Saturday 7 April 2012

Save Our Souls

In the news...St. Petersburg passes a law that prohibits dissemination of propaganda on homosexuality and places it in the same category as paedophilia.

A Russian actress, Faina Ranevskya, legendary for her piercing sense of humour, has once remarked on the subject of totalitarian states that ‘woeful is that country where one in control his own ass’. Pun fully intended, Russia’s relationship with homosexuality has been fraught not only in the Soviet times, when Stalin introduced Article 121 that presupposed up to five years in prison for sodomy but also, most recently, when gay pride parades have been either prohibited, or assaulted by both the police and anti-gay activists. I have written on this subject before, disgusted and appalled by the ignorance and sheer horror of some of the social mis-and preconceptions about gay people in Russia. But as recently as this month, a new shocking development has taken place: on April 7th, 2012 the mayor of St. Petersburg has approved a law that prohibits public propaganda of homosexuality – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender AND paedophilia – among children and your adults.

The law punishes any ‘action of direct and lawless dissemination through publically accessible means of information’ which can ‘harm the health, moral and spiritual development of young people’, quotes the daily Kommersant. So far the punishment implies a 5,000 rouble (just over 100GPB) fine for individuals, 50,000 for officials and from 250,000-500,000 (up to 10,500GBP) for judicial figures. Paedophilia is more expensive: 500,000-1,000,000 (about 20,000GBP) for the top bracket. But apart from a small monetary difference, the authors did not seem to notice that they coupled one of the most heinous crimes known to man with homosexuality. So far, this law is active in three Russian cities, St. Petersburg being the largest, but as of March 29th a petition has been presented to the state Duma (Russian parliament) demanding universal application. Proponents of the litigation insist that it is not aimed at gay individuals – after all, there is nothing wrong with being gay. The idea is to prevent incitement to join their (presumably) unholy ranks by the vulnerable, sexually-undecided teenagers. Because clearly in a country almost wholly dependent on high oil prices for survival, a failing educational system, a virtually non-existent production industry and lack of health care, an individual sexual preference is what really matters.

To be fair on the government, it is faced with low birth rates and a plummeting demographic, and has already issued monetary incentives for couples to marry and have children. Stalin’s 1934 decree was issued in response to very similar reports. The country needs fresh blood, and condoning homosexuality is not the way to get there. In the words of Vitaly Milonov, a deputy behind the litigation, he has nothing whatsoever against gays: he has gay friends, listens to Elton John (who in Russia doesn’t?) – but he just cannot accept it as a social norm. He cites a dubious statistic: 50% of men in Berlin have had at least one sexual encounter, which is unprecedented. This experimentation is not bad in itself - but only if it happens ONCE. Because - are you ready for this? – ‘according to criminologists who deal with serial killers and homosexuals crimes, after a second or third contact with a partner of the same sex, the human psyche changes so much that he become gay.’ So to hell with all the medical evidence: in Russia, homosexuality is like heroin – try it more than once, and you’re hooked. And in a country with one of the world’s highest consumption of opiates in the world, they should know.

Now, Russia media – particularly television, is full of calls to protect our children. Talk shows aimed at housewives are abundant on every channel, filled with blood-chilling stories of child abuse and brutal murders. And these are the reported cases, concerning heterosexual families, which make Britain’s Baby P. scandal look tame. In light of this social disintegration, caused increasingly by drugs and alcohol, the ‘Historical Process’ panel talk show aired on Russia1 on April 4 to discuss the propaganda laws is a shocking example of blindness, ignorance and – to me – pure toxic evil.

The show’s host, Dmitry Kiselev, a (previously) well-respected journalist, opened the discussion with the declaration that the aims by the gay and lesbian community to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights, along with protests from Westerners like Madonna, are neither ‘hot nor cold’: he says that it is not enough to fine people for homosexual propaganda among youngsters. ‘We must prohibit them from donating blood, sperm and their hearts – in a case of a traffic accident – must be buried in the ground, or burned as unfit for continuation of someone else’s life’. A middle-aged woman in the background shrugs, and applause fills the studio. There seems nothing else to say after this – after all, these word would be condemned as incitement to hatred anywhere this side of the commonsensical. But there are another 90 nauseating minutes left.

‘I empathise with homosexuals,’ declares Kiselev. ‘I do not wish such a fate upon my sons and daughters’. He goes on to cite Western sources on the subject: 78% of homosexual men feel themselves less happy than his heterosexual counterparts, 75% of lesbians experience depression and require psychological help, homosexuals are six times more likely to attempt suicide – as he says, ‘not everything is healthy or happy there’. He goes on to suggest that an average gay man has between a hundred and five hundred sexual partners, while between 10-15% have over a 1,000 and that many of these encounter take place with strangers…in the dark. Only 2% exercise their right to civil partnership in Holland – so the desire for family amongst gays is a myth. And, most importantly, a study conducted in countries with high gender equality, that psychological problems experienced by homosexuals are internal, rather than socially affected – their persecution is not the issue. Then he goes on to praise the FDA ban on gay blood, sperm and donor donation from MSM – ‘men who have sex with men’ – his favourite point.

There is no use delving into the medical accuracy of these claims. It is well known that psychological studies are usually contested and there are many ways of looking at the same statistic that produces very different conclusions. Anyway. Indeed, the ban on blood donations exists – in a number of countries including Britain, America and Canada (where a ban on MSM organ donation has just been introduced in 2008). What he does not mention, is that the FDA and the British Blood Service have been debating repealing this law, as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C tests become faster and more reliable. This law dates back to the 1980s, where homosexual men represented a high-risk group – understandably so. According to the Canadian Globe and Mail, there have been documented cases of contracting HIV through a transplant – four in Chicago as recently as 2007. But my question, and one that is asked by many gay rights activists is this: how are men in committed relationships less trustworthy than their promiscuous heterosexual counterparts? While the authorities debate these issues, and have yet not voted for the lifting of the ban, it is up to the society to take stock of its values and weigh individual actions, not groups. But perhaps these are just my Western liberal notions that, as Deputy Milonov thinks, are aimed at destroying universal human values.

The part that makes me cringe most is the one about the hearts. Kiselev goes on and on about how in America these are burned or buried as unfit for transplants. Apparently, this is on the FDA website. I looked. All I could find was a Donor Screening section on the FDA website, which states that 90% of donors are immediately rejected ‘up-front’ as ‘unsuitable’. Maybe my internet research skills are poor, but all I could find when I typed in ‘gay organs destroyed’ into Google, was a string of anti-gay anathema that I was not willing to explore. This attitude that puts gays on the same platform as vampires, whose very essence must be destroyed to protect the human race, is so vile and ludicrous, that it seems only superfluous to write about. It would have been, had this programme not been broadcast on prime time television.

In his final remarks, the host brings up the violent, cruel world of the gay community – the death of the advisor to President Sarkozy, Richard Descoings in a hotel in New York being the most recent example. He was found dead, naked, with drugs and alcohol in the room, and he was gay. But what about the violence and cruelty of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, not that long ago, and not very far away? There is a bar that shows number of people calling or texting their support for either side. At the end of the show, Kiselev and his ‘witnesses’ have 34,970 votes. The other side, represented by famous film directors, journalists and historians, earned a meagre 7,577. Their argument that this law, aside from its hateful undertones of discrimination, factually de-criminalises paedophilia by placing a relative small fine on it advertising that fills that Russian internet, fell on deaf ears.

What makes this whole story so repugnant, is the fact that all the statistics of gay repression are cited not in sympathy or calls for change. No. They are used to urge the society to protect its children from a horrible fate, a disease – an appellation. The actual litigation is much milder in nature than the underlying sentiments, which is the horrifying thought. Unfortunately, it is not limited to Russia. The Rolling Stone recently carried an article about Minnesota ‘No Homo Promo’ laws that prohibited teachers from talking about homosexuality in any form in public – a confusing decree that led to teachers being forced to ignore gay children being bullied, and let to a spike in teenage suicides. The human being in me, looking around at a world plagued by war, poverty, famine, disease and environmental issues, takes all this very personally. This litigation is not a case for morality, justice or even plain sexual health safety. This is a case for ignorance coupled with cruelty and disregard for what makes us people – people whose souls, and not whose backsides, need saving.

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