Like many Americans, particularly us gay Americans, I have watched a few of the videos circulating that show neo-Nazis in Russia brutally tricking, stalking, harassing, bullying, torturing, and humiliating gay teens. I was especially disturbed and angered by a photo showing two smug-looking guys dressed posing proudly next to a humiliated young man they apparently just tortured as if they were hunters standing beside their trophy.
Russian gay activists report a dramatic increase in violence against gays these past few weeks, carried out by people motivated and inspired by antigay words, attitudes and policies. Not only does Russian president Vladimir Putin speak harshly against gays and support antigay laws, but also Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, refers to same-sex couples as a "sign of the Apocalypse." Such potent words and policies can provoke horrific actions. A few weeks ago a 23-year-old gay man was murdered in Volgograd. Beer bottles were stuffed up his anus, his penis was cut off, and his head was smashed in with a rock.
As Advocate columnist Neal Broverman points out in a recent op-ed, similar atrocities are happening elsewhere in the world. He tells of Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe's call for the "decapitation" of gays. A gay activist in Cameroon was recently brutally tortured and killed. In Nigeria, where being gay is already illegal, a law is being considered that would imprison people for 14 years if caught in a same-sex relationship.
It's infuriating and frustrating to read about and watch the horrifying human rights violations being carried out against innocent people in lands so far away simply because of who they are and genetically wired to be, yet feeling so helpless knowing that there's not a whole lot we can do.
Ironically, I harbor regrets about policies I was naively part of while serving as a young U.S. marine during the height of the so-called Cold War when Russia was deemed the "Evil Empire" by then-President Reagan. We were geared up for war for all the wrong reasons. Now the marine in me wishes we could send well-trained troops into Russia to protect innocent lives. I'd be the first to volunteer. But I also know violent responses to violence usually just fuel more violence. Anger-induced revenge fantasies accomplish nothing.
But what to do?
Many of us do what we can and at least help increase awareness. Calls to boycott Russian vodka and the Olympics are, if nothing else, definitely bringing needed attention to the atrocities occurring in Russia. But we Americans cannot really expect to have much direct influence on foreign politics and policies, right?
At least that's what I thought. A U.S. citizen named Scott Lively claims otherwise.
An attorney, pastor, self-proclaimed "human rights consultant," founder and president of Defend the Family International and the president of Abiding Truth Ministries in Springfield, Mass., Lively conducted a 50-city speaking tour of Russia six years ago, and he says current antigay laws reflect policies that he advocated at the time when he urged Russia to "criminalize" what he calls the public advocacy of homosexuality (a policy he has unsuccessfully push in the United States as well).
"The purpose of my visit was to bring a warning about the homosexual political movement which has done much damage to my country," Lively wrote in an open letter to Russian citizens. "This is a very fast-growing social cancer that will destroy the family foundations of your society if you do not take immediate, effective action to stop it."
He said such actions would make Russia a "model pro-family society" and suggested that "people from the West would begin to emigrate to Russia in the same way that Russians used to emigrate to the United States and throughout Europe." (Lively is also the coauthor of a book titled The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party, which claims that "homosexuals are the true inventors of Nazism and the guiding force behind many Nazi atrocities.")
Lively's not the only U.S. citizen fueling the flames of discrimination, intolerance, hate, and violence against gays in Russia and elsewhere.
Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, based in Naperville, Ill., has written, "Russians do not want to follow America's reckless and decadent promotion of gender confusion, sexual perversion, and anti-biblical ideologies to youth."
The World Congress of Families, based in Rockford, Ill., is planning to hold its eighth international conference at the Kremlin's Palace of Congresses in Moscow next year.
"Russia, with its historic commitment to deep spirituality and morality, can be a hope for the natural family supporters from all over the world," reads a statement on the organization's website.
Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (yes, the group actually have the hypocritical audacity to use the words "human rights" in its name), laments the fact that such laws can't be passed in our nation.
"You admire some of the things they're doing in Russia against propaganda," Ruse says. The institute, which has offices in New York and Washington, D.C., is seeking accreditation from the United Nations, yet it claims the U.N. is "risking credibility" by pushing for support of gay rights. Nonetheless, Ruse plans to travel to Russia to meet with government officials and civic leaders. "We want to let them know they do in fact have support among American NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] on social issues," he says.
Stefano Gennarini, also of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, speaks favorably of Russia's new antigay laws and refers to parades, rallies and protests in support of gay equality as "ludicrous and disturbing behavior on show in the squares and streets of Europe and America." (I couldn't find comments from him about the disturbing behavior of stalking, harassing, beating, torturing, and murdering innocent gay people in the squares and streets of Europe.) Instead, he says, people in other regions, such as Africa and the Islamic world, might "look to Russia as a positive example when considering laws of their own."
How do these so-called Christians sleep at night? Are they oblivious to or in denial about or perhaps actually satisfied with the discrimination, intolerance, hate, violence, and suffering to which their words and actions contribute? Do they truly believe that the Christ they worship -- the Christ who, from my understanding, advocated for peace, love, nonjudgment, tolerance, and acceptance -- would be pleased with them?
I would never advocate for violence against these people, nor deny them their constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion. But can they, should they, be held accountable in some manner?
President Obama has said he would make gay rights a part of his foreign policy, and Secretary of State John Kerry says, "We just have to keep standing up for tolerance and for diversity." Perhaps I'm just too angry and frustrated, and I know I'm treading on tricky ground, but when U.S. citizens and organizations travel to foreign countries and help promote and incite intolerance, discrimination, bigotry, hate, and violence, are they violating any U.S. laws? Can they legally work against our own nation's stated interests and foreign policy? Aren't these people "aiding and abetting the enemy?" Can their actions be considered traitorous? Shouldn't it be illegal to export antigay discrimination, intolerance, hate, and violence from the United States?
Scott Lively has already been sued in U.S. federal court by a Uganda-based gay-rights group accusing him of promoting and influencing laws to persecute gays in that country -- some versions under consideration called for the death penalty in some cases. Lively is working to have the case dismissed. Perhaps this is more of my anger-induced revenge fantasies, but I hope the case is not dismissed. I hope he loses a significant amount of money and credibility. I hope more and similar lawsuits are filed against him and others. I so badly want these people held accountable for the suffering for which they are partly responsible. Can they at least be denied their nonprofit, tax-exempt status?
In addition to boycotting vodka and the Olympics, we should do everything and anything we can to help draw attention to and create awareness about the appalling, horrific consequences of the words and actions of people such as Scott Lively, Peter LaBarbera, Austin Ruse, and Stefano Gennarini and the organizations they work for - people and organization right here in our own country.
If nothing else, I want them to tell us how they feel. I want to see and hear their reactions. I want to see the looks on their faces and hear their thoughts, if or when they watch the videos circulating around the Internet showing neo-Nazis in Russia brutally tricking, stalking, harassing, bullying, torturing, and humiliating gay teens. I want to know what happens when they look at the photo showing two smug-looking guys posing proudly next to a humiliated young man they apparently just tortured as if they were hunters standing beside their trophy, and hear about a 23-year-old gay man being murdered, having beer bottles shoved up his anus, his penis cut off, and his head smashed in with a rock.