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Column As the Winter Olympics kick off in Russia, let's consider oppression in all its forms

The situation in Russia is one of the more extreme examples of LGBT rights abuses in the world, but let’s not run the risk of thinking that our community is wholly welcoming by comparison, writes Kevin Donohue.

IN 1716 TSAR PETER the Great outlawed homosexual practise in the Russian military. The move was taken as part of a series of decisions with a view to modernising the nation – and was far from the beginning of the oppression of the LGBT community in Russia.

I give the example merely to remind people that LGBT rights in Russia isn’t restricted to Putin and the Sochi Games. Though I imagine there are a few of you who need no reminding at all.

The Sochi Games merely lends a stage to recently introduced laws around homosexual “propaganda.” The laws, passed on 29 June 2013, strictly forbids the “promotion of homosexuality to minors”. With a view to protecting the fabric of Russian society, you understand.

What the law does in actuality is stop anyone from holding a public demonstration in favour of gay rights, speaking in favour of gay rights, or stating that gay and heterosexual relationships are equal.

Extreme examples of LGBT rights abuses

Groups such as Parents for Russia and Occupy Paedophilia have sprung up recently using Vladimir Putin’s claim that homosexuals pose a risk to children as inspiration for their activities. Timur Isav, a Parents for Russia campaigner was filmed, for a soon to be released Channel 4 documentary called Hunted, handing out lengths of rope at a lesbian and gay event with the suggestion that they should hang themselves.

In November a gay club in Moscow was targeted with a gas attack, just a week after two men opened fire at the doors of the popular venue. Attacks such as these are common place with the perpetrators acting with effective impunity.

The situation in Russia is one of the more extreme examples of LGBT rights abuses in the world, though not the most extreme: there are nine countries in the world where homosexuality is punishable by death according to the law and a great many more where people are willing to take that decision into their own hands. In 2011 30 people were murdered in the US in anti-gay motivated attacks.

Oppression closer to home

Events like the Sochi Games allow us to bring to the fore issues like LGBT rights. However it also has a somewhat negative impact here at home. With video footage of increasingly brutal attacks on the LGBT community being broadcast online, tales of impunity for aggressors, laws that criminalise the very humanity of LGBT people, we run the risk of thinking that our community is wholly welcoming by comparison. While it is good that we are not turning a blind eye to brutalising people for something that comes naturally, it is hardly something to celebrate.

As we move toward marriage equality in Ireland we need to realise oppression, no matter how subtle, how discreet, how unintentional is still exactly that: oppression. The issue of LGBT rights and in particular the right to marry is being talked about more and more here. It’s good to talk about it, we need to talk about it because we need to change.

However these talks inevitably lead to what Panti Bliss so eloquently described as the “reasoned debate.” Panel after panel loaded with homophobes to balance the argument is nothing short of heinous. I’m not sure whether it’s a case that hosts are unaware of what they are doing, or just don’t care. I would like to believe it is the former but the end message for the consumer of such shows is the same. These people, these homophobes, have a valid opinion.

Of course the argument is that we are all entitled to our opinion but just isn’t true. You are not entitled to an opinion. What you are entitled to is an informed opinion. I can’t go into a hospital and start handing out medical advice because I don’t know what I’m talking about and I’m likely to get someone killed. Likewise, many of these people are not informed.

The impact of marriage equality

Admittedly there are those with concern, genuine concern, about the impact marriage equality may have on society. Concerns about how it might affect their lives and marriages. Concerns about how it might affect their children. Well, the truth is that legalising marriage won’t stop criminals from committing crime. It won’t stop you from hating your job or having a row with your spouse about why you didn’t bring in the washing before it started raining. It certainly won’t stop your children from being embarrassed by you.

Sadly it won’t even end oppression. Oppression is something that has existed since the birth of the second human being and is likely to last until the death of the second last one. Marriage equality will result in the equal right to marry for all of us and what is likely to be a few bumper years for hotels from a wedding perspective.

The reality of what is happening in Russia is both shocking and appalling and we should do something about it. However we cannot allow it to conceal the oppressive nature of what happens in our own country.

Kevin Donoghue is Vice President for the BMW Region of the Union of Students in Ireland.

Read: David Norris and Paul Murphy raise homophobia in Irish and EU parliaments

Read: Gay rights student protest takes place at Russian Embassy in Dublin

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