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  1. Politics
21 November 2013

How we can halt Putin’s war on gays

Putin’s war on gays is a noxious combination of the authoritarianism of the former USSR and the social conservatism of the Church. And we must keep paying attention to it.

By Eleanor Margolis

First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist”: so begins Martin Niemöller’s haunting critique of the German intellectuals who looked on while the Nazis rose to power. Who, 80 years later, is speaking out while Russia comes for its LGBT population?

There’s clearly a voice for gay rights within Russia, as harrowing images of bloodied activists are becoming increasingly common. Since Stephen Fry’s impassioned open letter to David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee, calling for the fastapproaching Winter Olympics to be pulled out of Sochi, protesters have been piling pressure on the Games’ sponsors to withdraw funding. One online petition, demanding that Coca-Cola speak out against Russia’s anti-gay laws, gained 350,000 signatures in October.

It’s hard to say whether Fry’s letter acted as a catalyst for the ongoing condemnation of Russia’s right to host the Games but his comparison of the crackdown on gay rights with anti-Semitic legislation passed by the Nazis was certainly powerful. Comparisons to Nazism are usually idle and misplaced, but in this case likening the dead-eyed Putin to Hitler couldn’t be more apt.

In Russia, supposedly a progressive democracy, new anti-gay legislation is opening the way for a state in which LGBT people are tortured to death, while the authorities do nothing. In a series of bills pushed through the Duma, Putin has criminalised “homosexual propaganda”.

You need only to Google Putin and take a look at his devastatingly camp shirtless photos to see the irony in this (in Russia anyone who “looks gay” – cough – is committing an arrestable offence). With their perpetrators safe from prosecution, homophobic attacks have become routine in Russia.

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Many of these are carried out by neo-Nazi gangs who are leading a campaign called “Occupy Paedophilia”. (Russia has a bizarre history of confusing love between members of the same sex with child molestation; in 1933, Stalin outlawed homosexuality for this very reason. Mind you, this is a man who also thought that Holland and the Netherlands were two separate countries.)

Homosexuality was first outlawed by Tsar Peter the Great in the 18th century. It was decriminalised by Lenin shortly after the 1917 Russian Revolution, then recriminalised by Stalin. In 1993, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin decriminalised homosexuality for the second time. The common factor in Russia’s intermittent scapegoating of LGBT people is a desire to buddy up to the Orthodox Church – even in the case of Stalin, some historians have argued. Putin’s war on gays is a noxious combination of the authoritarianism of the former USSR and the social conservatism of the Church.

All calls to withdraw the Winter Olympics from Sochi have been ignored and the games are set to open in February next year. When it comes to gay rights abuses, Russia is in effect a truculent toddler being handed a lollipop by a dishevelled and jaded parent. We fought, we lost.

On the other hand, the international movement against homophobia is now more vocal than ever. As Desmond Tutu said, in response to Russia’s legislated gay hate, “I’d rather go to hell than worship a homophobic God.”

  1. Politics
7 November 2013

Why are lesbian dates so much like therapy sessions?

There’s something about drinking coffee with a woman I’m trying to have sex with that urges me to talk about That Thing from my childhood where I accidentally swallowed a piece of Lego and wet myself, and how it moulded me into a stumpy, neurotic, hirsute

By Eleanor Margolis

‘‘Are you going to sleep with that?” My mum is looming over my bed, looking both troubled and tickled. I am clutching a bag of pasta.

“Leave me,” I say.

I’ve been watching back-to-back episodes of The Borgias for three days and am finding it difficult not to speak like an emotionally diarrhoeal Renaissance lady who has taken to her bedchamber because her lover was run through with a pike. Maybe that’s where I went wrong on my date. That said, my suitor did show up late, looking decidedly less like Botticelli’s Venus than she did in her OkCupid picture.

I’m not sure why lesbian dates are so . . . feelings. And, yes, as a lesbian I have a licence not only to wear knitted jumpers with cats on them non-ironically, but to use “feelings” as an adjective. There’s something about drinking coffee with a woman I’m trying to have sex with that urges me to talk about That Thing from my childhood where I accidentally swallowed a piece of Lego and wet myself, and how it moulded me into a stumpy, neurotic, hirsute dyke of a 24-year-old. I tend to mistake potential girlfriends for therapists. My actual therapist has told me to stop doing this.

“How was the date, Knaidel?” the looming woman asks. For those unfamiliar with Yiddish, my nickname means “matzo ball”, a type of dumpling that you eat in soup. Every time my mum uses it, I feel like I’ve been floating around in chickeny water for my entire life. And although she named me after one with the cocoonish affection of a thousand Jewish mothers, I can’t help wondering if in fact it’s Yiddish for “adult who lives with her parents in a dire state of prolonged adolescence”.

“Leave me,” I repeat.

I turn over and lovingly spoon the bag of pasta. After the feelings-fest date, I got a serious carb craving and came home with fusilli and a frown. I decided, almost angrily, that I’d spend the rest of the day eating and masturbating.

While unpacking my shopping, which also included a pound of carrots, which I’ll probably never eat, I realised I was knackered and got into bed with the pasta. And here I am now, clutching food and wondering if I even have the energy for a wank.

“Come on,” I say to myself, “I bet Lucrezia Borgia always had time to pleasure herself, even in between bouts of being a badass femme fatale.”

It would be a lot easier with a vibrator, though – the slob’s aid to onanism. Mine recently died on me and I’ve been waiting for a new one to arrive via Her Majesty’s Royal Mail. I like to think it will be presented to me on a red velvet cushion, amid a trumpet fanfare, by the Queen herself. Maybe she’ll even knight me with the Lovebuzz 2000, or whatever it’s called.

While I’m fantasising about royalty and sex toys, something lands in my lap.

“I think that might be for you,” my mum says. She’s standing in the doorway with a cup of Lady Grey in her hand.

“FYI,” she continues, “it doesn’t ’alf look cheap. How much did you give for it?”

I shake the open jiffy bag over my lap, and out drops some vaguely cock-shaped silicone. The package is addressed to the ambiguous “Ms Margolis”.

Damn my feminist principles. Mum clearly thought it was for her. And what does she know about vibrators all of a sudden? I start to panic at the thought that she might be an expert. I bury my face in my pillow.

“Leave me,” I say.