As disheartened as I am that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to attack LGBT members in his country by a set of laws meant to corral them, arrest them and beat them, there is one thing I know, and that is gay people in that country will eventually win their ultimate freedom to be who they are. That is mostly because gay Russians have already tasted freedom, at least much more than they are now, and nothing is more addictive than freedom, which means there is no going back.
Back in 1969 at a small gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, a group of gay people decided they had enough of being singled out by police because they were gay and struck back against the brutality that denied them the same equal rights as every other American. It was fortunately enough to be newsworthy and before the night was over, the nation knew what had been going on for a long time by police, not only in New York but all across the nation, in all major cities.
Certainly, gay people and their supporters have been standing up and being arrested and it continues, but President Putin has not seen the last, nor has he seen the full fury of gay people across the entire expanse of the former Soviet Union, to rise up against his laws and his heavy hand of persecution.
During those same turbulent times of the 60s, African-Americans also rose up to demand their equal rights and hundreds of thousands of them showed up in Washington the day Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. The sheer volume of their numbers showed to the world that no longer would African-Americans lie down and allow the police or any other group of individuals or entity to roll over them and deny them simple human decency. They had suffered long enough at the hands of bigots and law enforcement and it was time for a change.
LGBT members and their supporters in Russia must now come together and show Russia and the world that gay people – like African-Americans – will not stand by and be persecuted, and forced back into the closet they fought so hard to leave behind. It will not be an easy road, but then, freedom and liberty never is. Many may suffer imprisonment and some may even die, but eventually, Putin will lose because he stands in the way of Russia’s future, a future that will include the contributions of gay people, as it always has.
I do know one thing in my heart; if Putin’s government managed to round-up every single gay person in Russia and put him or her in prison, the nation would suffer a great downfall and a loss of some of the most talented and gifted people. LGBT members contribute to all sections of society; they are artist, teachers, doctors and even lawyers; they are athletes and civil servants of all kinds; they raise kids and they give billions upon billions of dollars to worthy charities. We always have, even when the law and the fear of losing our jobs forced us to hide who we are. Hiding is no longer an option because silence is death; a lesson we learned so well during the AIDS crisis when we lost so many of our gay brothers to that horrible disease.
Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay person elected to office on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors once said:
“Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.”
The gay people of Russia must do the same; they must stand up and be counted, and in great numbers, enough to tell President Putin and all of Russia that we will not go silently into the night, we are gay and we are proud to be gay because God made us this way. We will no longer hide in fear for our lives and our freedom but we will show that we are everywhere, in every nation and in every family; we are your brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles and your sons and daughters.
Many LGBT members in other nations, such as some of the nations in the Middle East, still face persecution, imprisonment and even death if they are discovered, but even their day will come, when they too realize they must stand up and be counted in great numbers. Because otherwise, brutal and dominant men like President Putin will continue to single them out and persecute them. Their freedom depends on breaking that silence in the face of great persecution.
I say to all my gay brothers and sisters, and to all their supporters in Russia, do not give up, do not be afraid, rise up, and be counted, because your numbers are great.