The world’s eyes are on Russia.
That’s probably little surprise, since the country is set to host the Winter Olympics next month. But its anti-gay policies threaten to distract from the Olympic pageantry as a government crackdown on LGBT activists raises global ire.
Last year, the Russian parliament approved a ban on what it termed “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations,” targeted at minors. The terminology might be vague, but the consequences are proving severe: The laws have thrown the country’s LGBT community into a state of fear, essentially freezing their free-speech rights.
The laws are propelled by swelling anti-gay sentiment, partially incited by the powerful Russian Orthodox Church. The church made headlines again today after its spokesman called for a national referendum on the total criminalization of homosexuality.
“I am convinced that such sexual contacts should be completely excluded from the life of our society,” Vsevolod Chaplin told the press.
He added, “If we manage to do this through moral pressure, all the better. But if we need to revert to assistance from the law, then let us ask the people if they are ready for this.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Russia criminalized same-sex relationships; Josef Stalin made the same move during his oppressive tenure in power. But why would Russia consider such a regressive move now?
The answer is complex, but part of the answer can be found close to home: American fundamentalist missionaries have been active in Russia, and they haven’t just been spreading the gospel.
“Yes, I think I influenced the Russian law,” Scott Lively recently told NBC recently. Lively, a minister based in Massachusetts, is the author of The Pink Swastika, which pins blame for the Holocaust on gay men.
He’s also the subject of an ongoing lawsuit over his activities in Uganda, where he drummed up support for the country’s infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Lively has appeared regularly before the Ugandan parliament, and on television broadcasts produced by Uganda’s most outspoken anti-gay pastor, Martin Ssempa.
Uganda’s bill originally proposed the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality;” the version recently passed by its parliament proposes life imprisonment instead.
The country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has yet to sign it into law, but the results of Lively’s campaign have alerady been catastrophic for Uganda.
Anti-gay prejudice has erupted into violence, resulting in the murder of LGBT activist David Kato and the imprisonment of his peers. In response to the violence, and to Lively’s inflammatory work, Sexual Minorities of Uganda filed a human rights lawsuit in an American court. The suit hasn’t deterred Lively, who told the judge, “Come what may, I will continue to advocate for the biblical view of family until my final breath.”
Lively previously served as the director of the American Family Association’s California branch, and Bryan Fischer, currently the organization’s director of issues analysis, vocally supports Russia’s new laws. On his radio show, “Focal Point,” he told listeners, “Isn't this wonderful what Russia is doing? Let's celebrate diversity and let’s support this tradition in the nation of Russia.”
LGBT rights have picked up steam in America of late, and some observers believe the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide is only a matter of time. But for Fischer, Lively, and their colleagues in the Religious Right, the fight’s far from over. They’ve simply exported it, globalizing hate as if it’s just another product of American industry.
And they’ve been frighteningly successful. The former Soviet republics of Moldova and Lithuania have passed bills similar to Russia’s, and anti-gay prejudice is reportedly rising in Poland and Ukraine.
As Russia considers its next moves, its government-sponsored persecution of sexual minorities should remind American observers that the need for a wall of separation between church and state cannot be understated, and that it’s unwise to dismiss Lively and his friends as members of a waning fringe.
The Religious Right is clearly not going to concede defeat in its culture war. These groups remain as dedicated to their ideology as ever, and they’ve achieved a level of success overseas that they’ve been denied on our shores.
If you doubt that, just ask an LGBT activist in Russia – if you can find any willing to speak publicly.