While the focus of most mainstream American LGBT organizations is same-sex marriage, it's easy to forget that in some countries, queers are just fighting to survive. American LGBT movements are often caught up in assimilationist goals, neglecting questions of survival and ignoring intersectional identities and oppressions. I found "36 Photos from Russia That Everyone Needs To See" and "Gays in Russia Are Under Attack" to be useful perspectives on the struggle for queer rights and gender expression in the home of this year's Olympic Games. As a queer teacher, I'm horrified to think of the impact this internationally sanctioned homophobia will have on LGBT youth. I've watched so many young people struggle with fear, self-hatred, and rejection. I've counseled countless students who were verging on suicide, terrified and lonely, unable to imagine a future for themselves. Over the past 25 years this has changed dramatically; many of my LGBT students now seem confident, ambitious, and unafraid. Sometimes they're entirely unaware of the violent history that led to the gentrified identities so popular in mainstream media. The images coming from Russia feel strangely familiar to me, more akin to my own coming out experiences in the Midwest and Great Plains than glossy pop stars and cutesy sitcom characters. Russia has much to learn from America's LGBT culture, but America has much to learn from Russian courage. The photos I'm seeing show an incredible grassroots movement of brave queer people and allies willing to literally risk their lives for love. American queers still put our lives on the line, but for what? A wedding registry at Target? We can do better; we can ask for more. We must learn from our Russian cousins about activism and remember that liberation and assimilation are not the same thing.
|ALEXANDER DEMIANCHUK / Reuters|