While excitement was building around the 22nd Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, I was closely tracking a new anti-LGBT law that was forming in Russia. The new law was coined the "gay propaganda" bill, and sadly, it turned into a reality on June 30, 2013. The language inside the bill was written so broadly that it essentially reversed the LGBT rights movement. Combined with Russia's notoriously harsh legal system and an already challenging social environment for LGBT individuals, the bill became a catalyst for an open call to violence.
In the following weeks the Internet erupted with graphic images capturing the escalating violence toward my LGBT brothers and sisters. With no thanks to mainstream media, the social landscape quickly became the only source of coverage regarding the multitude of human rights violations occurring in Russia.
In the following days a hallway conversation with a co-worker of mine, Joe Babarsky, led to a plan to change the conversation surrounding Russia's "gay propaganda" law. Joe and I, both strategists at a social media startup, noticed a large yet disparate volume of conversations happening about Russia. People were outraged and horrified that there are countries in the world where homosexuality is not only taboo but a crime, sometimes punishable by death. The conversation was already happening, but we wanted to use a specific yet simple social tool that many of us use every day to harness it appropriately.
At the same time, with our social strategy still in its infancy, Joe mentioned our plan to his friend Trenton Waterson. Trenton responded with an invitation to a meeting that he was already planning to hold at his house.
I walked into that meeting in July not knowing anyone, but I walked out with a family. It was a group of strangers, but we all shared the common goal of supporting the LGBT community throughout the world. We couldn't believe the number of people who were unaware of the unraveling situation in Russia, and we felt that mainstream media weren't doing enough to highlight homophobic legislation throughout the globe, from Uganda and Yemen. To us, Russia's misstep presented an unprecedented opportunity to address LGBT rights on a global scale. With all eyes on Russia for Sochi 2014, we decided to capitalize on the Olympic momentum and start our movement. What began with introductions and formalities led to a movement called (We Are) #GayPropaganda.
(We Are) #GayPropaganda exists to unify our voices in support of LGBT communities around the world who are facing degradation and violence. We encourage people who believe that love is love -- no matter whom you love-- to use the hashtag #GayPropaganda on the words they write, the photos they post, and the videos they share across social platforms. While many throw around hashtags as a humorous form of modern vernacular, the use of the pound sign was designated to capture conversations in the vastness of social media, highlighting topics and bringing order to people's voices. This social tool has proven to transcend the digital space and bring attention to important current events and causes, even inciting action. So while separate yet similar movements and organizations exist around addressing Russia's anti-LGBT oppression and more broadly the ongoing battle on equality for all, (We Are) #GayPropaganda looks to further amplify these efforts by extending their reach and impact, by collecting them under one roof.
Social media has given us a platform to communicate who we are and what we believe. Our presence and the use of #GayPropaganda seeks to reclaim this term by unifying the conversations in order to provide education, support, and empowerment to LGBT people and their allies with an unshakeable belief in the power of community.
Today, (We Are) #GayPropaganda is excited to release our first of three media pieces in an effort to humanize and more clearly illustrate the escalating violence against LGBT people in Russia.
Our ultimate goal? To blanket social media and raise a new kind of global awareness around Russia and beyond that is fueled by you.
In the short term, (We Are) #GayPropaganda looks to provide the international community with the tools and language needed to make their opposition to Russia's anti-LGBT oppression heard during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Speak out. Be heard. Engage with each other. Spread positivity. Write, post, share, and use the hashtag. It is our tool and your call to action. Let the LGBT people of the world know that they are not alone. (You Are) #GayPropaganda.
Christopher Oroza, Director
Andrew Hatling, Director/Cinematographer
Andrew Pecnnzer, Cinematographer
Aya Tanimura, Director/Writer
Kathryn Berk, Producer/Writer
Clay Pruitt, Producer
Trenton Waterson, Producer
Joe Saladino, Producer
Eric Norsoph, Producer
Joe Babarsky, Social Strategist
Kevin Dolan, Social Strategist