Sacramento’s Russians, Sochi and the homophobia double standard

One of the biggest storylines leading up to next month’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, is the Western world’s stern disapproval of Russia’s homophobia and the fear that it could cast a pall over the event and lead to problems for gay Olympians and gay tourists coming to Sochi for the games.

This, in turn, is likely to lead to stories about the Russian community in the Sacramento area and its troubling history. This is from a 2006 Los Angeles Times story:

“SACRAMENTO — Organizers of the annual Rainbow Festival were prepared for trouble.

“The Q Crew, a local ‘queer/straight alliance,’ distributed cards telling people what to do if approached by hostile demonstrators. Sympathetic local church groups formed a protective buffer along the festival ground’s cyclone fence. Mounted police were on patrol.

“Jerry Sloan manned a table for Stand Up for Sacramento, a recently formed gay self-defense organization.

“‘So far, so good,’ he said. ‘No Russians.

“The festival, held last month amid the gay bars, restaurants and shops of midtown’s ‘Lavender Heights’ neighborhood, went off without conflict. But the elaborate security preparations reflected growing tensions between Sacramento gays and the city’s large and vociferous community of fundamentalist Christians from the former Soviet Union.”

Things appear much better now than in 2006 and 2007, when there was a fatal hate crime, but it is still an issue and will probably be part of how the California media covers Sochi.

Thoughtcrime: How dare you cite homophobic non-Westerners!

But there’s another angle that always amazes me. It’s the gigantic double standard the Western mainstream media have about homophobia. When they point out its existence in Russia — or anywhere in the U.S. or Europe — there is a judgmental tone. As someone who opposed Proposition 22 in 2000, this doesn’t bother me. I’m a libertarian, not a social conservative.

However, when people point out homophobia in non-Western nations, it’s often depicted as a sign of their intolerance, incredibly enough. As a Buzzfeed map illustrated last summer, there are 76 nations in the world where it is illegal to be homosexual — Arab and Muslim nations in the Middle East and Asia and nations with a variety of religions in Africa and the Caribbean. Russia is not on the list. In these 76 nations, gay loathing is an accepted and encouraged cultural norm, and being gay opens one up to criminal sanctions.

Yet while homophobic Russians in Russia and the Sacramento Valley are fair game for critics of homophobia, the Western media’s cultural/racial/ethno-protectionism insulates residents of 76 other nations from such criticism by implying that those who offer the criticism are the problem — not the homophobes they criticize.

“1984” never came to pass, but Orwell’s conception of thoughtcrime is one of the most powerful forces in modern culture. How strong is it? Even liberal gays won’t swim against the tide.


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