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An LGBT activist was arrested in Russia for staging a one-man protest.
Peter Tatchell, a British citizen, was detained Thursday in Moscow, the first day of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, for speaking out against the Eastern European nation’s inaction toward human rights abuses in Chechnya, a region of Russia.
“Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people,” read the sign held by Tatchell.
Tatchell was taken to a police station by several officers and released later that day, reports CNN. The activist will have to appear in court on June 26 because, according to a post on his Twitter, he is “charged with violating Federal Law 54 & Presidential Decree 202, which prohibit all protests near the Kremlin & during World Cup.”
After being released, Tatchell posted video of his arrest and explained how he had wanted to prevent a “PR coup” from the antigay nation for hosting an international sporting event.
“My Moscow protest was in solidarity with heroic Russian & Chechen LGBT people. I salute & support their struggle,” he wrote in the post. “The human rights abusing Putin regime must not be allowed to score a PR coup with the World Cup. There can be no normal sporting relations with an abnormal regime.”
Since last year, at least 200 gay and bisexual men may have been detained and as many as 26 killed in Chechen concentration camps, according to reports from LGBT groups and the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. In May, a representative of Russia told the United Nations that an investigation found no evidence of crimes against LGBT people in Chechnya — or even LGBT people in general.
Russia’s infamous “gay propaganda” law prohibits public LGBT demonstrations. Yet Tatchell maintained that his protest was not illegal.
“I was exercising my lawful right to protest, under the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and the right to protest in Articles 29 and 31,” he said in a statement submitted by the Peter Tatchell Foundation. “A one-person protest, which is what I did, requires no permission from the authorities and the police.”
“Getting arrested is standard for Russians who protest for LGBT+ rights or against corruption, economic injustice and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its bombing of civilians in Syria,” Tatchell added. “Unlike brave Russian protesters, I have the ‘protection’ of a British passport, which means I have been treated more leniently than they are. My fate was mild compared to what often happens to Russians who dare to challenge the Putin regime. I am awed by their courage.”
It is not illegal to be gay in Russia, but homophobia has been on the rise in the past several years. A recent poll from the Levada Center found that 83 percent of Russians, regardless of age, think gay sex is “always reprehensible” or “almost always reprehensible.” Activists have advised LGBT fans in attendance at the World Cup not to hold hands or exchange public displays of affection.
Activists are asking beer brand Budweiser to be wiser.
In the last few days, activists from the group Voices4, a group dedicated to raising awareness around the genocide of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya, have flooded Budweiser’s Instagram posts with the hashtag #PrideOverGenocide. The activists targeted the beer company because of its sponsorship of the World Cup — which sources tell me is a sports competition — in Russia, a country not known for its hospitality toward queer people.
On three separate Instagram posts, Voices4 was able to amass over 2,500 comments forcing Budweiser to wrestle with its support of the World Cup.
After posting a new image almost every day, the Budweiser Instagram hasn’t posted something new in 2 days.
Several notable celebrities have participated in the #PrideOverGenocide hashtag, including Olympian Tom Daley, Drag Race queens Milk and Detox, Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black and Munroe Bergdorf.
“Including the LGBTQIA+ community in their advertising does not erase their craven decision to financially support a dangerous, homophobic regime.,” Elly Brinkley of Voices4 said in a statement. “The Budweiser brand can’t have it both ways, sponsoring our pride here in the United States and bolstering the economy of a country that openly persecutes us. It’s up to Bud to choose pride over genocide.”
INTO contacted Budweiser and will update when we hear back.
Russia is notorious for its anti-gay stances, especially its anti-propaganda laws, which are meant to stop anything “pro-gay” from being distributed in Russia. The laws have led to sites with information about HIV being shut down, as well. During the World Cup, an emergency hotline was built for LGBTQ people attending the sporting event. A safe space meant for LGBTQ fans was relocated after being forced to shut down, as well.
By ignoring Russia’s virulent homophobia, FIFA is complicit in the attacks against queer footballers that have occurred during the 2018 World Cup.
As World Cup fever grips the globe, stories have surfaced detailing episodes of violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, both directly and indirectly connected to the game. In St. Petersberg last week, a gay Frenchman and his companion were severely beaten and left with brain injuries while visiting for the games; that same day, British gay activist Peter Tatchel was arrested and freed in Moscow after protesting Russia’s failure to take action on Chechnya’s “gay purge” outside the Kremlin. In May, it was reported that Russian football fans had sent life-threatening emails to the LGBTQ+ soccer fan association Pride In Football, warning that queer fans would be “rooted out and stabbed” at the games. Before the Cup, there were multiple warnings to queer football fans travelling from abroad not to express public queerness, and verbal threats from Russian Cossacks in Rostov-on-Don, one of the World Cup’s host cities, that they would patrol the streets looking for “kissing men.”
These incidents and more betray the deep homophobia that pervades Russian culture, the host country of this year’s World Cup. Having Russia host this year’s games was a source of controversy within the football world from the beginning, leaving many uneasy about the message conveyed by allowing a country responsible for grave human rights abuses and anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination to host one of the most-watched sporting events in the world. In many ways, by allowing Russia to host the games, FIFA has become complicit in the anti-queer violence that has occurred as a result, and in many ways, has chosen money and sponsorships over human rights in their actions.
The Putin regime has long used LGBTQ+ people as a scapegoat to bolster Mr. Putin’s presidency, fostering anti-queer discrimination to distract people from genuine issues facing Russian society, including poverty, high rates of mortality, youth suicide, alcoholism, and more. Over the past five years, these anti-LGBTQ+ stances have become more vocal, vivid, and brutal. Since a 2013 law began criminalizing “propaganda” surrounding “nontraditional” sexual relationships, untold hundreds of LGBTQ+ journalists, activists, educators and more — including myself — have been forced to immigrate out of the country. In a report released last year, the Center for Independent Social Research found that queerphobic hate crimes had doubled in the country since the law was passed.
And yet FIFA and all of the organization’s Western sponsors turned a blind eye to these atrocities. Gravest among them may be last year’s genocide of queer people in the Republic of Chechnya, in which 100 LGBTQ+ people, predominantly gay men, were rounded up in the country and put in secret detention centers. There, they were tortured, abused, humiliated, and some even murdered or driven to suicide. The genocide forced queer people to flee their homes in Chechnya and seek safety; earlier this year, it was reported that Russian authorities had failed to open any criminal cases or publicly rebuke Chechnya’s human rights abuses one year on from when they were first reported.
A few months before the World Cup, pressure exerted by the international community, foreign leaders, and human rights activists led Russia to conduct a mysterious “investigation” into the events that had occured in Chechnya. Its final report, issued this May, stated that “there weren’t any human rights violations in Chechnya, as gay people did not exist there at all.”
I am just one of thousands who have experienced violence and the direct consequences of Russia’s homophobic environment, and I and those like me can feel and relate to the pain and suffering of the LGBTQ+ individuals in Chechnya, queer football fans experiencing violence during the World Cup, and ongoing discrimination the LGBTQ+ community continues to face in Russia. We cannot continue to tolerate the hypocracy of FIFA and its support of Putin. Tonight, RUSA LGBT (Russian-Speaking American LGBTIQ Association), a network of immigrants and asylees from the Former Soviet Union countries, are holding a protest against the World Cup in Times Square, and we demand that FIFA and sponsors of the World Cup take a decided position against the Russian Government and its hostile, brutal, violent, and anti-human politics against LGBTQ+ people. We also demand that FIFA improve its policies on acceptance and inclusiveness of LGBTQ+ players. Without these steps forward, football will remain a sport in which queerphobia thrives, and the World Cup will remain a global sporting platform complicit in the discrimination of queer people everywhere.