How does a pogrom against LGBT people pass muster in 2013?

Nancy Goldstein really is one of my favorite writers. Smart, succinct, and able to pull a lot of data together, from various sources, in an interesting, new way. Her new Guardian piece about the plight of gay and trans people in Russia (I literally almost wrote “Soviet Union”) excels.


As a bit of background, over the past few years Russia has cracked down, hard, on gay and trans people living in that country.  The officially-sanctioned brutality became especially severe in the past few months, when they outlawed adoptions to foreigners from countries that recognize marriage equality, and worse, basically outlawed anything pro-gay nationwide. That means pro-gay speech is illegal, filming a documentary about gay life is illegal (as a Dutch film crew recently found out), and even wearing rainbow suspenders is illegal (since the rainbow is a symbol of the gay rights movement).

In response, gay, trans people, and our allies around the world announced a boycott of Russian products, particularly Russian vodka. At the top of that list is Stolichnaya, probably the most famous Russian brand.

Video of Russian thugs (many think they’re in cahoots with the authorities) beating up gay rights protesters:

While some doubt Stoli’s Russian credentials, Stoli has bragged for years about its Russian roots.  The company is owned by the one of the 100 richest men in Russia, and is headquartered in Moscow.  And on the Web site of Stoli’s parent company, SPI group, you find the following:

At the SPI Group we are very proud of what we have achieved. In the space of eight years we have taken a disparate group of formerly state-owned companies operating in Russia and the Baltic states and turned them into one of the world’s leading drinks groups. Today we are the biggest exporter of Russian vodka in the world – and one of the most successful groups in our home country.

Now to Nancy’s piece. Do read the entire thing. It’s excellent.  This part, towards the end, is especially good.  She’s responding to the International Olympic Committee’s bizarre claim that it negotiated a deal where Russia’s new anti-gay law might not apply to Olympic-goers:

Had Putin reignited Russia’s abuse of its Jewish citizens, it would have been unthinkable for the IOC to issue a statement suggesting that non-Russian Jewish athletes, pundits, and spectators could go have a blast in Sochi because we’d be spared the anti-Semitic violence sweeping the rest of the country. There’s just no way. The American Jewish community and the Obama administration would have (rightly) enacted trade sanctions instantly. There would have been no statement from the State Department like the one issued the same day as the IOC announcement saying that it does not support a boycott of the games.

So how does a pogrom against LGBT people and our allies pass muster in 2013?

Twenty-first century queers aren’t going to wait quietly for a diplomatic solution while each month more of us are tortured and more of us are murdered. Last month, killers reportedly stabbed and trampled a man to death before putting his body in his car and setting it on fire. Just weeks before, 23-year-old Vladislav Tornovoi’s friends murdered him because he mentioned he was gay while they were getting drunk, according to the BBC. They raped him with beer bottles before smashing his skull in with rocks.

We’ve been here before. And we know the power of economic sanctions and boycotts. When Congress finally came around in 1986 and passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act (overriding President Ronald Reagan’s veto) that banned all new trade and investments in South Africa, other countries followed suit, South Africa’s economy went into free fall. Five years later, its Parliament voted to repeal the legal framework for apartheid.

Nancy’s right.  The only reason we’re seeing any international waffling on ratcheting up the pressure against Moscow is because the victims are gay and trans, and still in 2013, even in the West, discrimination against gay and trans people, while rejected, it often treated as somehow B-List.  Meaning, people (and governments) deplore it, but don’t quite get as outraged as they would if the victim were another traditional minority.

Well, some of us have learned the lessons of history, and particularly Russian history.  As Nancy notes, Putin’s tactics smack of the Soviet years.  And nothing will change in that country unless we make it change.  And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | 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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33 Responses to “How does a pogrom against LGBT people pass muster in 2013?”

  1. Bj Lincoln says:

    They are counting on the fact that LGBT people can’t get it together. Unless it’s a party, how many times do you see us gather? We have shown up in some OK numbers in DC in front of the SCOTUS building and the march on Washington a few years ago was impressive. Otherwise, we count on others to fight our battles. We have people who are afraid to come out, which is not necessary today in the US, so our numbers are not known. We have people who are boot lickers like GoProud and supporters who would rather throw us under the bus than really help.
    We have a handful of people in government on our side but most other government people roll their eyes at the cause or see the hypocrisy at us telling others how to treat their LGBT folks.

    Yes, if they were doing this to ANY other minority, the world would rise up and stop it.
    No one is going to do anything to help stop Russia from this travesty except small crowds of colorful people who they will swat at like flies.

    If no country boycotts the Olympics, our LGBT athletes, families and friends will be in danger. So will every LGBT person and supporter from around the globe who attends. The media will not make this clear, thus placing more people in danger.

    The question is, what can a small colorful group of people do to stop it with out getting hurt?

  2. Mighty says:

    There has to be more we can do. We need a MASSIVE world wide boycott of all things Russian. Stoli is a start but it needs to be across the board. If they make so much as nut or bolt boycott it. We need to do the same with all African countries. This shit is evil and must be stopped.

  3. 1jetpackangel says:

    Remember the Olympics after 9/11, when a whole bunch of people in the stands had little flags with their country on one side and America on the other? Think we can do that again, but half native-country, half rainbow?

  4. BeccaM says:

    I don’t think you’re being paranoid at all.

  5. chris10858 says:

    I might just sound paranoid but perhaps this is how the 2nd Holocaust has started:

    Putin will play nice before the Olympics and use the games to promote Brand Russia and Brand Putin. (Just like Hitler did with the 1936 games.)

    Like Hitler, he will also continue to consolidate his power until all of his opponents are silenced (Russia is just about there already).

    Just like Hitler, he will then began to take harsher steps towards LGBT people, requiring them to register with a central government agency (the KGB?) and limiting their rights such as job types, right to own property, etc…

    Soon, they will need to wear some sort of insignia to let others know they are around so moral Russians can “protect the children” and will require LGBT people to need permission from the government if they want to travel.

    He will then call for a gay ghetto and for all of the nation’s LGBT people to be sent to live there, once again protecting Russian children, families and the Church from the deviants’ influences.

    Soon, trains, buses, and other vehicles will begin shipping the LGBT people to parts of Siberia where Putin sent people to disappear back when he was with the KGB.

    And there they will be slaughtered like lambs until the last gay Russian is no more.

    And so it begins….

    Wait! It’s not too late this time around. We have a chance to stop him and others like him who would kill us and our gay brothers and sisters. The time to act is now.

    Call on President Obama and Secretary Kerry to cite being LGBT in Russia as a condition for requesting political asylum for Russian citizens. Let’s get as many of them here to safety as we can before the mass exterminations begin.

  6. emjayay says:

    That or something too big to throw out everyone from a bunch of countries at the Olympics, or rainbow flag waving by medal winners on the stand. Something big but tasteful like 2 by 3 inch gay flag stickers on jackets of lots of competitors from many countries at the opening ceremonies or something like that. Unfortunately at the closing I think they just put on a multimillion dollar video friendly show with no athletes. I’m hoping the competitors are working on something. Rainbow suspenders would be nice, but not seen under the parkas.

  7. emjayay says:

    I didn’t know about our fine State Department’s reaction to talk of a boycott which Nancy referred to. From the article she linked to:

    “State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on Friday said the U.S. does not support a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, over the country’s LGBT rights record.

    ‘That’s certainly not what we’re calling for,’ she told reporters during her daily press briefing.

    Psaki’s comments come a day after reports emerged of Russian ultra-nationalists torturing gay teenagers whom they met through fake accounts they set up on a social media network.”

    I doubt that John Kerry has declared Hillary’s groundbreaking speech to a UN group about gay rights to be null and void. Jan Psaki could have said something noncommital about a boycott not being a State Department matter, and expressed concern about treatment of gay people in Russia or at least a general support of gay rights, like Hillary did. Her statement is shameful and unnecessary and implies strong official objection to any concerns being expressed about the issue.

    Where is Kerry? Where is Obama?

  8. MyrddinWilt says:

    The objective is to use the olympics as a protest vehicle. I can’t see getting a boycott against the whole games off the ground in the time.

    We might be able to get some of the athletes to boycott the opening and closing ceremonies. But the IOC has rules against making political statements during the games, that could get them disqualified.

    Ideally we need some sort of protest venue that is outside the control of Putin’s mob or the IOC.

  9. MyrddinWilt says:

    No, it is not surprising at all.

    To survive, the Russian Orthodox church allowed itself to be essentially taken over by the KGB as an arm of the state. Joining the church was one of the few early retirement options for burned out KGB operatives. This is all sourced by Victor Sheymov, a Russian KGB defector who actually appointed a few of the priests in his role as chair of one of the KGB party sections.

  10. syradobomako says:

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    Excellent comment. I am of the
    opinion that the Overton Window and Godwin’s Law are mere propaganda
    academic tools to squelch research, factual opinion, and critical
    thinking. In other words: New Speak.

  11. karmanot says:

    Sort of like: “Kilroy was here”?

  12. Bill_Perdue says:

    Brad Manning is now more than ever a hero of the Gay and Antiwar movements.

    He started out as a soldier who took his oath to uphold the Constitution seriously. He tried to end the illegal US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to do what he could to prevent the murders of more civilians and GI’s by the US military murder machine.

    For that he was arrested, tortured by a malicious and resentful Obama Administration. And now he’s been convicted of taking honest steps to end the murder, ironically on the date of the first whistleblower law in US history, passed on July 30, 1778 and stating that it was the ” duty of all persons in the service of the
    United States, as well as all other the inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by an officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”

    EV Debs, founder of my union, socialist and anti-war hero was also convicted of trying to end the reign of terror by the US military murder machine by another right wing Democrat, Wilson, who like Obama, posed as a ‘progressive’ and later betrayed those who voted for him.

    At the end of his trial Debs said “Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. … I have registered my protest against it. I recognize the feebleness of my effort, but, fortunately, I am not alone.”

  13. Thom Allen says:

    Amazing how the orthodox church, suppressed for decades, is now happily sucking former communist ass.

  14. Proud says:

    proud to be Russian, not a fucking gay

  15. Monoceros Forth says:

    To be fair, “Godwin’s Law” in its pure form is merely an observation of fact: an Internet argument that goes on long enough will generate some mention of Naziism. The “hurf durf you mentioned Hitler I win!” interpretation is a later, false innovation.

  16. FLL says:

    Each success is built on the structure of support provided by previous successes. We can see this in the growth of the body of civil rights law in the American judiciary, and the same dynamic is at work in the efforts to halt the march to madness in Russia. A complete boycott of the Olympics by an alliance of friendly governments that includes the U.S. would be spectacular. But that complex goal at this late date requires the support of an intermediate step, which can only be a successful campaign to convince corporate sponsors of the Olympics to withdraw the financial support and marketing that only contribute to the international prestige of Putin’s regime. Western corporations that sponsor the Olympics are partners in the brutal campaign of murder and repression that is unfolding before our eyes. Throw the kitchen sink at these companies until they understand that their financial support and marketing is at odds with basic human decency.

    There can be no clearer warning of impending tragedy on a historic scale than the rumors in Russian political circles that the regime wants to pass a law taking children away from their adoptive and biological parents, based on the sexuality of those parents. No country in history, with only the rarest exceptions of mass psychosis, has ever considered anything of the sort. This way lies concentration camps. I honestly believe that people in the democratic world acting in unison are a bulwark that could prevent a tragedy of untold proportions. No one asked for this fight or even remotely expected it, but history is thrusting it on all of us, here in the U.S. and throughout the world. A campaign to enlist the support of privately owned corporations is the next logical step.

  17. usagi says:

    I’ve said to anyone questioning the Stoli boycott, it’s just a proof of concept for the Olympic sponsors.

  18. samizdat says:

    Funny you should mention Kangaroo Court, k. That’s just the comparison I made when I commented on the article. Oddly enough, there were quite a number of people who rose in stout defense of Pfc. Manning. (including myself)

    Free Bradley Manning!

    A little aside: there’s a song put out by the Special Aka called “Free Nelson Mandela” . Bradley Manning fits in right nice in stead of Mr. Mandela’s name. (Sound only; the official vid had a pre-loaded ad)

  19. Rambie says:

    Agreed, going after more sponsors and other Russian companies must be the next steps. Let’s keep the pressure on.

  20. Naja pallida says:

    Russia has been doing that pretending since the earliest days of the czars when they so badly wanted to join with the western European aristocracies, but just couldn’t manage to shed their paranoia long enough to be considered little more than the crazy, abusive uncle that everyone is afraid will do something horrible at the family reunion. They’re still working on basic human rights. If we see any movement on gay rights out of Putin, it will be nothing short of a miracle.

  21. AnitaMann says:

    Agreed. Putin and his henchmen are waging a full-on assault.

  22. karmanot says:

    Breaking story of the year! Manning done in by unjust Kangaroo Court as expected. Stalin smiles: America, land of the torturers and home of the neo-stasi.

  23. karmanot says:

    Excellent comment. I am of the opinion that the Overton Window and Godwin’s Law are mere propaganda academic tools to squelch research, factual opinion, and critical thinking. In other words: New Speak.

  24. karmanot says:

    Coke is a bright red target.

  25. karmanot says:

    Tea Time Justice Troll

  26. karmanot says:

    These articles are great! It’s going to be a long stretch to the Olympics, but I hope AB follows through to the end. When Gaius gets back, maybe he can do the European think on this.

  27. Badgerite says:

    I think maybe for the opening ceremonies they should have some thugs running around in the oval of the stadium beating up on some hapless LBGT person. And put it on a large screen for all to see and see how many athletes stay around for the games. See how many sponsors think that that is just fine. I am assuming their brutal tactics apply to gay women as well so they could have a group of KGB thugs beating on a woman as well.

  28. BeccaM says:

    The difference: Russia pretends to First World nation status, exports products all over the world, is a charter member of the International Space Station, and is being rewarded by being allowed to host the winter Olympics.

    Standing up for gay rights is in no way “pitting groups against one another.” Who are the ‘other groups’ whose causes are being harmed because we object to Russia’s anti-gay pogrom?

    Or are you the classic troll, where everybody else’s injustices must be addressed first before gays are allowed out from under the bus?

  29. samizdat says:

    Completely OT:

    “Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy”

  30. TeaTime says:

    I was in agreement until, “Meaning, people (and governments) deplore it, but don’t quite get as
    outraged as they would if the victim were another traditional minority.” Based on? Another subtle attempt to pit groups against one another, Your plight is covered but mine isn’t. Why are you covering them? You must care about them more.

    Yes, minorities around the world, particularly in Africa, have garnered so much PR. When is the last time the main-stream media covered a story about the 100s of thousands of deaths in Somalia, Darfur, or the Sudan (2011-2013) with activities of al Qaeda-linked Islamist group al-Shabaab — hindering
    humanitarian aid and access.

  31. kladinvt says:

    I think we should target all the Olympic sponsors now, to either pull out of their sponsorship agreements or at least use the power of their $$$ to force some sort of change. What corporate-citizen wants their products associated with a pogrom?

  32. BeccaM says:

    ‘Pogrom’ is the correct word to be using for this.

    Another quote from Nancy Goldstein’s article is especially chilling:

    Next up: it’s rumored that a soon-to-be-enacted law will remove Russian children from the homes of their Russian parents, biological or adoptive, if they are, or are suspected to be, LGBT.

    At the risk of going Overton, I’m sure Hitler’s Nazis took pains to assure the IOC that Jewish and non-Aryan athletes would be exempt from the atrocities they were already committing against German citizens.

    Russia’s anti-gay oppression truly has crossed the line into pogrom, and I daresay down this road lies concentration camps and genocide.

    Another salient point:

    So it’s no surprise that Stolichnaya, which is freaking out over the boycott, is running a disinformation campaign where it tries to convince the public that it’s not actually Russian vodka because it’s currently distilled and bottled in Latvia. Nice try, guys, but the label on the bottle says “Russian vodka” (three times), you’re owned by Yuri Scheffler, one of the 100 richest men in Russia, your vodka is made from Russian products, and you’ve taken great pains to market Stoli as the iconic Russian vodka.

    Stoli wouldn’t be famous and a top seller worldwide if the label said, “Latvian Vodka*.”

    * = “pay no attention to the fact this vodka is made entirely with Russian products, its profits go to a Russia-based and Russian citizen-owned company, and the name itself is licensed by the Russian government.”

  33. Bill_Perdue says:

    The same way DOMA passed muster in 1996, spearheaded by Bill Clinton.

    The same way almost 40 states adopted versions of Bill Clintons DOMA from 2000 until just recently, spearheaded by Bush and Rove.

    The same way Prop 8 passed in California in 2008 aided by the bigotry of Barack Obama who galvanized the bigot vote when he said ‘gawd’s in the mix.’

    We need to fight the new anti-gay laws in the RF, they’ve already led to the lynchings of two gay men, one in Volgograd and one in Kamchatka.

    We need to continue to press for the passage ENDA or a CRA and to demand that Congress – Democrats and Republicans alike – repeal Section Two of DOMA. DOMA is the origin of countless murders of GLBT folks over the years.

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