Sunday, 28 September 2014

controversy continues in russia

I sit peacefully in a local coffee shop in my hometown, Manchester. The Northern city is iconic for its music, nightlife and above all its wide kitsch-appeal. People are not afraid to be themselves and stand out; there is a hot spot for every niche going. Another thing that Manchester is famous for is its openly-gay community. Canal Street is a regular hot spot for both homosexual and heterosexual people, all favouring the camp and scintillating atmosphere. But the same cannot be said over three thousand miles away in Russia. Homosexuality is a very taboo and frowned upon subject and you certainly will not see Jeremy Joseph opening a new G-A-Y bar there anytime soon.

Whilst drinking my salted latte I look around the small and dainty coffee shop. People are sat all around me speaking trivially to one another. One side of the room there are a group of bigwig business men speaking sternly to one another, no smiles just sombre faces, whilst a group of twenty-something girls contagiously laugh harmoniously whilst discussing last night’s wild-shenanigans. The bombastic chorus of nonsense seems to fill the room; however I cleverly tried to zone-out of listening to any of it. The feeling you get once the hoover is switched off, peace and tranquility. That’s the feeling that surrounded me. I tried to embrace that peaceful feeling. It’s actually a very difficult thing to do, to not earwig into people’s conversations, especially when you see a row of joyful faces and hear a chorus of blissful laughter.

I carried on taking no notice of others around me, frivolously checking my social media when my eyes became inexplicably transfixed on a lady sat opposite to me. She was a rare, buoyant beauty. She had a remarkably impeccable sense of style. A lady in her late forties proving style has no expiry date. She wore a beautiful red, diaphanous gown, as red as a Coca Cola bottle. Her hair was perfectly styled, almost embodying Brigitte Bardot famous vintage hairstyle. She had laughter lines, but that somehow added to her beauty. I zoned out fairly quickly of my peaceful tranquility and decided to listen to her conversation. I didn't want to seem inquisitive but I was in somewhat in awe of her. I witnessed her relishing as she informed her friends about her devilish encounter with a much young female. I was shocked to discover she was a lesbian woman – not too sound too stereotypical but she didn't fit the usual definition of a lesbian woman. But this got me thinking, if this situation was carried out in Russia, a lady openly admitting to sleeping with a much young woman, would she have been laughed at and shunned out of the coffee shop? Would her friends become strangers? The gritty realisation is that there are thousands of homosexual men and women living their lives fearfully in Russia, with very little help being offered to them.
Russia is a very archaic and religious country, homophobia has somewhat been fetishised and embedded into people’s minds. It was broadcasted heavily within the media earlier this year due to Vladimir Putin, the Russian signing an Anti-Gay Law which made it illegal for individuals to promote homosexual behaviour to any minors; the popular ‘The Simpsons’ character Helen Lovejoy was surely over the moon somebody had listened. Nobody gets it? Remember she chanted “won’t somebody think of the children!” at any given opportunity… No? OK I give up.

Earlier this month a former pop star cemented the countries homophobic views on a popular Russian television show. Yulia Volkova, who rose to fame in the famous pop duo, Tatu; famous for their song ‘All the Things She Said’ and their failed revival of a pop career earlier this year at the Olympics, openly admitted to the world that she would condemn her son if he turned out to be gay. The Russian singer stated that she believed, ‘A man has no right to be a fag’, quite an ironic mind set considering she is most famous for passionately kissing another woman. Volkova took giddy delight in shaming and embarrassing homosexuals around the world saying, "I have many gay friends. I believe that being gay is all still better than murderers, thieves or drug addicts. If you choose out of all this, being gay is a little better than the rest." It is quite shocking that even in 2014 being prejudice is still a ‘thing’.

When I first heard about Russia’s Anti-Gay Law I remembered an interview that had appalled me a few years back due to its light-hearted approach to mock homosexuality. The interview was broadcast in 2010 for the popular Jonathan Ross show. Natalia Vodianova, a Russian supermodel was quizzed about homosexuality in Russia. Ross asked, “Have you met many gay guys in Russia?” to which the model responded gleefully that she had in fact not known what the term ‘gay’ meant before she moved to Paris for modelling at 18. She looked passively towards the cameras, her green eyes smouldering before looking awkwardly at her feet. Her face and attitude showed the scorn she felt about the whole subject. She then went on to say. “Where I come from, if you wear pink shorts and an orange sweater you aren't going to get very far!” before breaking into laughter with the audience. The interview was broadcasted in England, a country that has somewhat accepted homosexuality since it was legalised in 1967, so why were these comments accepted and to an extent praised by the audience?

A very similar law was actually brought into place in England way before I was born. In 1988 the British Government created Section 28. The law was introduced by Margaret Thatcher; it prohibited local authorities, including schools around the country from promoting homosexuality. Portraying homosexuality in a positive light was banned.
It was supposed to protect minors… sounds similar doesn’t it? Thankfully Britain saw sense with the whole debate, and the law was later abolished in 2003 whilst Labour was in Government.

Prejudice behaviour was ripe in the 90s; it’s no surprise considering Government wasn’t condemning it, kind of the opposite in fact. I was naïve to the situation at the time, but I was a child which essentially was part of the social experiment. I was a child growing up in a school environment, where Section 28 was in law. I was blissfully unaware, sex education classes focused solely on heterosexual sex. A man and a woman, no lesbian videos, and certainly no man-on-man action! I did not know the full extent of homosexuality until my early teens. I didn’t learn it through teachers or textbooks, but by names which I was called in the playground. I wasn’t bullied, but I was lightly teased as I was evidently not a macho, football-loving boy.
Although many legislative changes have occurred over the past few decades in England, relating to age of consent, marriage, employment and the goods and service sector, there are still laws in the UK which discriminate against gay people. Gay people are not allowed to give blood; even though there is a shortage in the UK. The argument is that gay people have a higher risk of sexually transmitted infections than heterosexuals, which is true, but given that blood is screened and discarded if needs be, surely it’s worth this extra financial cost if someone’s life is at stake?

interviewed porn star Kayden Gray earlier this year when the Law had first been put in place. I touched briefly on the subject to which he said, “The Russian Anti-Gay Law is an unacceptable display of ignorance and a true disgrace to the human-race.” He was right, the behaviour is inexcusable, so why isn't anything being done about it?

With many once celebrities trying to revive their dwindling careers everyday, could we see a surge of Russian has-beens controversially voicing their opinions on the subject, just to gain a few column inches? Russia should take notes from Manchester, a grandiloquent city famed for its kitsch appeal and open-mindedness. People are born different: different races, different genders, and different sexual orientations. Acceptance and kindness is free, so sprinkle that shit everywhere.


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