As is widely known, Russia
now has a national law that bans the spreading of "information about
non-traditional sexual behavior" to persons under 18. The law is based on
legislation that was originally adopted in St. Petersburg under the sponsorship
of its Mayor, one Vitaly Milonov. The law is based on the premises
widely held by homophobes that a) homosexuality is an acquired characteristic,
"chosen" by homosexuals, b) that a homosexual can therefore either
"choose" to become heterosexual or be "cured" of the
"sinful" trait (as it has been deemed by the Russian Orthodox Church,
now a major Putin ally), and c) that homosexuals "recruit"
non-homosexual children to become homosexual. The supposed basis of the law is
thus that it deals only with such "recruitment."
Of course the real reason for the law is to enable the authorities to use the criminal sanction to combat the growing gay rights movement in Russia. This is not too many steps away from the criminalization of homosexuality itself. Further, it happens that homophobia appears to be widely spread among the Russian population and thus it becomes a good issue for politicians, from Milonov to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, to use for political purposes. The state-owned All Russian Center for Public Opinion found that 88% of respondents supported the new legislation, even though they had never seen such "homosexual propaganda." Indeed, even on a clear day it is difficult to see something that simply doesn't exist, except in the imaginations of homophobes.
Homophobia itself has a long history, reaching all the way back to Biblical times. There were obviously homosexuals back then, which would account for there being strictures against the practice ensconced in the Bible, obviously by homophobes. But until the last century or so, homophobia has been confined to the social/religious sector of personal hate and intolerance. Only with the rise of Nazi Germany did homophobia become politicized, that is it was used for political purposes to rouse hateful emotions in potential voters, thus to gain their votes.
Political homophobia found its parallel in the development of political anti-Semitism, which first appeared in the 1880s in Austria. Religious anti-Semitism had been around at least since the time it was codified by St. Augustine in the fifth century C.E. It was used down through the ages to socially and economically discriminate against Jews and to provide a convenient font of blame for one's troubles. But in the last 150 years or so anti-Semitism has been used politically, that is to get votes, as has been, as noted, homophobia.
We have seen in Nazi Germany the extreme outcomes of both political homophobia and political anti-Semitism. The horrors of the Holocaust are well-known. Fewer people know that in Nazi Germany homosexuals were forced to wear the Pink Triangle several years before the Jews were forced to wear the Yellow Star, and that beginning in 1933 certain German homosexuals were arrested and sent to concentration camps, up to 100,000 gay men among them. That political homophobia might lead to such a perilous outcome in the future in a successor fascist state to the United States is a feature of the plot of my book The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel. Neither political anti-Semitism nor political homophobia always leads to this kind of outcome. That is clear. But it is also clear that the danger is always there, especially when in the case of the latter homosexuals are cast as "sinful" and "sinful predators."
It is bad enough that the political use of homophobia has made its way into the law in Russia. But on top of that Mayor Milonov has boasted that he has "spoken with many American politicians" who "support the stance I've taken on this issue." Since the political use of homophobia is a bedrock of modern Republicanism, this is not surprising. Given the history of what became of political homophobia in Germany, shocking, however, is Milonov's claim that he also has "support from German legislators surrounding the anti-gay crackdown." If those "legislators" are not actually in the Bundestag but are simply politicians belonging to one of the small neo-Nazi organizations in Germany (none of which get enough votes to enable them to hold seats in the Bundestag), that is one thing. If they are to be found in one of the major political parties (in that case it would be the principal right-wing party, the Christian Democratic Union), as they are in one of the two major political parties in the U.S., given German history in this matter, that is quite something else again.
Now all of these considerations take on a special meaning in the context of the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be based in Sochi, Russia. The International Olympic Committee is in a tizzy as demands are starting to come in for an Olympic boycott over the issue. There are mixed messages coming from various Russian authorities about whether the law will be enforced against foreign participant in the Olympic Games, straight or gay, who might want to protest the law. The IOC is “seeking clarification.”
President Obama has issued a medium-strength denunciation of it, but one would hardly have expected him to cancel his scheduled Summit with President Putin over it, as he has done over the Russian granting of political asylum to the US whistle-blower Edward Snowden. (As to Obama's comment that by so doing the Russians were re-starting the Cold War, just which nation was it, Mr. President, that wanted to establish a whole new chain of ballistic missiles along which nation's border not do long ago?) There have also been demands to boycott US companies that invest in Russia, and some voices have been heard demanding that the US boycott the Sochi Games altogether. But something major does need to be done, and it is unlikely that that will be done either by the United States or the International (or U.S.) Olympic Committee (although that would be nice). I would add to the list of possible strategies a campaign to boycott tourism in Russia for as long as the law is in place.
But the most important point here is that political homophobia is now being used by the leading political party in the Russia, just as it is used by one of the two leading political parties in the United States. Russia is now showing to where such use can lead in the law. 80 years ago Nazi Germany showed where political homophobia can lead, beyond the law.
Addendum: Just after I finished the above version of this column, the poster-boy for Right-wing, homophobic Republicanism, the religious authoritarian Pat Buchanan came out in support of the new Russian homophobic law. According to Media Matters, “in his August 13 syndicated column, Buchanan took America's "moral and cultural elites" to task for their opposition to Russian laws banning the positive depiction of homosexuality and the adoption of Russian children by any foreign couples from countries with marriage equality. Buchanan pined for the days when society ostracized gays, while lauding Russian President Vladimir Putin for seeking to restore a "moral compass" to Russia by implementing its anti-gay policies” (http://mediamatters.org/blog/2013/08/13/pat-buchanan-anti-gay-putin-bravely-trying-to-r/195368). To where can this lead? See chapter 18 of “The 15% Solution.”
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash@Truthout, he is the Editorial Director of and a Contributing Author to The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy. Dr. Jonas' latest book is Th 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, and available on Amazon.