“I’m travelling around the world, and I feel it in the air; I feel that people are becoming more and more afraid of people who are different – people are becoming more and more intolerant”.
This past August, while performing a concert in St. Petersburg, Russia, Madonna spoke out for the rights of the LGBT community, something she’s done since coming to prominence in the early ’80s.
In response, 10 anti-gay activists filed a lawsuit seeking $10.7 million from Madonna for promoting “homosexual propaganda” and “propaganda of perversion” among youths.
A couple of weeks ago, the judge threw the case out after a one-day hearing and though that was certainly the right decision, the global struggle against homophobia continues.
It’s easy to get caught up in name calling and bad mouthing when it comes to Madonna. Every stop of her MDNA tour seems to have followed a different missive, sometimes missing the mark completely while often getting it bang on.
Many will cry that Madonna’s politics are designed to nurture column inches. She’s currently promoting a record that’s sales numbers are comparably only to audience numbers for Shanghai Surprise, though in the matter of her St Petersburg address, people should not dismiss the case as a frivolous anomaly.
This lawsuit was merely one of many examples of the entrenched homophobia and traditional heterosexism of Russian society. The trial should be taken seriously by people from all over the world to truly address and dispel such inequalities by speaking out for LGBTQ rights.
Homosexual activity has only been legal in Russia since 1993. But same-sex marriages are still illegal, civil partnerships are not recognized and LGBTQ couples cannot adopt children together. Moscow courts even enacted a 100-year ban on gay pride parades last March.
The lawsuit filed against Madonna reflects a society that is very much stuck in the past. During the trial, plaintiffs claimed that Madonna’s speech, which promoted the acceptance of other sexual orientations, would threaten the “values of a traditional family, which are currently in crisis in this country.” The plaintiffs even went as far as to say that by speaking up for gay rights at her concert, Madonna directly traumatized minors in the audience.
On street commentary from Russian citizens at the time ranged from bafflement over what all the fuss is about, to angry disapproval, with one punter seriously suggesting that encouragement of LGB relationships could weaken the border, after all, if people are only having bum sex, how will the next generation of armed forces be born?
The lawsuit also shows that gay rights are not the only thing at stake: The right to free speech also hangs in balance. Since 2006, nine regions of Russia have enacted bans on “homosexual propaganda,” and St. Petersburg is one of them. It is unclear whether or not the ban was intentionally vague, but either way, it allows people to submit lawsuits like the one filed against Madonna and creates a suppressive environment in which people can and will be persecuted for speaking out for human rights.
And Russia isn’t alone: 76 countries have criminalized homosexuality and advocacy for equal rights with punishments ranging from fines to life in prison.
Five countries sentence people to death for same-sex activity.
Just as the lawsuit cannot be written off as a silly rarity, Americans cannot afford to write this off as a far away, foreign issue.
Even in the United States, the reality is that discriminatory laws and deep cultural homophobia are two of the main obstacles that keep people from treating those who identify as LGBTQ as full citizens. Californians are currently awaiting the Supreme Court’s decisions on Proposition 8, the ballot proposition that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.
The US is not immune to the theatrical circus of homophobic dialogue either, from minister John McTernan claiming Hurricane Sandy was caused by a “homosexual agenda” to Senator Michele Bachmann stating that people who identify as homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transgender “are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction.”
But far worse than such comments, is the fact that these are people with the power to propose and pass discriminatory legislature. Behind every casual homophobic comment is the bigotry that is very much a part of American society, and that bigotry festers in forms such as unfair laws, familial disownment, lack of proper sex education, job discrimination, bullying, harassment and violent assault. For every ludicrous quip or antic that temporarily grabs the public’s attention, there is something far more dangerous and oppressive happening.
The judge in Russia treated one symptom by throwing out the case against Madonna’s “homosexual propaganda,” but the sickness remains. Until discriminatory laws regarding sexual orientation and gender are repealed and protective ones are put in place, and until there is a large cultural shift, homophobia will continue to rear its ugly face in serious, damaging forms.
The Offending Speech:
We have the right to be free! To be who we are! It’s a very strange time in the world, I’m travelling around the world, and I feel it in the air; I feel that people are becoming more and more afraid of people who are different – people are becoming more and more intolerant. It’s a very scary time, but we can make a difference – we can change this! We have the power, and we don’t have to do it with violence, we just have to do it with love. Yes, I like this t-shirt [points to fan in the audience], let me read it out loud. “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love”, and who said that? Martin Luther King said that, and he fought for the rights of African and African-American people, he fought for their rights to be equal, to be treated equal, to be treated with tolerance, love and human dignity. He fought and he died for this principle. Now, I’m here to say that the gay community and gay people here and all around the world have the same rights! The same right to be treated to dignity, with respect, with love! Yes, are you with me? If you’re with me, I want to see your pink arm band [given out before the show].If you’re with me, raise your arm! And show your love and appreciation for the gay community! Are you with me? And this is for people who are quoting the Bible – Jesus preached this; Moses preached this; Muhammed preached this; it’s in every holy book – ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’. So, you cannot use religion to treat other people badly, you cannot use God’s name to treat other people badly. We all deserve love, so let’s go out into the world and spread this message of love and live our lives without fear! Amen.