“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
By Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Following the recent wave of violence in Russia as a result of that nation’s new anti-homosexuality laws, approximately three dozen Capitol Hill residents converged at Seattle Central Community College in a rally supporting Russia’s LGBTQ community last Friday while also calling for a boycott of Russian products and the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia.
Organizers Shaun Knittel and Sarah Toce, president and vice president respectively of Social Outreach Seattle, each spoke in turn about the level of ongoing violence in Russia along with Matt Fikse-Verkerk of Queer Nation and Joanne Rossignol of Jewish Family Services.
“There was recently a law that was passed that said, in the best way I can put it, ‘Don’t be gay in public,’” said Knittel. “If you’re caught doing anything that could be considered homosexual…you can actually be beaten up and thrown and jail, or even killed. It seems like we’re going back in time.”
Toce elaborated that the “Anti-Gay Propaganda Law,” as it is officially known, prohibits any form of demonstration by LGBT groups as well as any “lewd” behavior, which could be as simple as kissing in public.
“…[If] you are seen engaging in any act that may be considered “pro-gay,” you are breaking the law,” Toce said. “The law is inhumane and undignified and Putin is getting away with murder – quite literally – under the world’s nose.”
Knittel further explained that with the passing of this law, numerous anti-gay groups had begun tricking young LGBT Russians into meetings via the internet with the intent of then assaulting, abducting, and even murdering them.
“Imagine if you were coming here today for what you thought was a rally, and when you arrived, you were abducted, you were sprayed with urine and you were beaten,” Knittel said. “The government is so behind this that the criminals who are doing this are filming it and putting it online. That’s how brazen it is.”
While the endeavor was inspired by Dan Savage’s Dump Russian Vodka campaign, Knittel and Toce emphasized that this rally instead focused on a message of hope rather than simply boycotting Russian products. To do this, SOS created a banner to be signed by attendees that would be sent to Russia along with video messages of support. At the rally’s conclusion, the crowd then chanted, “We stand with you,” while event organizers recorded the crowd.
“It’s really important that the LGBT community in Russia knows that we stand with them in solidarity, and that we send messages of love to them as well,” Knittel said. “We all know that when we’re in a desperate situation, hope is the one thing that can get you through. To know that people a thousand miles away are paying attention and care is a form of hope. That’s what today is about.”
In an interview with the Capitol Hill Times, Toce reinforced Knittel’s belief that the actions of Capitol Hill residents and Seattleites can still help support those affected by the violence in Russia, even if that only includes a support of the boycott of Russian goods and products.
“When you know that something isn’t right and that innocent people are being hurt and mangled, you must do something,” Toce said. “Write your friends, tell them what is happening. Attend one of Social Outreach Seattle’s upcoming vigils to promote visibility for the violence in Russia. If you drink Russian products, stop doing that…and that is the very least of the items that can be done. “
Toce went on to emphasize that the violence should strike a chord with the traditionally gay-friendly residents of Capitol Hill, especially when contrasted with the recent victories that the local LGBT community has seen.
“Capitol Hill residents would most likely be appalled at what is going on in Russia because it is so unjustifiable and cruel,” Toce said. “We just passed marriage equality in our state and saw the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. In Russia, our gay brothers and sisters are fighting to survive a regime that flat-out hates them… Hate is a strong word, but what is going on there is anything but meager. Capitol Hill residents have a responsibility to speak out against these atrocities because of the freedoms we so enjoy – and, quite frankly – take for granted.”