An Italian advocate for transgender rights and former member of parliament was detained at the Olympics for unfurling a rainbow flag with "Gay is OK" on it. Russian officials denied it, but the Italian foreign ministry activated its crisis protocol for Italian travelers in trouble.
Russian President Vladamir Putin showed up last week at a celebration party for Irene Wust, an openly lesbian gold medal winner from Netherlands. Just days before, outside of the Olympic arena, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) supporters were arrested during a peaceful protest.
When the Olympians go home, it will be business as usual. Orthodox Church leaders will continue to work hand-in-glove with the political machinery that scapegoats LGBTQ people. The lack of outcry against Russia's anti-LGBTQ laws are producing a climate where gangs now go "hunting" to track down gays to torture them. Their impunity is so great, that many were willing to be filmed for an upcoming documentary without disguises while they humiliated and brutalized a person they identified as gay.
TIME released a video report showing graphic instances of violence against gay people by both Russian vigilantes and police. When a peaceful demonstrator was seriously injured and went to the police station with blood on his face and one eye swollen shut, he was told, "That's alright, you are gay. It's normal for you to be attacked."
Laws against sexual minorities are proliferating around the world, and vigilante violence follows closely behind. Even though the United States is increasingly accepting marriage equality, globally, there is an emerging crisis of catastrophic proportions.
Where are the outraged voices of faith? The silence is deafening.
As the head of a global denomination in 40 countries, including Russia, it is vital that people of good will and people of faith speak out. We know firsthand that lives depend on it. Our church members in Russia have to meet in secret in fear for their lives.
Ironically, we have heard far more from the secular world than the religious world. Cher and rock group Blondie protested Russia's anti-LGBTQ laws by turning down invitations to perform at Sochi. Advertisers were urged to withdraw ads, but most just posted standard statements against discrimination. Chevrolet, on the other hand, published groundbreaking ads with gay families and families of many configurations.
ABC summarized reactions in the political world noting that Obama sent Billy Jean King and Caitlan Cahow -- both lesbians -- in his stead. President Joachim Gauc of Germany was the only head of state to cancel explicitly because of Russia's anti-LGBTQ laws. France's president declined to attend, but did not say why.
At least some people still know that "Silence = Death" is still a reality.
On the other hand, those religious people who ARE speaking out are mostly on the side of promoting and enforcing the most repressive laws possible. In a four-part series by Right Wing Watch on the interface of the right wing and Russia, several quotes stand out:
- Scott Lively, an American activist linked to Uganda's push for the death penalty for gays, wrote that under Putin's leadership, Russia has become a "beacon of freedom," while the U.S. has descended into a "gay version of the Soviet Union." Lively also gave himself credit for "indirectly" assisting the ban on "homosexual propaganda," calling it "one of the proudest achievements of my career."
- Rush Limbaugh praised Putin for "putting [his] foot down" against gay peoples' "full-frontal assault on what has always been considered normalcy."
- Larry Jacobs of the Illinois-based World Congress of Families hailed the propaganda law for "preventing [LGBT people] from corrupting children" and declared that "the Russians might be the Christian saviors to the world."
- Six American Religious Right groups, including the World Congress of Families, Mission: America and C-FAM, joined an international coalition of right-wing groups in signing a statement supporting the anti-gay crackdown and condemning the international outrage against it.
These groups fund anti-gay activism in Russia and have testified before the Russian Duma. Predictably, they pull out long-discredited "research" by Mark Regenerus, who even disclaimed his own study. Nonetheless, they use it to foment hate and promote draconian laws.
Robert Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) attended a Russian Duma committee meeting in 2013 on adoption laws. The chair, Yelena Mizulina, co-authored the main anti-LGBTQ law, which banned conversation about LGBTQ rights, and another law that banned adoption by same-gender couples.
Brown said to the Duma committee, "I think that this visit, the invitation to visit Russia, will enable the development of this movement around the world. We will band together...."
This crisis is about Russia and the whole world. Where are progressive faith leaders? Is the Orthodox Church untouchable? Do right wing extremists get a pass because they use religious language?
I don't think so. Every generation must face those who want to dominate, if not exterminate, vulnerable populations because they can. Sometimes they call it righteous; they almost always blame the victim; some wear uniforms, some wear suits and ties and others wear jeans. When they meet no resistance, they escalate and add the next vulnerable population to their hit list.
They always depend on the silence of otherwise good people.