[US to Russia 2014] Erika Fricke on the LGBT community in Russia
The signature piece of legislation my boss, State Rep. Dan Frankel, has been trying to pass for more than a decade would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pennsylvanians from discrimination, so that someone from the LGBT community couldn’t be fired, kicked out of their home, or refused service in a restaurant because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Before going to Russia, I had heard about the anti-gay legislation there including limits on speech that “promotes” homosexuality, limits on single-parent adoption, and a proposed law to fingerprint anyone living with HIV.
So when given the chance to talk to Russians about gay rights, I took it. I took it with both the high-level officials and with young people I met and what I heard was variations of, “we don’t mind gay people, but we just don’t want to have to see them,” or that Russians are conservative so it’s going to take time for them to accept the LGBT community.
These kinds of comments are no different than what people said in the US in the struggle for LGBT civil rights. The dramatic shift in US public opinion started with the basics – gay, lesbian and transgender people “coming out” to their family and friends as research has proven again and again that personally knowing someone who is gay dramatically increases a person’s acceptance of the LGBT community and support for gay rights.
But the combination of statements – that the LGBT community can’t get civil rights until people are more comfortable with them, and that people just don’t want to have to see anyone gay, seems like an impossible situation.
Worse than all of this, the silence around LGBT civil rights in Russia was palpable. People did not speak about it willingly, and I didn’t hear a single positive comment about the LGBT community while I was there, and yet the chance that I interacted with a gay or lesbian Russian is high.
My state, Pennsylvania, finally achieved marriage equality the day after I got back from the exchange. But my concern is that I don’t see the path toward this same achievement in Russia. The route we’ve taken toward equality here has relied on the freedom to speak out, even in the face of opposition and discrimination. But when speaking out itself is criminal, how can the Russian LGBT community ever reach a moment when the residents of the country realize that they are also better than these discriminatory laws?
Erika Fricke is the Chief of Staff for Pennsylvania State Representative Dan Frankel.