Russophile No More

Vladimir Putin, we're breaking up

Hey, Vlad. Two things. First, I’m mad at you.

Since I’m gay, you could’ve guessed as much. But I’ve really got to get this off my chest, because I don’t think you understand how deep this goes.

As a child of the Cold War, Russia’s been a big part in my worldview for ages. I’ve yet to meet anyone else who paid to see 1985’s Soviet-sympathetic Letter to Brezhnev in the theater. As a high school student, no less. By the way, the movie could now be considered illegal in Russia in case anyone makes out the gay-affirming Bronski Beat lyrics during the disco scene. You’ve let things get that bad.

In college, electing to take ”Soviet studies,” we students were preoccupied wondering which states would be on the final, as they broke away one by one. That was just to tip of my Russo-tinged higher education, really having a great interest in Mother Russia. Your country gave us the first manmade satellite and the first woman in space, Fyodor Dostoevsky and the avant-garde OBERIU. And Stalin, of course. Some of you Russians really do adore your strongmen, the line of which you’ve now joined for eternity.

Miriam Elder, foreign editor for BuzzFeed, summed your likely motivation adroitly in her Aug. 1 piece, ”Why Russia Turned Against The Gays: Valdimir Putin’s new campaign for national – and political – survival.”

”Demonizing gays allows Putin to tell the ‘heartland': I will protect you and your ‘traditional’ families; you are the real Russia,” Elder writes, in part. ”It also grows suspicion of the liberal opposition, presented as fundamentally ‘un-Russian’ as they stand up increasingly for gay rights amid Putin’s growing crackdown.”

To maintain your grip, you’ve allowed a country that had plenty to be proud of to turn to scapegoating LGBT Russians. First you came for Pussy Riot, then you came for the gays…. Add more to the national shame pile.

Grudgingly, however, I must throw some thanks your way, too.

With the repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” gay-supportive ballot victories and the Supreme Court backing marriage equality, I worried that American gays and lesbians might take a break. Looks like I was worried for nothing. Here I was fretting that my queer countrymen might have had their fill of activism for a spell, when you come along and announce it’s open season on our Russian LGBT comrades.

Sure, there are internal debates. To boycott (Winter Olympics in Russia, Stolichnaya, U.S. companies doing business in Russia), or not to boycott? With this level of outrage over Russia’s latest, who can’t excuse some inflamed passions?

You might throw your hands up and complain, ”Why me? Russia’s not so bad. Look at Saudi Arabia! Look at Zimbabwe! Look at Iran!”

You have a point. But activism is tricky. If treating LGBT people inhumanely is your status quo, civilized people will be mad. If you fall backward, however, civilized people become furious. Just ask Uganda. It’s hard work trying to push the whole world forward, so backsliding cannot be tolerated.

Speaking of the whole world, thanks again. The Russian reversal hasn’t just prodded LGBT-and-allied Americans, but civilized folks worldwide. Activists may bicker over strategy, but just as you’ve helped create an environment hostile to gays, you’ve created a global community that is hostile to you. The biggest difference, of course, is that you are a genuine threat to humanity’s well-being, versus the scapegoat you’ve made of LGBT Russians. So, thanks for that.

And a big P.S.: Please, for everyone’s sake, would you quit with the shirtless Vladimir of the Russian Wilderness ”he-man-goes a’ huntin”’ pics? If ever there was a brand of ”propaganda” in need of a ban, that’s the one.

Will O’Bryan is Metro Weekly‘s managing editor. Reach him at wobryan@MetroWeekly.com or follow him on Twitter @wobryan.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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