Around the World, homosexuality is illegal in 78 countries. In five of those countries being homosexual is punishable by death. However the country to recently catch the attention of the international community was Russia.
In 1917, under the new leadership of Vladimir Lenin in the newly formed USSR, homosexuality was legalised for the first time since 1832. However it was short-lived because under the rule of Joseph Stalin, homosexuality was recriminalised in 1934. It was legalised once again in 1993.
Earlier this year, the World watched as Russia hosted the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The Games were seen as controversial because in June 2013, the Kremlin passed a federal law dubbed the “Gay Propaganda Law”, which bans homosexuality being promoted to “minors”. This law as well as the actions of the Russian police and comments by Russian politicians are the reason Russia was deemed the worst country in Europe for LGBTQ rights by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association- Europe’s Rainbow List 2014. The ILGA-Europe gave Russia just 6% overall, but judging to have 0% on freedom of assembly, association and expression for LGBTQ people, safe asylum, protection against discrimination and protection under the law and protection from hate crime.
The United Kingdom was deemed the best country in Europe for LGBTQ rights with a score of 82%, followed closely by Belgium on 78% and Spain on 73%.
Liz Mackean, a journalist who presented Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary, Hunted, which shows how LGBTQ Russians were being treated since the passing of the propaganda law last year, said that attitudes in Russia towards LGBTQ people were unlikely to change.
She said that it was engrained in their culture and viewpoint. “That is the kind of default mentality of most Russians, which is that something is wrong with being gay. And that anyone who is has essentially something wrong with them…. There is no sign of that default mindset changing.”
The documentary, Hunted showed vigilante groups feeling enabled by the ‘Gay Propaganda Law’ because they appeared to connect homosexuality with pedophilia and therefore used the excuse of protecting children as justification for hunting down LGBTQ Russians. Liz believes that the message that homosexuality and pedophilia is linked and is being reinforced by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Guardian reported Russian President Vladimir Putin said in the run up to the Sochi Olympic Games that "We are not forbidding anything and nobody is being grabbed off the street, and there is no punishment for such kinds of relations...You can feel relaxed and calm [in Russia], but leave children alone please". With the Russian President reinforcing that connection it is no surprise that the vigilante groups in Russia feel able to continue hunting LGBTQ Russians.
It appears that LGBTQ Russians are going to be oppressed even more by the Russian government, Orthodox Church and by the Russian populace as a whole because as Liz Mackean suggests, “To most Russians, homosexuality remains this weird perversion.”
Uganda made homosexuality illegal in 1902 and it has remained that way ever since. However on the 20th December 2013, the Parliament of Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, which dropped the death penalty in favour of life imprisonment for any homosexual. However in August this year, the Constitutional Court of Uganda ruled the law invalid because it had no passed through parliament with the correct procedures. Now anti-gay MPs are attempting to reintroduce the bill through the correct procedure.
In the United States of America, homosexuality only became legalised across the entire country in 2003. This was after the United States Supreme Court ruled that State Sodomy Laws were unconstitutional, breaking the 14th Amendment in Lawrence vs Texas 2003. The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution states that no one is denied equal protection under the law.
Since then the LGBTQ community has come a long way in securing more rights and in June 2013, while Russia was oppressing LGBTQ people, the United States Supreme Court repealed section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. This meant that there was full federal recognition of same-sex marriage and that it would allow homosexuals and bisexuals to marry their same-sex partner in any state that had deemed it legal. Currently 19 states have legalised it as well as the District of Columbia.
The documentary Bridegroom tells the story of two gay young men. Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom (who the film is named after). It tells their story from childhood through their coming out stages to meeting each other, falling in love and eventually to Tom’s death and the aftermath that was caused. The film ends with Shane, because he was not married to Tom, having no rights concerning what happened to Tom’s body and funeral despite being his long term partner, living together and owning a dog together. In the documentary, a mutual friend of both Shane’s and Tom’s, Josh said, “They were living the American Dream with the exception of being able to get married to each other.”
In February this year, some states in America attempted to introduce legislation that was dubbed “Gay Jim Crow” Laws. These laws would effectively allow anyone including businesses and government officials the right to refuse to serve LGBTQ people on the grounds of religion. Kansa was the first to attempt passing this sort of bill when the bill passed through the State’s House of Representatives with a large majority, but was later crushed in the state senate. Other bills appeared in the states of Georgia, South Dekota, Tennessee and Arizona. All the bills were defeated and the Governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer personally vetoed the controversial law.
Even in the World’s most powerful nation, which has the word liberty stamped on its currency, can attempt to introduce legislation that would directly discriminate and oppress LGBTQ, while it criticises other countries like Russia and Uganda for doing so.