In August, Madonna spoke out for LGBTQ rights at a concert in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“I’m here to say that the gay community, and gay people, here and all around the world, have the same rights,” the singer said. “The same rights to be treated with dignity, with respect, with tolerance, with compassion, with love.”
In response, 10 anti-gay activists filed a lawsuit seeking $10.7 million from Madonna for promoting “homosexual propaganda” and “propaganda of perversion” among youths.
The judge threw the case out after a one-day hearing on Nov. 22, and though that was certainly the right decision, the global struggle against homophobia continues. People cannot dismiss the case as a frivolous anomaly; the lawsuit is merely one of many examples of the entrenched homophobia and traditional heterosexism of Russian society. The trial must be taken seriously by people — especially young people — from all over the world to truly address and dispel such inequalities by speaking out for LGBTQ rights.
Homosexual activity has only been legal in Russia since 1993. But same-sex marriages are still illegal, civil partnerships are not recognized and LGBTQ couples cannot adopt children together. Moscow courts even enacted a 100-year ban on gay pride parades last March.
The lawsuit filed against Madonna reflects a society that is very much stuck in the past. During the trial, plaintiffs claimed that Madonna’s speech, which promoted the acceptance of other sexual orientations, would threaten the “values of a traditional family, which are currently in crisis in this country.” The plaintiffs even went as far as to say that by speaking up for gay rights at her concert, Madonna directly traumatized minors in the audience. It’s hard to miss the irony of this assessment in light of the numerous people — not just in Russia — who are traumatized by homophobia, hate crimes, discriminatory legislature and de facto oppression.
The lawsuit also shows that gay rights are not the only thing at stake: The right to free speech also hangs in balance. Since 2006, nine regions of Russia have enacted bans on “homosexual propaganda,” and St. Petersburg is one of them. It is unclear whether or not the ban was intentionally vague, but either way, it allows people to submit lawsuits like the one filed against Madonna and creates a suppressive environment in which people can and will be persecuted for speaking out for human rights.
And Russia isn’t alone: 76 countries have criminalized homosexuality and advocacy for equal rights with punishments ranging from fines to life in prison. Five countries sentence people to death for same-sex activity.
Just as the lawsuit cannot be written off as a silly rarity, Americans cannot afford to write this off as a far away, foreign issue.
Even in the United States, the reality is that discriminatory laws and deep cultural homophobia are two of the main obstacles that keep people from treating those who identify as LGBTQ as full citizens. Californians, for one, are currently awaiting the Supreme Court’s decisions on Proposition 8, the ballot proposition that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.
The United States is not immune to the theatrical circus of homophobic dialogue either, from minister John McTernan claiming Hurricane Sandy was caused by a “homosexual agenda” to Senator Michele Bachmann stating that people who identify as homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transgender “are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction.”
But far worse than such comments is the fact that these are people with the power to propose and pass discriminatory legislature. Behind every casual homophobic comment is the bigotry that is very much a part of American society, and that bigotry festers in forms such as unfair laws, familial disownment, lack of proper sex education, job discrimination, bullying, harassment and violent assault. For every ludicrous quip or antic that temporarily grabs the public’s attention, there is something far more dangerous and oppressive happening.
The judge in Russia treated one symptom by throwing out the case against Madonna’s “homosexual propaganda,” but the sickness remains. Until discriminatory laws regarding sexual orientation and gender are repealed and protective ones are put in place, and until there is a large cultural shift, homophobia will continue to rear its ugly face in serious, damaging forms.
Corinne Gaston is a junior majoring in creative writing.