This weekend, Rebecca Parks, Associate Director, HRC Global, spoke at the inaugural LGBTQ Conference at Harvard University.  Becky gave a detailed presentation on the export of homophobia by American extremists to Russia and the devastating consequences that has had for LGBT Russians.   Here’s some of what she shared:

As anti-gay activists have lost much of their standing here in the U.S., Russia has become a hospitable home for them.  In fact, more than a dozen American leaders traveled to Russia last year alone to meet with government officials and praise the anti-gay “propaganda” law and other efforts to crack down on LGBT rights. 

In June of last year, Brian Brown traveled to Russia to address the Dumato support a bill that not only bans adoption by same sex couples, but also bans adoption of Russian children by all couples or single people from countries where gay marriage is legal.  Days after Brown’s trip,Putin signed this bill into law, leaving hundreds of thousands of Russian orphans with even fewer options for finding families.  In his speech to the Duma, Brown called this act of cruelty a defense of children’s “normal civil rights.”  Brown was just the latest in a long line of Americans to visit Russia and meet with members of the Duma and other policymakers.  In fact, Brown liked it so much that he returned in October with a delegation of a dozen other Americans to hold planning meetings for an upcoming international social conservative conference to be held in Moscow. 

Perhaps the most notorious American who has insinuated himself in the Russian “traditional values” movement is Scott Lively.  Lively is currently facing a civil trial in Massachusetts for his role in promoting the “kill the gays” bill in Uganda, and he has been a prominent supporter of anti-LGBT laws across Eastern Europe as well. Lively first visited Russia in 2007 and held a 50 city speaking tour of the former Soviet Union where he advocated for various anti-gay measures.  Far right activists like Lively are able to reach policymakers and an audience overseas that they are unable to access at home where their work has been thoroughly debunked and discredited.  Now that the propaganda bill has become law, he has claimed some of the credit for himself and speaks of Russia as a “model for the rest of the world.”  Lively was most recently in Russia in October 2013 when he appeared on television with the head of the Orthodox Patriarch’s Commission on the Family and repeated one of his most outrageous claims, that gay men were responsible for the Holocaust.

As outrageous as the rhetoric from figures like Lively is, it’s not just fringe characters who have come to love Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  More mainstream rightwing figures with huge audiences, like Matt Drudgeand Rush Limbaugh have also praised the Putin regime.  Pat Buchananalso penned a recent op-ed claiming that in a world where America has lost its moral bearings, Putin deserves praise for re-establishing the Orthodox Church as “the moral compass of the nation.”  

The embrace of Russian “traditional values” by some social conservatives is not a short term project.  As far back as 1998, broadcasters at “Focus on the Family” were claiming that the Russian Federation had one of the largest audiences for their television broadcasts in the world and World Congress of Families leaders have been visiting  on a regular basis since at least the mid-90s.  The culmination of this project may come later this year at the World Congress of Families, an international conference of social conservatives which is going to be held at the Kremlin in September.  Organizers of this conference have promised to “redeem” the Kremlin building by hosting anti-gay and anti-abortion activists from dozens of countries around the world and one of the sessions will introduce conservative parliamentarians from around the world to the author of the Russian propaganda ban, Yelena Mizulina.

As their movement has suffered defeat after defeat here at home and the tide of public opinion has clearly shifted in favor of equality, these American activists are urging us to emulate the “traditional values” of Putin’s Russia.   However they are conveniently ignoring the facts about life in Russia:  the country has some of the highest divorce rate in the world, human trafficking is on the rise and LGBT people face horrific violence on a regular basis.  Laws like the “propaganda” ban have had real consequences in Russia – an increase in violence against LGBT spaces and people, an uptick in immigration and asylum requests from Russian LGBT citizens, and a pervasive sense of fear throughout the Russian LGBT community and its allies.

One of the primary goals of the Human Rights Campaign’s new initiative – HRC Global -- is to track and debunk these exporters of intolerance.  We’re also working to create awareness of international LGBT issues here in the US and collaborating with dedicated advocates across the globe.  I really look forward to continuing these conversations throughout the year as we keep moving forward with that project.

Filed under: International

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