Russian activists demonstrate in St. Petersburg.
Russian Activists Encourage Lansing To Sever Ties
By Susan Horowitz and Todd Heywood
Originally printed 7/22/2013 (Issue 2129 - Between The Lines News)
LANSING - Activists in St. Petersburg, Russia are encouraging leaders of Michigan's Capitol City to take action over violations of the human rights of LGBT citizens in that city.
"Every message and action of solidarity is important," Olga Lenkova tells Between The Lines in an exclusive email interview. Lenkova serves as the communications manager for St. Petersburg's LGBT rights organization Coming Out.
"It is important to raise the issue, and it is important to make human rights a focus point in the international relations. It is equally important to continue the struggle for acceptance and equality at home in your own town and country," she wrote later in the email. "In the era of globalization, human rights can't exist separately in every country, and it is globally that we have to fight for them."
Lenkova's interview with BTL - even though she identifies as heterosexual - could subject the 27-year-old woman to arrest, imprisonment and fines for violating St. Petersburg nearly two year-old ban on propaganda in favor of LGBT people. The Russian Federation's national government adopted a similar ban at the end of June, leading to travel advisories being issued by the U.S. State Department for LGBT citizens.
Lenkova's comments mirror statements made in background interviews with other LGBT residents of St. Petersburg, as well as on the record statements by the international LGBT equality group All Out, which is working with Coming Out to address human rights abuses. BTL is not identifying the other activists at their request, out of concern for their safety.
Lansing's political leadership began to address the issue last week when First Ward City Councilperson Jody Washington expressed condemnation of a June 29 protest in which LGBT activists were beaten by nationalist and neo-Nazis while St. Petersburg police stood by. Following the beatings, 60 activists were arrested for violating the city's ban.
"I do not believe that Lansing, Michigan should be in a Sister City agreement with St. Petersburg, Russia when these type of violations are occurring," Washington told BTL in an email last week. "I do believe that the agreement violates the Human Rights Ordinance. We have long been working on making Lansing, Michigan an inclusive city where everyone's civil rights are protected. To be in an official agreement with any part of the world that violates those human rights that we have protected in our ordinances does not make any sense, whatsoever."
The next day, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero - who has a long history of supporting the LGBT community and helped to pass the city's 2006 human rights ordinance - told MLive.com that ending the relationship was "the exact opposite" of how the city should handle the abuses and the Sister City relationship.
Lansing has had an official Sister City status with St. Petersburg in 1994, Martha Fujita of the Sister City Commission tells BTL. However, the relationship has been "dormant" for the last six years.
While the Lansing Sister Cities Commission is an independent nonprofit, it received $20,000 from the city of Lansing in this current budget year, to underwrite activities. The city also contributes $23,000 a year for Fukita's salary.
Bernero has not, as of Sunday night, responded to a series of questions submitted by BTL to the mayor on Thursday night.
While Bernero is mum, other councilmembers and Lansing area leaders are weighing in on the situation. Councilmembers Carol Wood and Brian Jeffries have both stated that they support ending the partnership. Fourth Ward Councilperson Jessica Yorko says the relationship should be put "on hold" until the abuses end. Yorko's opponent in the August primary, Chong-Anna Canfora, issued a press release on Monday night calling for an end to the Sister City status for St. Petersburg. Councilmember Kathie Dunbar did not respond to email requests for comment.
Glenn Freeman III, President of the Lansing Labor Council - which represents all of the local unions in Lansing - has also called for an end to the relationship.
"The Labor movement has long stood with our LGBT brothers and sisters in the fight for equality," Freeman said in an exclusive statement to BTL. "The continued targeted violence both in society and in the law in St. Petersburg against LGBT people is simply unacceptable and anathema to our values in Lansing. We are a World Class City and part of being a leader in the world is telling our friends that their behavior is abhorrent. There can be no question that is the case in St. Petersburg, and Lansing City Council and the Mayor should immediately end the Sister City relationship with that city until and if they change their violent repression of free speech in general, and LGBT people in particular."
- School To Re-Examine Policy That Led To Dismissal Of Lesbian Teacher
- The LGBT&A Caucus Changes The Political Landscapes
- Pride Night At The Palace
- Fifth Annual Transgender Health Fair
- HARC Introduces Virtual AIDS Walk
- OUTFest Returns For 20th Annual Celebration
- State Republicans Question Need For "T" In LGBT Protections
- Sterling Heights City Council Rescinds Non-Discrimination Law
- Carpeting & Rugs
- Merkel Furniture and Carpet One
- Families and Parents
- Family Equality Council
- Coalition for Adoption Rights Equality, Inc. (CARE)
- Home & Garden
- Greenbliss Group - SE Michigan Region
- Trillium Birth Services
- Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History
- Religious & Spiritual
- Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit
- Social/Community Organizations
- International Mr. Leather, Inc.
- Lesbian Lending Library
- The Tux Shop on Woodward
Enter contests to win great prizes like CDs, DVDs, concert tickets and more
- Q&A: Bill Hader Talks Gay Kisses ('Paul Rudd Tastes Like Chicken') & Trans Sketch ('Sorry')
- Q&A: Jennifer Hudson On Lesbian Rumors & Drag Queen Attitude: 'I Don't Care What You Think'
- Q&A: Annie Lennox On Her Legacy, Why Beyonce Is 'Feminist Lite'
- Barbra Streisand's Duet With Gay Son Is Highlight Of New Album
- BREAKING: Is Terri Lynn Land's Family Violating Nonprofit Regulations?
Sign up to receive our weekly newsletters today!
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer and running mate Lisa Brown sat down with BTL publishers Jan Stevenson and Susan Horowitz prior to the Michigan Democratic Convention for a wide-ranging conversation about their campaign, what a SchauerBrown administration would be like for the LGBT community and who would be included. They addressed LGBT civil rights, health issues, senior care, marriage equality and how both of them have come to be such vocal allies of the LGBT community. Here is a recap of Schauer's words on these concerns.View More Pride Source Votes
This Week's Issue
Download or view this week's print issue today!
Sign up to receive our weekly newsletters today!