Western progressives occasionally enjoy caring about the plight of foreigners, but only so long as their problems seem vaguely familiar and relatable. Their troubles can’t be too dark or terrible — say, getting hunted down, arrested, lashed, and sent to prison by your government for being gay, which is what happens to homosexuals in Nigeria — because that’s a horror far too exotic for your typical European or American to readily empathize with. Much better for the victims to only be one degree worse off than ourselves — like the gays in Russia, who live in a society in which homosexuality is legal and tolerated, but the state makes organizing the pride parade harder than is probably justifiable.
Being gay myself, I’ve long found the current slacktivist campaign framing Russia as the world’s worst outlier of homophobia tiresome and sheltered. It minimizes the vastly worse suffering of LGBT communities in far more repressive states that don’t happen to have the Olympics (such as basically all of Africa) and ignores the many far more substantial human rights abuses of the Putin regime, both at home and abroad (like openly arming the bloody Syrian dictatorship).
Could life for Russian gays stand to be better? Homophobic opinions are certainly rampant, but it’s important to remember we’re also talking about a modern, urban country containing what Lonely Planet describes as “active gay and lesbian scene,” complete with vibrant gay bars, clubs, newspapers, and lobby groups. As a fine story in the New Republic noted, in the eyes of many LGBT Russians, “The Only People Harassing the Gays of Sochi are the Foreign Journalists.”
It’s similarly worth remembering that much of the western backlash against Russia was spawned by the passage of a vague, mostly symbolic law against spreading “gay propaganda” to children that has been used to fine all of four people since it was passed last summer, and may never wind up being fully enforced.
In Uganda, by contrast, their government recently passed a bill making homosexuality a criminal offence punishable by life in prison.
A little perspective might be nice.