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Defending Russian gay sex laws

By Gari Sullivan - posted Monday, 19 August 2013

Defending Russian gay sex laws is surprisingly easy to do. Homosexuality is legal in Russia; even in the armed forces (US, take note!) The age of consent is 16 for gays and straights; it has been since 1993. It took the UK a further 10 years to achieve such equality; even then it came after much consternation from Church leaders, members of the House of Lords and some Commons' backbenchers before the Act was finally pushes through by invoking 'The Parliament Act', driven by demands from the EU to ban all forms of discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

The law that cannot be defended, however, is the law that bans the 'propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors'. It is a law to inspire mis-trust, suspicion and fear in the minds of the Russian conservative straights. It may even lead to self-hatred amongst Russian gays and increase abuse upon them. There is no doubt the law is a step backwards for a country becoming otherwise increasingly enlightened and liberal with its laws on sexual equality – albeit slowly and in line with the general views of its people. However, just because a law cannot be defended, its not a reason to attack the country for imposing it – especially a country whose laws are as comparable, if not more liberal, than those of the countries condemning it. Let us not forget, this is a law that is welcomed by the majority of Russians. Should we condemn and protest against the Russian people or should we endeavour to enlighten them?

The actor and writer Stephen Fry is seen as the spearhead of the campaign to stop the Winter Olympics being hosted in Russia, as a protest to this odious anti-gay law. There is no doubt that Fry is a highly intelligent, talented and charming man who speaks with a genuine passion and conviction on this subject. However, his argument is deeply flawed.


By allowing the Winter Olympics to take place in Russia, people like Fry get to have their say time after time in the media; keeping the debate alive and in the public conscience. It's ironic then, that if Fry got his way, he and the protest to get rid of this law would be silenced.

Keeping the Games in Russia allows protesters to go there and stage events, make YouTube videos and, perhaps most importantly of all, it creates opportunities for gay people in Russia to meet face-to-face with gay and straight protesters from elsewhere, to forge friendships and co-operate on joint initiatives to fights this regressive, backward-thinking law.

Aside from being flawed, there is a more worrying aspect of this protest to move the Winter Olympics. There is a nasty smell of government and media frenzy and delight in attacking an old enemy of west. This protest against one law has become an attack on a state, whilst our media, government and the likes of Stephen Fry are shamefully silent on the disgusting anti-gay laws of our allies.

Despite it's liberal laws on homosexuality, there is no doubt that Russia has a bad track record when it comes to dealing with gay people: banning pride marches and using rhetoric that suggests gay sex is 'non-traditional' and a threat to Russian family values. All of this condemnation against Russia – would be justified against our Middle Eastern allies such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar (where homosexuality is punishable by death) Yet the only thing the UK media can muster on the subject of the Football World Cup in Qatar is that it's too hot to play there in the summer!

Australia has some of the most discriminatory and odious anti-gay laws in the so-called developed part of the world; the most nasty of which is the 'Gay Panic Defence' law, supported by the federal government, which allows in legal defence, the physical attack on someone on the grounds that the person believed he was being approached by another male for sexual reasons. It is a law that clearly and openly justifies attacking a gay man; no such law exists in Russia – but is also a defence in the US. Australia doesn't allow gay marriage, although that might change if Kevin Rudd wins the general election in September 20013. In the Australian state of Queensland, although the age of consent for either sexuality is 16, anal sex is forbidden until the age of 18. There is a tangible macho mentality throughout Australia that creates fear and unease for gay people in that country.

Stephen Fry has not called on the International Cricket Council to demand The Ashes, due to be held in Australia from November 2013 to January 2014, be held elsewhere, nor has such anti-gay laws stopped Fry from performing in Australia on several occasions. Despite citing the IOC's code on fighting discrimination in sport as justification for not holding the Games in Russia, Fry, like many others, didn't protest about the Games being staged in Australia in 2000.


Of course, it is more likely that Fry doesn't know about the disgusting Australian 'Gay Panic Defence' law then it is the possibility that he is being hypocritical; such ignorance is not surprising since the media and government in the UK and Australia play down the existence of these laws. Yet Fry, more than most, should know how the media – if not the government – operates. Fry, like the rest of us, has a duty to understand all the facts, to acknowledge and be wary of media and government manipulation, and to be fair and honest with our allies and those nations we are not so friendly with.

We all allow ourselves to be hypocritical unless we have a level playing field in our use of sport as a political tool. Let's see if the UK government, media, Stephen Fry and the other anti-Russian protesters can raise their game and play fair – the ball is in their court.

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This article was first published on Gari Sullivan.

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About the Author

Gari Sullivan is founder of NoozDesk, a creative writer and lecturer.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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