“It’s rare that I get particularly vocal about LGBT issues, but the stuff currently going on in Russia has really appalled me.” So writes Zarte Siempre on his ‘Too Gay For Putin’ Facebook campaign, which seeks to undermine Russia’s recent, much-maligned anti-LGBT laws from afar by getting people of all sexualities to do anything that would be ‘too gay for Putin’ during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Examples listed include “watching the entire series of Queer As Folk, selling and baking rainbow coloured cakes, organising a chain of hand-holding through a city centre, [and] singing ‘Glad To Be Gay’”, but attendees are encouraged to come up with their own ideas and spread the word.
Like Stephen Fry’s typically eloquent blog post earlier this week, the campaign is quickly going viral. It’s reached thousands of people on Facebook and has been endorsed on Twitter by comedian Adam Hills, the presenter of Channel 4’s talk/comedy show The Last Leg, and musician Tom Robinson, writer of 1978 hit ‘Glad To Be Gay’ – a testament to how the internet community feels about regressive, repressive measures such as those unanimously approved in the Duma earlier this year.
Russia has come under global scrutiny and criticism in recent years for other draconian laws that hinder its citizens’ right to free speech, most notably following the imprisonment of several members of feminist punk group Pussy Riot. Yet those who view LGBT rights as a mere case of decriminalising homosexuality may fail to understand what the fuss is all about, as technically homosexuality is still legal in Russia. However, by criminalising “gay propaganda” and the right to be open about sexuality, the Russian government has attached an unfavourable stigma to LGBT communities, suggesting that their message is ‘wrong’ and ‘immoral’ – a stigma whose sentiments have been echoed by Russian pole-vaulter and Olympic Village mayor Yelena Isinbayeva, who has come under fire this week for airing her opinion that homosexuality goes against what “normal, standard people” want in the country.
The Russian police are also taking an aggressively active stance toward upholding the laws. Shows of support for the community as innocuous as wearing rainbow-coloured suspenders have resulted in arrests, Dutch tourists have been arrested for asking Russian teenagers their opinions on gay rights and neo-Nazi groups such as ‘Occupy Pedophilia’ are given free reign to attack gay men and put videos of the abuse on YouTube, having lured their victims in with fake adverts on dating websites and other forms of social media [here].
The legal system, meanwhile, is just as bad. Attempts to get a ‘Pride House’ – a place for LGBT athletes and attendees to celebrate their sexuality at the Olympics, with such venues existing at Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics and London 2012 – in Sochi were denied by judge Svetlana Mordovina, who claimed that it “contradict[ed] the basics of public morality” and that “propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation which can undermine the security of the Russian society and the state [and] provoke social-religious hatred, which is the feature of the extremist character of the activity” [here]. The fact that no country that allows LGBT propaganda has had its security undermined or seen social-religious hatred provoked is clearly beside the point.
The Olympics, both Summer and Winter, are meant to be a peaceful celebration of globality, free from the usual international dialogues of politics, war and economy. It is on these grounds that some have rejected calls to boycott, protest against, or relocate the 2014 Winter Olympics. Yet when the host nation’s vague but dangerous laws are to be imposed on the foreign athletes and tourists who will visit the host nation, potentially putting both people and the fundamental principles of the Olympic games in jeopardy, it is impossible for these Games to be held free from politics. Even Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany relaxed its horrific anti-gay law ‘Paragraph 175’ for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, as visitors to the Games were not subject to it.
Although ‘Too Gay For Putin’ encourages its attendees to support a boycott and/or refuse to watch the Games, it is not compulsory. The main aims are to get people of all backgrounds, nationalities and sexualities to challenge prejudice and support the Russian LGBT community, no matter what form or size that support takes. The only boundary Siempre puts on how people choose to be ‘Too Gay For Putin’ is that it should be “peaceful and positive”.
“The immediate reaction has been overwhelming and made me incredibly emotional,” says Siempre. “It gives me hope that this could really become something huge. As far as I’m concerned, the bigger this gets, the more good it can do.” His ultimate aim is for it to receive media coverage, “to show that just because some people might be willing to sit back and let what’s going on in Russia happen without saying a word, that there are people who truly care about what’s going on in the world, and will do whatever they can manage to try and make some sort of difference.”
How will I be ‘Too Gay For Putin’, you may ask? By lip-synching Electric Six’s seminal hit ‘Gay Bar’ while wearing a Putin mask. After all, the song does mention that “I’ve got something to Putin you”…