MOSCOW — One morning this week I stood in front of the Hotel Metropol, a quarter mile from the former KGB headquarters, a stone’s throw from the Bolshoi Theater, and watched a post-op transexual, obviously a man yet in fetching black capri pants and a tight black sweater revealing a fine and bouncy décolletage, stroll along the avenue.
Last evening I walked along a popular restaurant street near the Bolshoi and watched three men in dresses gather and chat. Rather than trying to pass as women, they seemed more to be making a political statement, or maybe they were simply going to a party.
In both cases, I believe I was the only person who even noticed them. Certainly no one threw rocks at them, or harassed them, spoke or even looked at this ho-hum scene. Police were nearby and none of them made a move to arrest them. What’s more, their quite public strolls near the Kremlin evinced no nervousness on their part at all. They seemed normal and natural and exuded no fear. These morning and afternoon constitutionals were completely unexceptional.
I had just read a column by Harvey Fierstein published in the New York Times and was expecting something quite different. I expected the arrival of Putin’s storm troopers to put in boot and fist and hustle them off to the gulag.
Fierstein reported in the Times that “Putin has declared war on homosexuals.” Fierstein says police are allowed “to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual, lesbian or “pro-gay” and detain them for up to 14 days.” This is false. He goes on to say, “The law could mean that any Olympic athlete, trainer, reporter, family member or fan who is gay — or suspected of being gay, or just accused of being gay — can go to jail.” This is also false. He says any Russian parent who tells his children that homosexuality is “subject to arrest and fines.” This is false. He says it is “rumored” that police may remove any biological children from parents suspected of being homosexual. Also false.
This false, overheated and even panicked rhetoric is very harmful to what could be a meaningful dialogue.
David Meyers, writing in the Daily Caller a few weeks ago got the law right though he, too, was unnecessarily alarmed. The Russian Duma, in an almost unanimous vote, passed a national law protecting school children from what they call “gay propaganda.” In a federal way this law mirrors the laws on the books in cities and municipalities around Russia. The law also bans public manifestations of homosexual lifestyle, that is, it bans parades. Homosexual adoption is also not allowed.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Russia. Homosexual acts are not illegal in Russia. Even some kinds of public manifestations are fine in Russia. After all, a number of gay characters are on popular Russian TV programs. Moreover, right now you can google “Gay Moscow” and see a few dozen bars and restaurants and dance clubs that cater openly to a gay clientele. You can enjoy yourself hassle-free at 69 Popugae, Baza, Secret, 12 Volt, TSYFRY, Elf Cafe, and dozens more. All of them have websites, public addresses and telephone numbers and pictures of all the fun things you can do there. Putin is not shutting them down and when Harvey Fierstein visits for the Olympics, he can visit them all without fear.
Homosexuality used to be against the law in Russia under the old Soviet Union but even that regime relented. Homosexuality and homosexual acts are totally legal in Russia. Homosexuality is quite open in Russia. What the Russians do not want, and this opposition is widespread, is for homosexuality to be taught to school children or otherwise exposed to school children.
Russians understand that homosexuality exists in their society and always has, even when it was illegal under the Soviets and that it exists in all human societies. What is new and what they resist is the political movement to regularize and even celebrate it. They view this as harmful to children and society.
They are appalled, as are many Americans, at how these sexual practices and lifestyles are celebrated in the United States. The state of California now mandates the teaching of homosexuality to school children. Those individuals and institutions in the United States that oppose the homosexual advance are ostracized and in some cases criminalized.
And under the Obama administration this ideology has now become a part of US foreign policy. Openly gay ambassadors are now placed in largely religious countries. Gay celebrations are now held in US embassies even in countries, like Pakistan, where such parties are calculated to deeply offend legitimate religious sensibilities and beliefs.