Russian Oligarch Hosts Secret Anti-Gay Meeting In Vienna

“Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding.”

~ Agnes Repplier ~

Earlier this year, at the Sochi Winter Olympics, in Russia, there was some poetic justice when the 5th and final snowflake-like Olympic Circle failed to open during the opening ceremony. For me and many of my LGBT friends it was a symbolic moment, highlighting the cry for help from the Russian LGBT community for international support against Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law.

Since the introduction of this infamous anti-gay propaganda law in June 2013, the country has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of violent attacks (some resulting in torture and even death) on members of its LGBT community, while those protesting the legislation have found themselves often targeted by police brutality and arrest.

In the run up to the Winter Olympics, the LGBT activist group All Out called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to stop the Games from taking place in Sochi and to ensure that future Olympic host countries do not have similar discriminatory laws on their books.

All Out presented the IOC with a global petition signed by 322,000 members of the group and another 41,000 All Out members sent the IOC personal messages raising their concerns. Shortly after receiving the petition, the head of the IOC spoke out against Russia’s anti-gay law and assured the LGBT community that this new law will not impact fans and athletes attending the Games — which was not exactly the assurance All Out and the international LGBT community asked for.

Brian Ellner, a board member of Athlete Ally — a group working to end homophobia and transphobia in sports — commented at the time by saying: “Today’s IOC statements are troubling on many levels. First, despite continued ‘assurances’ from the Russians the IOC itself remains confused as to whether these anti-LGBT propaganda laws will be enforced against athletes and fans.”

He added that while the safety of athletes and fans was important “we are also seeking a clear condemnation of the propaganda laws from the IOC. After the games are long gone the Russian LGBT community will still be living under these cruel laws and it’s time for the IOC and the world to voice loud and clear condemnation as a matter of human rights and fundamental fairness.”

Olympic Circles Fail to Open at Sochi 2014. © Unknown

Olympic Circles Fail to Open at Sochi 2014. © Unknown

Responding to the petition and the IOC’s request for Russia to clarify its position in terms of implementing these laws, Dmitry Kozak, the Russian deputy prime minister who oversaw the Olympics said: “Please do not touch the kids,” echoing what Russian President Vladimir Putin simply said earlier: “Just leave kids alone, please”, implying that LGBT people are paedophiles.

We all know how that story ended… The Winter Olympics were hosted in Sochi regardless and the IOC has not yet clarified their position in terms of choosing future host countries having to no discriminatory laws including protecting all human rights…

As for Russia? Russian leaders maintain that the country is not homophobic, despite the fact that violence against Russian LGBT people are now at its worst with many seeking to leave the country in fear of their safety. They remain defiant, by claiming that their only goal with this draconian law is to safeguard youth, by prohibiting the airing of so-called ‘gay propaganda’ around minors…

History has taught us time and again that seemingly ‘innocent’ laws are usually just the beginning of backward political ideations hidden behind a diplomatic smokescreen sugar-coated hogwash… Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law is no exception.

Today, it transpired that despite Russia’s empty promises, this past weekend, a secret meeting was held in Vienna to discuss ways to rid Europe of the ‘satanic gay lobby’. The meeting was attended by a host of far-right MPs and ultra-conservative Eurasian ideologists and was held literally across the road from where the Life Ball — one of the biggest AIDS charity events in the world — was hosted inside Vienna City Hall the very same night.

This year, the winner of Eurovision 2014, Conchita Wurst stole the show at Life Ball when hoots of approval, applause and whistles greeted the Austrian bearded drag queen dressed in figure-hugging silver lame, as she belted out her winning torch song Rise Like a Phoenix.

I cannot help but to see the irony here: In the build-up to the Eurovision Song Contest’s Finale, activists from Eastern European countries, including Russia, Armenia and Belarus, have blasted Conchita as an example of the West’s ‘decadence’ and branded the Eurovision contest as a ‘hotbed of sodomy’.

After her Eurovision victory, when asked if she had anything to say to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Conchita said: “I don’t know if he is watching this now, but if so, I’ll say it: ‘We’re unstoppable.'”

Cochita Wurzt at Life Ball, 2014.  © Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images Europe

Cochita Wurzt at Life Ball, 2014. © Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images Europe

Yet, this weekend, while guests at the Life Ball celebrated life and raised money to support HIV/AIDS victims, on the other side of the street the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeew and his Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation held an ominous meeting attended by nationalists and Christian fundamentalists from Russia and the West… I cannot imagine a greater contrast between two worlds. It’s like an invisible Berlin Wall divided the streets of Vienna.

The meeting was an invitation only and guests included the chief Russian ideologist of the Eurasian movement Alexander Dugin, the nationalist painter Ilja Glasunow, and MPs from far right parties including the Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache. A star guest was Alexander Dugin, a Russian political scientist and Eurasia ideologist who believes in Russian supremacy and authoritarianism, and wants to see a ‘conservative revolution’ across Europe.

According to Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, who confirmed the event took place from two independent sources, the meeting was hosted at Vienna’s Palais Liechtenstein under conditions of extreme secrecy.

The newspaper’s sources said that as well as discussing the ‘gay lobby’ the topic of fighting liberalism in Europe was also high on the agenda at the secret meeting. However, the official theme of the event was to mark the historic Vienna congress, which settled issues following the Napoleonic Wars and French revolutionary wars, 200 years ago.

Russian oligarchy, far-right politicians, secret meetings, the ‘gay lobby’ (what does that even mean?)… Do we have reason to be concerned?

Sadly, I think we do.

I for one don’t like scaremongering, but I also detest the inconvenience and irritation of ‘hindsight’.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if anything, the fact that the IOC allowed the Winter Olympics to continue in Sochi this year — despite Putin’s blatant homophobic and human rights abuses — carried startling (if not frightening) resemblances to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which took place amidst Hitler’s crackdown on the European Jewish community…

Back then, the world turned a blind eye and in the horrifying aftermath of the Holocaust said ‘We did not know.’

LGBT people are the only minority group in the world who find themselves in the awful juxtaposition that rights that are given to us with one hand are taken away by another… This leaves all of us in a treacherous position… one we may not want to think about, but nonetheless one we cannot ignore.

The only way we can prevent history from repeating itself is by reminding the world — those who still scoff at us and those who don’t want to believe us — how complacency, ignorance and inaction often (if not always) have dire consequences…

…something to think about as we gear up to celebrate Gay Pride this year…

LGBT Russian Youth After Being Attacked By Anti-Gay Militants  ©

LGBT Russian Youth After Being Attacked By Anti-Gay Militants ©

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Does It Really Get Better?

“It is our right, indeed our duty, to seek equality for everybody — not just people like us. Because it seems to me, if one person is in chains we are all in chains.”

— Linda Bellos (OBE) —

The global LGBT community and our allies are all too painfully aware of the recent and rather disturbing spate of anti-gay sentiments in countries like Russia, Uganda, Nigeria and Gambia, which have led to draconian anti-gay “propaganda” laws being passed and aggressively enforced.

In brief, these laws make it virtually impossible to advocate even the most basic human rights for LGBT people. They have also opened a floodgates of LGBT-targeted violence, leading to multiple arrests and brutality — as seen in the lead up to (and duration of) the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, in Russia. In the wake of Nigeria passing a law similar to that of Russia, police “round ups” of gay men are occurring simply because of their sexual orientation.

It’s a grim picture.

I recently read an article in the Huffington Post, ‘Why All LGBT People Should Care About Places Like Russia, Uganda and Gambia’The article poses this question: Should gay communities in other countries care about the plight of LGBT people in Russia, Nigeria and Gambia, when they have their own battles to fight on a national and local level?

From afar it may look like the ‘Berlin Wall’ of legal equality for LGBT people is steadily being levelled to the ground, especially in the UK and the United States. Perhaps this is why it’s easy for those of us who are more fortunate to be complacent about the liberation of LGBT people in countries where these alarming new laws are threatening the lives of these people, their families, loved ones and supporters.

However, there is good reason why we cannot (and shouldn’t) turn a blind eye to the dual reality we’re facing as a global LGBT community — a reality where on one side equality is within our grasp and on the other side, continued persecution and demonization of LGBT people are putting lives in danger.

Nigeria

LGBT Right Are Human Rights – Nigeria House, London 2014

As the Huffington Post article points out, in the US, in 29 states, a person can still get fired from his or her job simply for being LGBT. In most states, LGBT people still do not have marriage equality. In fact, I know a couple who has been in a loving and committed relationship for more than 37 years. In 2011, they were finally granted the ‘right’ to marry in the state of New York, where they have an apartment in NYC. However, when they visit their second home in Florida, their marriage means nothing… It’s an inhuman and unsettling juxtaposition, to say the least.

In recent years there have also been growing incidences of violence against LGBT people — especially against transgender women of colour — even in US states where legal protections exist… and yet, for LGBT people in some other states, things are very different.

Suffice to say, life for LGBT people in the US is a twofold reality and is hardly the Promised Land it is often made out to be. It’s a stark contrast that shows us how the victories and obstacles within each of our local communities are in fact a mirror image of what is happening globally in our community.

Here in the UK, LGBT people are facing similar challenges. On the one hand we have reason to celebrate and to believe that ‘things are pretty good now’: civil partnerships and same-sex marriages are legal, LGBT people have greater visibility in politics, business and the media, and a range of organisations are actively working to tackle homophobic bullying in schools and the workplace.

However, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find a more worrying picture. In 2005, the charity Crisis reported that “There is a long-standing association between homelessness and the everyday lives of young men and women who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT)”. In 2012, the charity Stonewall echoed similar concerns when it published a research report that noted “more than half (55%) of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools”.

According to the recent findings from the Youth Chances project, who conducted the biggest social research study into 16 – 25 year olds LGBT people in England, “more than half of young gay people have suffered mental health issues, and 40 per cent have considered suicide” and “that 50 per cent have self-harmed and 42 per cent had sought medical help for anxiety or depression”.

It’s safe to say that despite the leaps we have taken forward here in the UK, the LGBT community still stands with one foot in Paradise and the other on a slippery slope.

This begs the question: Does it really get better?

It’s probably not a question asked or discussed often on the main drag of the Gay scene. As far as I know, there are hardly any forums for different LGBT generations to come together to reflect, discuss and debate the issue of ‘how things are’, how things were’ and ‘how things could be’.

Recently, as part of the UK’s LGBT History Month celebrations, the award winning The Rainbow Intersection, founded by Ade Adeniji and Bisi Alimi, saw the need for such an intergenerational and cross-cultural conversation and they presented a panel discussion exploring some of the key issues facing the LGBT community today — not just here in the UK but also further afield.

Of course, there is yet no conclusive answer when we ask ‘Does it really get better?’ Still, I walked away after the panel discussion and thought: Surely, continuing to talk about our experiences and our lives within our local communities, campaigning on a national level and being aware of the challenges of LGBT people across the world, will pave the way for an urgent and much larger global conversation between LGBT communities… a conversation that starts with: You are not alone.

As any young LGBT person will tell you — and we have all been there — knowing that you are not alone, already make things a bit better. The same principle applies to our brothers and sisters living in countries where their lives are in danger, simply because of who they are.

I am a firm believer that charity begins at home and that addressing the issues within our local communities on a grassroots level is a continued necessity. However, it will be a mistake for us — the global LGBT community and our allies all over the world — to ignore what is happening in countries like Nigeria, Uganda, Gambia, India, Cameroon and Russia.

The fact that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) allowed the Winter Olympics to continue in Sochi this year — despite Putin’s blatant homophobic and human rights abuses — carried startling (if not frightening) resemblances to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which took place amidst Hitler’s crackdown on the European Jewish community… Back then the world turned a blind eye and in the horrifying aftermath of the Holocaust said ‘We did not know.’

This cannot happen again. LGBT people are the only minority group in the world who have rights given to them by one hand only to be taken away by another… India is a perfect example of this yo-yo effect. This leaves all of us in a treacherous position… one we may not want to think about, but nonetheless one we cannot ignore. The only way we can prevent history from repeating itself is by reminding the world — those who still scoff at us and those who don’t want to believe us — how complacency, ignorance and inaction often (if not always) have dire consequences.

Below is a short film, showing some of the highlights of the ‘Does It Really Get Better?’ panel discussion. Please share it and start your own conversation.


Does it really get better? – Intergenerational Dialogue was hosted by author and comedian, Vg Lee and the discussion was led by key note speakers Linda Bellos (OBE) and Dan Baker the Project Manager of METRO’s Youth Chances action research project.The panel consisted of Sue Sanders an LGBT rights activist, Maryam Din a queer Muslim intersectional feminist activist, Mark McCormack a Lecturer in Sociology at Durham University, Miss Sahhara a Nigerian transgendered model, singer and human rights activist in Africa, Taz Din a retired lecturer and veteran LGBT activist and Vernal Scott an HIV/AIDS activist and author of God’s Other Children – A London Memoir.The short film ‘Does It Really Get Better?’ was filmed, edited and produced by Little Red Shoes.


Credits.
Images: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes
Video: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes