Russia not homophobic, it’s homorealistic - expert
On Tuesday night President Barack Obama weighed in saying he expected Russia to be welcoming to gay and lesbian athletes and adding he had "no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgendered persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them."
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Thursday foreign governments, sports federations and athletes should "calm down" over Russia's legislation against gay propaganda, which has many in the international community calling for a boycott of the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
"In addition to this law, we have a constitution that guarantees privacy rights. The law is not intended to deprive people of religion, race and sexual orientation," Mutko told a news conference ahead of 2013 World Athletics Championships, which start on Saturday in Moscow.
"All the interests and rights will be protected," he said.
The International Olympic Committee said last week it has received "assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games."
Lamine Diack, president of the ruling athletics body, said he sees no issue ahead of the world championships.
"I don't have the feeling there is a problem. Russia has its laws. Each one can have his private life. The law exists, it has to be respected," Diack said. "We are here for the world championships."
On Wednesday the Russian Foreign Ministry called on the public not to politicize the main sporting event of 2014.
The famous British author and comedian Stephen Fry said a boycott was "simply essential" adding: "At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilized world. He is making scapegoats of gay people just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it."
The writer is not the only one making such comparisons. Thus, Nikolai Baev, LGBT activist and organizer of Moscow Pride, echoed the idea taking part in a VoR discussion.
"The law prohibits any mention of homosexuality as socially equal. So this, in fact, is a fascist law, it’s the same as treating Jews under Nazis," the activist said, adding that the most difficult thing about the law will be its implementation, as now every judge and policeman can decide what is propaganda and what is not. "They can stop any human rights action or rally. This law is against freedom of expression and assembly," the activist said.
Political analyst and journalist Dmitry Babich, who was also part of the discussion, found the Nazi comparison incorrect and far-fetched. "Jews were exterminated, not fined," he said.
The legislation prohibiting propaganda of homosexuality tominors was passed on June 30, after being signed by president Putin.
Violators could face fines of up to 5,000 rubles ($150). Organizations, meanwhile, would have to pay 1 million rubles (about $30,000) or have their activity suspended for 90 days.
Dmitry Babich also believes that the Western media create an impression that the law penalizes any kind of sexuality, which is not so. "The law penalizes propaganda by individuals or legal entities. It doesn’t criminalize homosexual activity, that used to be formally punishable homosexuality until 1993," he said.
VOR also spoke with Bryan Fischer, head of the American Family Association, who has a different view on the situation.
"Russia is not being homophobic, it’s homorealistic – the Russian government is trying to take the issue into consideration and establish public policy to contribute to public health, as this lifestyle is not be promoted, endorsed or granted special legal protection", the expert said, warning of high health risks linked to this lifestyle.
He cites the Center for Disease Control that has monitored the HIV epidemic since 1987 and determined that 61% of HIV-positive males had sexual contacts with other males.
"Homosexual behavior is just as risky as drug abuse," Fischer said.
" I think the Russian government is right to be concerned with propaganda on teenagers who are at the age of struggling through sexual identity issue and we should help to channel these urges in productive behavior. Heterosexuality is God’s design. Policies that encourage young people to think this are good ideas."
Though same-sex marriages are becoming common all across the world, it doesn’t mean that this idea is popular and everybody supports it, Fischer said.
"Homosexual behavior damages the body and soul. We love homosexuals enough to tell them the truth."
As for Fry’s contentious comparisons, the expert found paralleles between race, which is immutable, and homosexuality, which is a matter of choice and human will, invalid.