Russia’s straight allies for gay rights

A reader wrote the other day and reminded me of something that I usually have to remind others: There are straight people advocating for gay rights too.

His email came up in the context of Russia – and the fact that I was forgetting that straight people attending the Olympics could be just as in danger of running afoul of Russia’s draconian new anti-gay/anti-trans “propaganda” law. After all, the law doesn’t care if you are gay, it only cares if you’re pro-gay.

And while pro-gay could be defined as something as benign as a lesbian Olympian (or guest) kissing her legally-married wife, it’s also likely a crime under the law for a straight person to wear a rainbow pin, or even to give an interview in which they support their gay friends.

I got to thinking about this today when someone sent me this recent article from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, looking at a new generation of straight allies in Putin’s Russia. It’s a wonderful article, and really brings hope to a story that hasn’t had a heck of a lot of hope of late.

It’s an issue that came up for me a good ten or so years ago when I was attending, and working, a Planned Parenthood march in Washington, DC.  The march went quite well, we had a ton of people.  But one thing bothered me.  The speakers kept talking TO women, ABOUT women.  As a guy who considered myself an ally, I felt totally left out.  Ignored even.

A straight biracial couple protesting in favor of gay marriage across the street from Supreme Court. (Photo by ©John Aravosis.)

A straight biracial couple protesting in favor of gay marriage across the street from Supreme Court during the DOMA/Prop 8 hearings in March, 2013. (Photo by ©John Aravosis.)

Even just from a self-interest point of view, you’d think straight guys would be somewhat concerned about whether they can access birth control and/or terminate an unwanted pregnancy.  17 year old guys don’t want to be fathers any more than 17 year old girls want to be mothers. It just seemed to me that the women’s movement was missing out on a potentially not-just-sympathetic demographic, but one that had an equal interest in ensuring that we all continue to have a choice.  And in any case, I was there, wasn’t I – and to the people giving speeches, I was invisible.

And I think when you work on these issues you sometimes forget your allies because you often feel alone.  You often forget that not only are there other people who might be affected by the same problem, but you also forget that sometimes people who aren’t affected by it directly, simply care about you and the issue, and want to help.

Especially in the past few years, it’s been amazing to see the support we’ve had on gay rights from the straight community.  I know just in the blogging world, people like Markos and Atrios and Jane Hamsher (not to mention so many others) have all been amazing allies.  It’s really been quite touching.

So, I suppose I’ll recommit myself to keeping my eyes open for the allies, and trying to be a better ally as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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15 Responses to “Russia’s straight allies for gay rights”

  1. FLL says:

    Exception noted. I wasn’t a ware of that nine-year period when there was some freedom of speech. I’m pretty sure that the tsars before Peter the Great had absolutist power, although the medieval nobility (boyars) had plenty of privileges, like not paying taxes. Correct? My point about the tsarist period, in any case, was that freedom of speech, as a political concept, never developed in Russia as it did in Western countries, regardless of the division of powers between the tsar and the hereditary nobility.

  2. Anonymous says:

    If you do anything that makes the news, is on TV, etc. that could reach kids. So basically, nothing can be done in public.

  3. slavdude says:

    Not entirely accurate about the free speech. There was a period, from 1906 to 1917, where free speech was acceptable in Russia under the Fundamental Law (though it wasn’t always followed). No, I am not an apologist, but I did get my doctorate in Russian history.

    Also, exile under the tsars (only really used in the 18th and 19th centuries) was NOT the same as the gulags, which were a Soviet invention. “Autocracy” only took its modern form after Peter the Great (d. 1725), and the term itself did not even exist until the late fifteenth century.

  4. BeccaM says:

    Not really. You could be in a public location where someone under 18 could see the photo, in theory. Same thing with making pro-gay remarks.

  5. Gena Witcz says:

    I agree. Ordinary people in Russia do not have the freedom to express their thoughts.
    cross cultural training

  6. askanew says:

    I think you’d have to show the photo to someone under 18, though. But otherwise ia.

  7. Pat says:

    John, while the Olympics is a high profile event, it would be useful to also focus our attention on other events held in Russia.
    For example, the Miss Universe contest to be held in Novemer in Moscow, has also been pressured and has just refused to move its location.
    While it is less watched by the world and not taken very seriously by many people nowadays, Miss Universe has a much larger proportion of LGBT followers than the olympics.

    Also ideas on how to start pressiring FIFA regarding World Cup 2018 would be good.

  8. Marcellus Shale says:

    you’ve descended into self mockery when you call the hamshers and moulitsas’ of the world allies. I guess this is the same brand of of stupid that pushed Nazi analogies and vodka boycotts. you tried and failed to get out front, you missed relevant details and your timing was only off by about a year.

  9. cole3244 says:

    when they came for my neighbor i was silent now there is no one to speak for me, germany in the 30’s, short version.

  10. basenjilover says:

    Thanks for reminder that there are straight allies who support gays. Seeing videos and pictures of Russian thugs beating up gays and trans made me depressed lately. I know I don’t have to view them but ignorance is not always bliss. I’m sure there are hidden and unreported gay/trans killings. I wish I could do something more to help Russian LGBT that would somehow make the difference.

  11. ha! Thank you, just corrected it. :)

  12. FLL says:

    We see straight people speaking up for gay rights in Russia—and risking arrest, of course. Can it be more painfully obvious that this is a freedom of speech issue? From the Middle Ages right up until 1991, freedom of speech didn’t exist in Russia. You spoke your mind, you wound up in a gulag. Not a very auspicious beginning for one of the 21st century’s major nations. Freedom of speech in Russia during the 1990s and early 2000s was sketchy, to put it charitably, and nowadays seems to be under full assault. Freedom of speech is key, and that is exactly the right that straight allies are exercising when they support LGBT rights. Freedom of speech is what Russia’s anti-“gay propaganda” law seeks to destroy. Let’s say that we, here at Americablog, are in charge. Without freedom of speech, if anyone disagreed with us, we could ship them off to a remote gulag in the Nevada desert… anyone… Uncle Zeke and Aunt Hattie (in Two Rivers, Mississippi), their stupid Mormon friends in Nevada and Utah… anyone at all. Now is it clear why the First Amendment is first? Point taken?

  13. BeccaM says:

    That’s why I’ve been harping on the “not just gay people are at risk” detail.

    A straight person might think, “I’m not gay… I don’t like this Russian law, but it can’t affect me.” It can if:

    – You’re overheard in public saying anything negative about the law.
    – You say in public you believe there’s nothing morally wrong or abnormal about being gay or trans.
    – You show someone a photo of (let’s say) your gay brother and his husband at their wedding.
    – You wear clothing or have something on your belongings that someone else interprets as a pro-gay statement, even if that wasn’t your intent at all.
    – Someone mistakes you for being gay or trans.

  14. bsharwood says:

    First paragraph. Context, not contest. But great article. (feel free to delete comment after correction)

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