Posts Tagged 'anti-gay propaganda law'

Open Letter to President Putin on Russia’s Discriminatory Anti-LGBT Laws

Washington DC, November 15, 2013

Dear President Putin:

Like many of our generation, we have applauded Russia’s 20-year turn toward democracy, confident in the prospect it lays not only for closer relations between our countries, but for the freer and more prosperous future that the Russian people deserve.  In that light, we write to express grave concern at recent legislation – signed by you into law, or otherwise under consideration in the Duma – that demonizes and discriminates against Russian citizens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

These laws are tearing apart the lives of Russian LGBT citizens and their families. They also impact Russian and foreign citizens, organizations and businesses that want the best for your country, and that are committed to building partnerships that are in your interests.

The range of legislation to which we refer is broad; among other things, it restricts public gatherings; classifies as “foreign agents” those who receive funding from abroad; denies orphaned and abandoned children the opportunity to be brought up in families by individuals with the commitment, the resources, and the love needed to raise them; and makes it a crime to speak openly or provide information about homosexuality. We are also extremely concerned about pending legislation that threatens to remove children from same-sex parents – the homes they’ve known, the families they love.

These discriminatory, anti-LGBT laws call into question the democratic path that Russia ostensibly has chosen.  They disregard the obligation carried by all democratic societies to respect and protect minority populations of any kind.  And they deny not only the promise of equality under the law, but the fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly, and association that are core to any democratic system.

Some proponents of these laws have sought to justify them for the purpose of “protecting children.” These ideas are based on false “science,” deliberately erroneous claims, and clear bias. Homosexuality and pedophilia are not, in fact, related. Modern science and the medical establishment consider homosexuality as a statistically normal human sexual variation. Pedophilia, on the other hand, is a crime, and is not a factor of one’s sexual orientation.

We strongly support child protection legislation that penalizes inappropriate sexual conduct with minors.  However, such legislation cannot single out one minority population, as Russia’s laws now do.  By inaccurately placing pedophilia at the door of LGBT citizens, Russia’s laws harm rather than protect LGBT youth, and have a negative impact on broader non-discrimination efforts within society.  Further, these laws create a climate of fear and repression that leaves LGBT children, and even those merely suspected of being so, vulnerable to physical and mental abuse, while substantially diminishing their educational and employment-related opportunities and achievements.  In this manner, these laws are harmful to children and society in equal measure. They also provoke increased violence against LGBT Russian youth and adults, the rise of which should be a matter of concern to you, as President, as it is to us.

To date, the media has viewed Russia’s repressive laws largely through the prism of the upcoming Sochi Olympics.  The reason for this is clear:  the Olympic Charter proclaims that “…any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise, is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”  Russia’s new laws squarely defy the Charter; its role as host, while failing to amend or abrogate these laws, cheapens Olympic ideals.

However, concern about Russia’s laws is not limited to their inconsistency with Olympic principles – nor, indeed, to the narrow question of how Russia will treat LGBT foreigners who participate in or attend the Sochi Olympics.  The fundamental question raised by Russia’s anti-LGBT course is why Russia treats its own LGBT citizens with such disregard for democratic principles – and why you and Russian legislators have chosen, as part of your legacy, to foster a climate of hostility toward LGBT people that has made those citizens so unwelcome on their own soil.

You have made public assurances that all visitors are welcome to Sochi, regardless of sexual orientation.  These assurances, however, cannot be taken at face value without a more detailed understanding of how Russia’s anti-LGBT laws apply to a range of specific questions.  For instance:

  • Can Olympic athletes or spectators be arrested or otherwise sanctioned for wearing “Gay Pride” or similarly themed clothing or accessories at the Games, or clothing items/accessories containing an LGBT-related insignia?
  • Can these same athletes or spectators sport officially licensed rainbow pins or other apparel from the 2012 London Summer Olympics?
  • Can athletes or spectators carry Gay Pride flags?
  • Should two individuals of the same sex either hold hands or kiss in public, would that be seen as contravening Russian law?
  • What would happen should a person speak in favor of the equal treatment of LGBT persons – whether publicly or in what was intended to be a private conversation?
  • Can a parent of an LGBT athlete – Russian or foreign – speak affirmatively of his/her child, including with reference to that athlete’s sexual orientation or gender identity, in pre- or post-competition interviews?
  • Can athletes or spectators distribute pamphlets concerning the human rights of all individuals, including those in “non-traditional sexual relationships,” as a reflection of both their beliefs and their rights to freedoms of opinion, speech and expression?
  • Can media coverage of the Games include examination of Russia’s discriminatory legal climate directed against LGBT people?
  • Might a reporter asking questions related to the law be accused of violating the law?
  • Would the public dissemination of same-sex attraction (e.g., through a gay or lesbian couple holding hands) by television, newspaper or internet potentially subject the media outlet to legal response by Russian authorities?
  • Would capture and public dissemination of LGBT insignia by the media, including the internet, in the course of reporting on the Games (or subsequently), subject that outlet to legal response?
  • Are private sector companies free to include same-sex couples in their advertising related to sponsorship of the Games?  Are they permitted to include pro-LGBT messages of solidarity in their advertising?
  • Would children who have been adopted by lesbian or gay individuals or couples be allowed to enter the country?
  • Could a child be taken from a couple if that couple either was or appeared to be gay or lesbian?
  • Is there a distinction in how any of these scenarios would be handled (a) within the Olympic Village, (b) in the broader Olympic security zones in and around Sochi, or (c) outside of those zones?
  • Would the response to any of these questions differ depending on the citizenship of the individual(s)?  Would foreign nationals be treated differently, inasmuch as the law specifies different penalties for foreigners?

To be clear, these questions deserve response before the Sochi Olympics, so that all of those who support the Olympics – whether athletes, spectators, sponsors, media, or prospective national delegation members – can have certainty as to how these laws might impact their participation, or indeed their prospective travel to Sochi.  Importantly, however, these questions must be answered with respect not only to foreign visitors, but to Russia’s citizens as well.  They also must be answered not only with respect to the specific period embraced by the Sochi Olympics, but thereafter.

We ask you, as President, to ensure that Russian officials clearly address, with a sense of urgency, each of the scenarios noted above.  But we also ask that you take on the leadership role of pressing for these laws to be repealed in order that LGBT citizens of your country can enjoy the same rights and expectations as any of their heterosexual fellow citizens, and so as to rein in the hostility directed against LGBT Russians that these laws have entailed.

Finally, we ask that you address these questions with a sense of urgency, not only in view of the rapid approach of the Sochi Olympics, but with regard to the distraction that these laws pose to our shared interest in a broad and stable partnership between our countries.

Sincerely,

Mark Bromley        
Council Chair      

Julie Dorf          
Senior Advisor

Michael Guest
Senior Advisor

Protecting and Promoting LGBT Rights in Europe

Uzra Zeya, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and LaborRemarks by Uzra Zeya
Acting Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
ILGA-Europe Annual Conference 2013
Zagreb, Croatia
October 24, 2013

First, thank you very much Evelyne and to ILGA Europe for including me in this panel. I am so glad to be here.

In response to your question, the most important thing to understand about the work of the U.S. government is that protecting and promoting the human rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is a foreign policy priority. That’s why I am here in Zagreb to deliver this message personally. The fundamental principle that guides our LGBT work is that the human rights of LGBT persons are not different than or separate from the human rights of everyone else. All people deserve to be treated with dignity no matter who they are or who they love.

Looking across the region over 2013, there is a lot to be excited about. Both France and the U.K. have legalized same sex marriage and more countries are taking steps to make sure that LGBT persons can make the choices that work for them and their families. It is also encouraging to see new anti-discrimination and hate crimes legislation specifically including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories.

But the United States remains extremely concerned about negative trends in a number of countries. The anti-gay propaganda law in Russia and the proposed law to strip gay parents of their parental rights are alarming. Laws, even when it is unclear how they will be enforced, are incredibly important. They are a statement of a country’s values and they have a teaching effect. Laws that validate discrimination, as we have seen in Russia, can lead to an increase in violence and harassment. This is particularly true when authorities don’t act to protect all of their citizens and when they fail to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by or against particular groups.

I’ve singled out Russia but, as you all know, it is not the only place where there were disturbing events in 2013. We saw too many Pride and IDAHO marches confronted by counter-protestors, or, as just happened in Serbia, canceled altogether because of the threat of violence. Throughout Europe, LGBT persons continue to be harassed and discriminated against in employment, housing, education, and many other areas of public life.

There is clearly work to be done. In the United States, we pursue this work guided by a Presidential Memorandum which lays out five main lines of effort: Decriminalization of LGBT status and conduct, protection of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, foreign assistance to protect human rights, swift response to violence against LGBT persons, and engaging international organizations to fight LGBT discrimination.

We raise the human rights of LGBT persons in our diplomatic engagement at all levels – from the President, to Secretary Kerry, to our Ambassadors and officers at post and in Washington. Our Ambassadors and officers march proudly in Pride celebrations. Advancing equality for LGBT persons isn’t just the right thing to do; it is fundamental to advancing democracy and human rights. As societies become more inclusive, they become better partners within the global community, joined together by common values and common interests.

The U.S. also knows that change on the ground comes from within. At the State Department, same-sex partners and spouses at overseas missions enjoy the same benefits allowed by law as all our employees’ families. We’ve included a category for same-sex partners in our personnel system. It is now easier for transgender Americans to change the gender on their passport. And we’ve stated unequivocally that we do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

We regularly engage with and support civil society organizations to ensure our work “does no harm” and supports long-term change. In December 2011, then-Secretary Clinton launched the Global Equality Fund to support civil society advocates working to strengthen the human rights of LGBT persons. The United States has partnered with eight-like minded governments – France, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark – as well several foundations to raise and allocate more than $7 million dollars for projects in over 50 countries. The Fund provides emergency legal, medical, and relocation assistance to LGBT individuals and activists; capacity building programs to civil society organizations; and, through our embassy small grants programs, short-term funding to nascent LGBT organizations. This year, we’re excited about the Fund’s focus to increase the capacity of transgender organizations in Europe to document and respond to incidents of violence targeting transgender people.

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