar — gay or otherwise — to DUMP STOLI and DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent weeks signed a broadly worded law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors and a statute that bans foreign same-sex couples and any couple from a country in which gays and lesbians can legally marry from adopting Russian children. LGBT rights groups are among those that face fines under a law that requires non-governmental organizations that receive funding from outside Russia to register as a “foreign agent.”

About a dozen LGBT rights advocates gathered in front of the Russian embassy in Northwest D.C. to protest the country’s anti-LGBT rights record on Wednesday.

Larry Poltavtsev of Spectrum Human Rights was among those who attended.

“We’re here today to protest LGBT human rights violations in Russia,” he said.

The anti-gay laws have come into effect against the backdrop of increasing anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in Russia.

Two men in the southern Russia city of Volgograd and on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the country’s Far East have been killed in recent months during what local authorities have described as anti-gay attacks.

Police in St. Petersburg on June 29 arrested 40 LGBT activists and a handful of nationalists who confronted them during a gay rights rally. Authorities in the Russian capital in May arrested 30 LGBT rights advocates who tried to stage a Pride celebration outside Moscow City Hall.

Authorities in the city of Murmansk on July 21 took into custody four Dutch LGBT rights advocates who were filming a documentary about gay life in Russia. A St. Petersburg appellate court on July 25 overturned a lower court’s ruling that fined Coming Out, a local LGBT advocacy group, 500,000 rubles or slightly more than $15,202 for violating the “foreign agent” law.

Russian advocate: Boycott will have no effect

Gay bars in Seattle, Chicago, London and other cities have already begun to remove Stoli and other Russian products from their shelves. Gay City News reported a handful of ACT UP members protested a Stoli event at a gay bar in New York City on Tuesday night.

Gay bars in D.C. have thus far not indicated they will participate in the boycott.

Cobalt had been scheduled to host a Stoli-sponsored event for the website GayCities on Thursday, but the company postponed it.

The company did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

Val Mendeleev, CEO of SPI Group, Stoli’s parent company, said in a July 25 statement from Luxembourg the Russian government does not own the brand. He acknowledged the vodka contains Russian ingredients, but it is distilled in a factory in neighboring Latvia.

Mendeleev further pointed out SPI Group has supported a number of pro-LGBT groups and initiatives. These include Pride celebrations in South Africa and Austria and its “Most Original Stoli Guy” partnership with Gaycities.com.

“Stoli firmly opposes such attitude and actions,” Mendeleev said in response to growing concerns over Russia’s gay rights record. “As a company that encourages transparency and fairness, we are upset and angry.”

Nikolai Alekseev of Gay Russia, an LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade from Moscow on Tuesday he feels a boycott of Russian vodka will “not have an effect.”

“The real target of this protest should be the politicians who are behind these initiatives,” he said.

Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein called for a Sochi boycott in an op-ed the New York Times published on July 21.

Gay Olympic diver Greg Louganis, who was unable to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because then-President Jimmy Carter boycotted them over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the year before, told Frank Bruni of the New York Times on July 28 that he feels athletes should have the opportunity to compete in Sochi in spite of Russia’s LGBT rights record. Retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova; the LGBT advocacy groups All Out and Athlete Ally and Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder of OutSports, are among those who also oppose a boycott of the Sochi games.

“We want to encourage and support athletics, particularly the Olympics, and feel that a boycott would only hurt the athletes,” Hudson Taylor, executive director of Athlete Ally, told the Blade on Tuesday. “We understand the rationale behind a boycott, but are also cognizant that our call for a boycott could result in negative ramifications and backlash for regional LGBT and ally organizations in Russia.”

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on July 26 said the U.S. does not support calls to boycott the Sochi Olympics.

“That’s certainly not what we’re calling for,” she told reporters during her daily briefing in response to the Blade’s question about Russia’s LGBT rights record.

Gay athlete to wear rainbow pin in Sochi

Blake Skjellerup, a gay short track speed skater from New Zealand who plans to compete in Sochi in spite of the calls to boycott the games, last week announced he will wear a gay Pride pin during the Olympics.

He stressed to the Blade his decision is “not about defiance.”

“Wearing a Pride pin is about humanity and unity,” Skjellerup said. “It’s about representing something that is very important to me, and standing up for those who cannot stand up or help themselves.”

The Human Rights Campaign said in a July 24 letter to NBC Universal that the network has “a unique opportunity — and a responsibility — to expose” what it described as the “inhumane and unjust” anti-gay propaganda law during its coverage of the Sochi games. Mark Lazarus, chair of NBC’s sports group, deflected questions about his network’s potential coverage of Russia’s LGBT rights record during a presentation at the Television Critics Association gathering in New York City over the weekend.

The International Olympic Committee has assured gay athletes and others who travel to Sochi that authorities will not arrest them under the Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law. Vitaly Milonov, a St. Petersburg lawmaker behind the city’s gay propaganda to minors ban that took effect in 2012, told the Interfax news agency on Tuesday he has not heard of any plans to suspend the national statute during the games.

“If a law has been approved by the federal legislature and signed by the president, then the government has no right to suspend it,” Milonov said, according to Gay Star News. “It doesn’t have the authority.”

Officials urged to ban Russian lawmakers from U.S.

Alekseev and other Russian LGBT rights advocates have launched a petition on the White House’s website that urges the U.S. to ban Milonov and Elena Mizulina, a Russian Parliamentarian who co-sponsored the national gay propaganda ban, from entering the country. It has received 4,775 signatures as of late on July 30.

“This is the way forward because these people are the real people behind the homophobic legislation,” Alekseev told the Blade.

 

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Election in India’s most popular state seen as crucial LGBTQ rights test

Right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party currently governs Uttar Pradesh

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(Bigstock photo)

India’s most populous state and a battleground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold the election in seven phases in February as the Election Commission of India has announced.

The Uttar Pradesh election is the key prize in India’s parliamentary election as the state holds 80 parliamentary seats, the most in the country. Uttar Pradesh’s LGBTQ community and LGBTQ people from across the country have been eyeing this election because it can play a crucial role in policy changes for the community in India.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing nationalist party, is ruling Uttar Pradesh. The party is also ruling the country under Modi, but it has not been supportive of same-sex marriage.

“We are not a minority anymore. The community is thriving in the state,” said Lovpreet, a Lucknow-based activist who works for transgender rights in Uttar Pradesh. “If the current government is not going to give us the right for same-sex marriage, we should remove the government in this election.”

The ruling party is yet to release its election manifesto, but the party is not considering listing LGBTQ issues in it.

A newly married same-sex couple from New York last year applied for an OCI (overseas citizen of India) Card, which would have allowed them multiple entries and a multi-purpose life-long visa to visit India, but the country did not recognize them as legally married and refused to issue it to them.

The couple filed a petition in Delhi High Court. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is the central government’s legal representative, stated in response to the petition that marriage is permissible between a “biological male” and “biological female” and the government therefore cannot issue an OCI Card to their spouse.

Although India struck down a colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality in 2018, there is still no law for same-sex marriage. The LGBTQ community has been demanding for years that political parties legalize same-sex marriage, but the issue is yet to appear in any party’s manifesto.

Lovpreet, who lives in Uttar Pradesh, believes that BJP is doing some good, like forming a trans advisory board last September.

“BJP is slowly moving towards being LGBTQ friendly, and if given the time and opportunity, it can do some good in the future,” said Lovpreet.

The Indian National Congress (INC), a leading central left-wing party, is also fielding its candidate in the state election, but the party does not see LGBTQ issues as important.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor, an MP and chair of All India Professionals Congress, the INC’s professional wing, refused multiple requests to speak on the legalization of same-sex marriage. The INC last week released its manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh election, but there were no promises for the LGBTQ community.

Former Defense Minister Jitendra Singh, an INC member who will set the party’s agenda ahead of the Uttar Pradesh election, also refused to speak about the legalization of same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues in the state and the country.

Ram Gopal Yadav, the leader of the left-wing socialist Samajwadi Party and the head of the Council of States (Rajya Sabha), the upper house of the Indian Parliament, in 2013 while speaking with the media explicitly said that homosexuality is “unethical and immoral.” But the Samajwadi Party has recently changed its tone regarding the community.

“With every aspect, whether it is farmers, whether it is women, whether it is children or the LGBTQ community, there will be continuous policy measures of the party that are progressive and liberal,” said Samajwadi Party spokesperson Ghanshyam Tiwari. “When the government is progressive and not bounded by dogma, then every issue related to any community has to be looked at in a manner that gives equal opportunity and be empathetic towards them. The more vulnerable the community is, the greater government needs to do,” he added further. 

The Mayawati Prabhu Das-led Bahujan Samaj Party, a national party that is running in the Uttar Pradesh election, has emerged as an LGBTQ ally. The party, however, has not released its election manifesto and it is yet to be seen if it will include LGBTQ issues.

There is no political party in Uttar Pradesh or the country with significant LGBTQ representation.

Tiwari in a statement to the Washington Blade said there is no plan yet for the Samajwadi Party to field candidates from the community in the upcoming election, but the party can consider it for the upcoming parliamentary election.

“The central government is not decriminalizing same-sex marriage. They are looking at the conservative vote bank,” said Preeti Sharma Menon, a spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party.

Aam Admi Party is a national party in the country. The party had fielded candidates in previous Uttar Pradesh elections but had no significant luck.

“To appease conservative voters, the ruling party, the BJP, is not taking steps to legalize same-sex marriage,” Menon added further.

The Aam Aadmi Party in the previous parliamentary election had a trans candidate from Uttar Pradesh. The party has expressed its desire to field other candidates in the state’s election from the community.

The BJP is ruling both the country and the Uttar Pradesh with no intention to support or address LGBTQ issues.

Senior BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar from the state of Maharashtra last year made several homophobic comments in Parliament. The party did not punish him, nor did other political parties condemn his statements.

It is yet to be seen how this election impacts policies of different political parties for the LGBTQ community in the upcoming parliamentary election of the country.

Mohit Kumar (Ankush) is a freelance reporter who has covered different stories that include the 2020 election in the U.S. and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and loves to help people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and can be reached at [email protected].

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Florida

Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”

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Florida State Capitol building

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion Senate bill SB 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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District of Columbia

D.C.’s Capital Pride to resume ‘large-scale’ outdoor events

Organizers say one of the largest ever parades and festivals set for June

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Happy days are here again? Scenes like this from 2019 could be back in 2022. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced on its website that it plans to resume the city’s Pride Parade and Festival in June 2022 that traditionally has attracted tens of thousands of participants after canceling the two events in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.

“The Capital Pride Alliance is excited to announce the highly anticipated return of our annual large-scale outdoor Pride Celebration in June 2022!” the group says on its website. “Registration for the Capital Pride Parade on June 11, 2022, and the Capital Pride Festival on June 12, 2022, will be open soon,” the website message says.

Ryan Bos, the Capital Pride Alliance executive director, told the Washington Blade the group met with D.C. government officials on Monday to coordinate plans for the upcoming outdoor events in June. He said an updated announcement with more details of the events would be released later this week or early next week.

The Capital Pride website message focuses on the parade and festival.

“Join the LGBTQ+ community for the return of the historic Capital Pride Parade,” the website message says. “In 2022, a modified route will honor our history and acknowledge the evolution of the LGBTQ+ neighborhoods in Washington, DC, while respecting the origins and importance of taking to the streets in our fight for equality,” it says.

“Be prepared to experience one of the largest Pride Parades to ever take place in the United States Capital,” the message adds.

The message says the Pride Festival will resume at its traditional location on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. near the U.S. Capitol that it refers to as America’s Mainstreet.

“Enjoy a full day of entertainment on three stages, food, drink and advocacy with over 300 exhibitors,” the website message says. “The Festival is the largest annual event in the national capital region,” the message continues, adding that the Capital Pride Concert will also return this year at its usual locations at the site of the festival.

“You will experience entertainment on three stages, from international headliners to our best local regional LGBTQ+ talent,” according to the Capital Pride website message. It says concert performances will take place from 12-10 p.m. And a “Capitol” Sunset Dance Party will take place at the festival site from 8-10 p.m.

“The concert may end but the dancing will continue,” the message says. “Enjoy the electronica sounds of an international DJ sensation while you dance in the middle of America’s Main Street on Pennsylvania Avenue, with the sun setting on the U.S. Capitol.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city’s public health officials ended the city’s COVID-related restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend outdoor events as well as indoor entertainment events last May as the number of COVID infections began to decline.

But as the number of Omicron variant cases of the COVID virus increased dramatically in the fall of 2021, the mayor resumed the requirement of the use of face masks in all indoor public places.

Also put in place earlier this month by the city was a requirement that restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment establishments require customers to show proof of vaccination as a condition for admission to the establishments. Bowser, however, has said the city was not considering resuming restrictions on the number of people allowed in establishments such as restaurants and bars or outdoor stadiums.

Capital Pride Alliance has not said whether it will put in place a vaccination requirement for admission to the Pride festival and parade as well as some of its planned indoor events. With the number of Omicron related COVID cases beginning to drop in the past two weeks in D.C. and the surrounding suburbs, the prospect of a resumption in restrictions on the number of people allowed to assemble at outdoor events like the Pride Parade and Festival appears to be less likely.

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