Obama About to Truly Learn the Plight of Russia's Gay Population

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This week, President Obama will be attending the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he'll meet with world leaders and see Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time in person since snubbing him last month. To Putin's chagrin, Obama will also be meeting with Russian gay groups for the first time since Putin signed the country's onerous anti-gay measures into law. The G20 Summit begins on Thursday. 

Obama's meeting with Russian gay advocacy groups is not going to go over well with Putin. We won't be at the meeting, but we hope Obama's takeaways include the following:

Kids Can't Talk About Their Gay Parents

The gay propaganda law is vague and broad. And because of that, it's largely subjective and gives authorities an open field if they want to punish people. Here's what that law actually looks like (translated by Policy Mic): 

Propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations. 

For gay people and their allies, the law's vagueness makes life acutely difficult, since words like "attractive" and "interest" are purely subjective and can mean anything ranging from telling minors gay people exist to talking about how there are actually good gay people in the world (some of whom — gasp! — were Russian).

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An especially sad feature of Putin's homophobic law is that it makes life tough for kids of gay parents, who now have to be closeted about their families — and whose parents are very likely breaking the law simply by being parents who are gay. "Technically, my mothers are breaking the law by propagating their relationship to me," Kristina Kochetkova, a 17-year-old college student, told Bloomberg. Kochetkova said she would not be telling her new college classmates about her family.  

And it affects parents, too. "I get jumpy when my son tells strangers that he has two mommies," Sasha Semenova told Bloomberg. "It’s dangerous because I don’t know who may be listening," she added. 

The Anti-Gay Climate Is Worse Than It Was During the Soviet Union

"Even back in the USSR, where homosexuality was a criminal offense, gays were treated better than they are now in Russia," club owner Andrei Tanichev told the BBC, explaining that people are now treating LGBT individuals like criminals. 

That's the effect of the country's anti-gay laws—they have essentially given license to the Russian populace to express hatred for homosexuals. There are videos of Russian gay people getting attacked, abused, and in one case, an attempt to "cure" a person of their sexual orientation by drinking urine. The BBC reports: 

There is evidence of that attitude in a series of shocking videos posted online by a Russian vigilante group. In one, a man is being forced to drink urine to "cure him" of being a homosexual.

A Russian anti-gay vigilante video shows a victim forced to drink urine

Then a metal bucket is placed over the man's head and hit with what looks like a baseball bat and a police truncheon.

Attack like these have led many gay Russians to live their lives in secrecy.

Some gay people have simply gone incognito. "Many gay people have changed how they dress, they've removed earrings, changed their hairstyles, to avoid having problems," Tanichev said, explaining the measures people have taken to look less like homosexuals.

The Anti-Gay Measures Are Just Beginning

Yes, it's bad already, as Obama will surely learn later this week. But he should also be aware that the anti-gay measures aren't stopping. The country's lawmakers are now contemplating banning gay people from organ donation and working on a bill that would offer free "ex-gay" or gay conversion "therapy" to gay and lesbian Russians. Studies have found these "therapies" to be harmful. But they are part of Russian MP Mikhail Degtyarev's and his colleagues' vision for gays to "return to normal life and become heterosexuals, as are 95 to 99 percent of our citizens." He said in an interview with RT.

Obama's meeting with gay-rights groups will be a good start to pushing back against Putin's state-sanctioned homophobia. But a meeting alone won't solve much.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.