An interesting and extremely critical point was made at this week's Queer Nation town hall meeting at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan: In the few weeks since individuals and groups began taking action to protest, sign petitions, contact the International Olympic Committee, reach out to President Obama, dump vodka, etc., in order to condemn Russia's recent anti-gay law banning homosexual "propaganda," Armenia announced that its intention to introduce a similar anti-gay law in that country is not a priority (though it denies bowing to international pressure about it).
This announcement raises two essential points. The first is that organization and action are making a huge impact all over the world, so we must keep the momentum going. The second -- and this is the one to pay great attention to -- is that although Russia's anti-gay law is currently getting heavy attention, it is far from the only country that we should be organizing and acting against.
Long before Dictator Vladimir Putin signed Russia's anti-gay bill into law in 2013, in 2009 Uganda proposed what the West has aptly nicknamed the "kill the gays" bill. Under the bill's provisions, "aggravated homosexual conduct" would result in the death penalty. Another clause in the legislation demands that anyone, including family members of LGBT people, notify authorities within 24 hours of discovering that someone is gay. Failure to comply with this provision could result in a prison sentence of up to three years. The bill would also apply to homosexual activities that Ugandan citizens partake in outside the country's borders.
By the way, Uganda already has an anti-gay law on the books that mandates a 14-year prison sentence for homosexual activity.
And Uganda is not alone. A recent article in National Geographic Daily News outlines anti-gay laws in Burundi, Cameroon, Jamaica, Kenya, Iran, Qatar, and Tanzania and notes that 36 other sub-Saharan African nations and 11 Caribbean countries criminalize homosexual behavior. Many of these laws carry sentences of life in prison. Iran has been known to execute men it believes have engaged in homosexual acts.
Compared to the harshness of anti-gay laws in other countries, Russia's appears to be rather lenient. The Russian law imposes hefty fines -- up to 5,000 rubles ($156) for individuals and up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) for organizations -- for holding gay pride rallies or providing information about the LGBT community to minors. Foreign citizens can be arrested under the law, resulting in up to 15 days in jail and/or deportation.
I do not doubt that this law is only the beginning of a crackdown on Russia's LGBT population, and I do not mean to suggest that it should not be fought. As I have noted before, it must be fought! I would not be surprised if the hateful attacks against Russian LGBT people by skinheads and ordinary citizens resulted in some sort of law or action to register or round up the country's LGBT people -- for their own "protection," of course. (Such an action would not be unprecedented in Russia, as old Soviet passports required people to identify their religious affiliation.) However, I wonder whether we're so quick to give the Russian law extra attention not only because Russia's renewed discrimination against LGBT people (homosexual relations were criminalized in Russia until 1993) is in its infancy and thus may be easier to stop but because Russia is the most white -- or at least most Western -- country in the list of discriminating countries presented above.
To be fair, the terrible laws and atrocities in countries like Uganda and Iran have not been ignored. Organizations like Human Rights Watch have monitored the situations, and many individuals and groups have taken the fight directly to these hateful nations. Public worldwide outrage, fueled by petitions and informational campaigns, at least temporarily helped delay the Ugandan bill. (It still remains on the legislative agenda but has not yet been debated or passed.) It's also undeniable that the setting of the 2014 Winter Olympics, a global event that many take to symbolize the unity of nations, in the Russian city of Sochi is giving the Russian law extra attention.
However, we can and should do more. As noted above, organized actions aimed at just one country are having a worldwide impact. Imagine what organized actions against numerous countries could accomplish. As we focus our immediate efforts on the Olympics and Russia, we should remain mindful of the numerous other nations in which LGBT people face even greater, life-threatening persecution and devise strategies to impact their nations as well. Russia is not alone, and it is in fact not even the worst place for LGBT people to be at this moment. I acknowledge that neither Uganda nor Iran is hosting the Olympics, and their economies may be much more difficult to impact than Russia's. Nevertheless, these facts do not stop us from creating informational campaigns and working to apply political pressure. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted in her speech in Geneva last year, "gay rights are human rights" (emphasis added), so we must ensure that our non-Western cousins receive equal attention and dignity.
Daniel Davidson's blog is Pulse of My Nation.