Lansing Mayor's Attitude On LGBT Human Rights Abuses In Russia Just Wrong
By Jan Stevenson and Susan Horowitz. Co-Publishers Between The Lines Newspaper
Originally printed 7/18/2013 (Issue 2129 - Between The Lines News)
Lansing Mayor Virgil Bernero weighed in late Wednesday afternoon on growing concerns by city officials over the municipality's relationship with St. Petersburg Russia. To say he got it wrong is an understatement.
In an interview with MLive.com, Bernero said ending the relationship with St. Petersburg over the beatings and mass arrests of LGBT people solely because of their sexual orientation "is the exact opposite of what we should be doing."
Bernero asked the reporter if perhaps St. Petersburg should have ended its relationship with the city in 2004, when Michigan residents voted to ban same sex marriage in the state constitution.
This is pure bait and switch. There is a significant difference between a policy action and state sponsored terror targeting a minority. And let us be clear - St. Petersburg was the cradle from which Russia's abhorrent anti-gay federal law was suckled. This is not just a federal legal issue in Russia, it is driven by radical nationalist thugs fueled by intolerance for all differences - including LGBT people.
Mr. Mayor, men and women — average citizens — were brutally beaten on June 29 by neo-nationalist thugs, while St. Petersburg police passively watched. Following the beatings, the police arrested the LGBT people - all 60 of them — and charged them for violating the city's law prohibiting "propaganda" on behalf of homosexuality.
Eight of the nationalist bullies were arrested and released without charges.
Things have become so dangerous for LGBT people, that the U.S State Department has issued a travel warning. You can watch the arrests on YouTube to get a sense of the dire situation.
This was not the first time these abuses came to light. This was simply the straw that has broken the proverbial camel's back. St. Petersburg authorities have no interest in discussing the human rights of LGBT people. They want to beat them, imprison them and destroy them. They want to wipe them out of Russian society altogether.
We recall that you ordered city police to refuse to lodge labor protesters arrested at the State Capitol two years ago. We know that you did it because you said free speech was important. Why is it important for Michigan citizens, but not for LGBT citizens in Russia?
You have long claimed yourself as an ally of the LGBT community and we have stood by you, Mr. Mayor.
But not this time. This was a test of leadership and commitment to equality - and you failed. You should truly reconsider your position.
You need to withdraw your defense of this relationship and move to end it immediately. Why? Because even the LGBT leaders of St. Petersburg and Russia say you should.
As Joe Mirabella, communications director for All Out - the international LGBT equality organization working with activists in Russia told us, "If Lansing joined the thousands from around the world who have called for equality in Russia by severing ties with St. Peterburg, they would become a sister city for all of Russia's gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender citizens and their allies. Lansing would be giving them hope."
And in the immortal words of the assassinated gay rights hero and politician Harvey Milk, "You gotta give them hope."
Mr. Mayor you dashed the hopes of our friends in Russia and St. Petersburg. In this matter you have elected to stand on the side of bigotry - unadulterated violent, disgusting bigotry. Worse, you have taken the good will of thousands of hard working LGBT and allied citizens in your city, indeed in this state, and tossed them under the wheels of political expediency in what seems like a petty turf war.
To say you were "shocked" by Lansing City Councilmember Jody Washington's steps to help bring these horrific human rights violations into the public spotlight, is frankly shocking to us. It is the worst of political gamesmanship when human beings lives are at stake.
We challenge you Mr. Mayor, since you believe you can discuss the bigotry out of St. Petersburg, to jump on the next flight to Russia with a stack of copies of Lansing's Human Rights Ordinance. When you disembark, we challenge you to walk the streets of St. Petersburg wearing a rainbow flag lapel button next to your City of Lansing button and distribute those ordinances to the residents of the city.
We challenge you to gather activists who believe in human rights and speak, publicly, about your support for the LGBT community. If you survive the beatings you will likely take for this, we suspect you will return to Lansing after being arrested, fined and ejected from Russia.
If you can't, or won't, do this, Mr. Mayor, then you need to stop playing games with the lives of the LGBT citizens of St. Petersburg and Russia. Do the right thing. End the Sister Cities agreement - Today.
If you don't end the relationship you will show beyond all reasonable doubt that you have pandered to the LGBT community in a political game which was about gaining power, not doing the right thing.
We have lost hope in you, Mr. Mayor. Can you restore it or will you be assigned to the dustbin of history as another cynical politician who put politics over human life? We sincerely hope you will restore it.
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