I celebrated Valentine’s Day this year outside the Russian consulate, 58 Melville Street, Edinburgh.
The new cafe on Ferry Road, Coffee and Cream, was having a sale on, so with malice aforethought I selected the largest, cheesiest Valentine’s Card to be delivered to the consulate for Vladimir Putin, and a couple of packs of red shiny hearts and a roll of hearts on crepe paper.
Spoke to the two fine representatives of Police Scotland who were lurking on the corner pretending they hadn’t read the Facebook event, and assured them we wouldn’t be blocking the pavement or doing anything else that the police might feel they had to do something about. (On some previous demos outside the consulate, we’ve been instructed not to approach the door, but not this time.)
And met some friends. The nuns are two Sisters of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence, Convent of Dunn Eideann.
Vladimir Putin is, quite cynically, demonising the LGBT community in Russia in order to strengthen his position as President. The official Russian line is that any claim that LGBT people are being persecuted is slander – they claim “gingers” are treated as badly in the UK as LGBT people in Russia.
No, says Putin. Gay people are welcome in Russia. Just stay away from children.
I read this message from New York Pride 1990 via Pierce Penniless:
They’ve taught us that good queers don’t get mad.
They’ve taught us so well that we not only hide our anger from them, we hide it from each other. WE EVEN HIDE IT FROM OURSELVES. We hide it with substance abuse and suicide and overarhcieving in the hope of proving our worth. They bash us and stab us and shoot us and bomb us in ever increasing numbers and still we freak out when angry queers carry banners or signs that say BASH BACK. For the last decade they let us die in droves and still we thank President Bush for planting a fucking tree, applaud him for likening PWAs to car accident victims who refuse to wear seatbelts. LET YOURSELF BE ANGRY. Let yourself be angry that the price of our visibility is the constant threat of violence, anti-queer violence to which practically every segment of this society contributes. Let yourself feel angry that THERE IS NO PLACE IN THIS COUNTRY WHERE WE ARE SAFE, no place where we are not targeted for hatred and attack, the self-hatred, the suicide – of the closet.
The next time some straight person comes down on you for being angry, tell them that until things change, you don’t need any more evidence that the world turns at your expense. You don’t need to see only hetero couple grocery shopping on your TV … You don’t want any more baby pictures shoved in your face until you can have or keep your own. No more weddings, showers, anniversaries, please, unless they are our own brothers and sisters celebrating. And tell them not to dismiss you by saying “You have rights,” “You have privileges,” “You’re overreacting,” or “You have a victim’s mentality.” Tell them “GO AWAY FROM ME, until YOU can change.” Go away and try on a world without the brave, strong queers that are its backbone, that are its guts and brains and souls. Go tell them go away until they have spent a month walking hand in hand in public with someone of the same sex.
After they survive that, then you’ll hear what they have to say about queer anger.
Otherwise, tell them to shut up and listen.
Nor is Russia even the worst country in the world to be LGBT. In Nigeria you can be jailed for up to ten years for showing affection to someone of the same sex. In Uganda, the bill that can punish being gay with life in prison is only waiting on the President’s signature to become law. In Jamaica violence against lesbians and gay men has been so endemic ILGA has called it the war on gays. In seventy-six countries homosexuality is illegal: in seven, LGBT people can be executed for our sexual orientation.
Alex Salmond wrote in Pink News that “the legalisation of same-sex marriage was one of the proudest days in Scotland’s history”: David Cameron said it had been a pleasure to be part of delivering this “landmark social change for our country”. At both Holyrood and at Westminster, in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the majority supported equal marriage and opposed the attempts by the religious right to create lawful means of discrimination against same-sex couples, as legislators in the US have done recently in Idaho and in Kansas.
But LGBT asylum seekers are interrogated by the Home Office and told to “prove” their sexual orientation by giving satisfactory answers to questions like “What is it about men’s backsides that attracts you?” and “What is it about the way men walk that turns you on?”
These stories of anti-gay prejudice by immigration authorities have been surfacing for years:
One woman from Jamaica was told by an immigration judge that he did not believe she was homosexual because “you don’t look like a lesbian”. Another lesbian asylum seeker from Pakistan was asked in court “If you are a lesbian you go to clubs – which ones?” despite her being a Muslim woman who did not drink. Her credibility as a lesbian was also questioned because she had not attended a Pride march and the immigration judge her that “all lesbians go to Pride”.
One woman from Uganda – where gay men and women are subjected to increasingly horrific, state-sponsored homophobic violence – said she was even asked whether she’d ever read Oscar Wilde.
During the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi, the eyes of the world are on Russia. It’s worth a chance to shout and be heard. But the laws against LGBT people will still be there when the Olympics go.
We will still be protesting outside the Russian consulate for as long as the anti-LGBT laws in Russia are being used to persecute and abuse, to justify homophobic violence. The paper tape with hearts represented the crime scene that is same-sex love in Russia and elsewhere in the world.
We showed a little personal affection as propaganda:
Wrote messages on the red shiny hearts for the Russian consulate staff:
And finally delivered all our valentines:
There is no use expecting LGBT people to sit down and be grateful that we’re legal now. So long as round the world there are LGBT people being persecuted and discriminated against for their sexual orientation or their gender identity, we will continue to protest.
If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.