Because the Russian government had the stupid idea of taking measures against gay people just before the Sochi Winter Olympics, we have the impression of tremendous support of LGB rights. In Montreal, Mayor Denis Coderre raised the Rainbow flag, and PM Stephen Harper didn’t attend the opening ceremony. How wonderful!
Until you remember that Stephen Harper’s government is also anti-feminist, does nothing to help LGB rights, andthat he is an overall jerk on most issues. What’s going on?
Actually, what we see of Harper and the others isn’t surprising. LGB rights (and oppression in general) at home are difficult issues. Harper himself is probably not in favor of helping LGB rights or anything, but attacking Putin for his homophobia means free kuddos/potential votes from some centre-right LGB people (while not particularly dangerous with his own anti-gay supporters, because he’s not actually doing anything), free kuddos from pro-gay President Obama, and it’s humiliating an unfriendly government. Statesmanship at its best.
Even if he were supportive of LGB rights, anything he would do would be controversial, and controversy is not good for politicians. There are pressure groups and by-elections. People in your party or major funders may not support you all the way. The issues are muddy. Besides, talking about a problem admits the problem exists, and problems are bad for national pride — how could we have such problems? Much better not to do anything and stay in denial (unless, you know, you’re actually working for a better world, but I’m working under the assumption that you’re a politician here).
When oppression happens abroad, however, that’s great news! Most modern governments normally hold some legitimacy on how they protect individual rights and such, and blaming other governments, especially unfriendly governments, is pure candy.
- It involves very little political risk.
- It shows how great and respectful and open-minded and free your administration is.
- For the same reason, it bolsters patriotism, because you would never have such oppressive laws, of course not. Hurray us! Raise the flag, and not the gay one!
Governments and the people close to them are not the only culprits. The media are extremely good at this, especially the middle-of-the-road newspapers and TV channels who work hard not to offend anyone, lest their readership/ratings fall. And the individual people who listen to them are the same, as anyone who uses social media will have noticed with the Sochi games.
It’s nothing new either. The Cold War was a great example.
On the one side, a giant capitalist oligarchy was telling everyone they had to defend peace, freedom and their well-being from a dangerous and violent communist dictatorship with no morals and greedy officials, which did not recognize individual rights and unfairly dominated independent countries.
On the other side a giant communist oligarchy was telling everyone they had to defend peace, freedom and their well-being from a dangerous and violent capitalist oligarchy ruling a sexist and racist society, with no morals and greedy officials, which did not recognize individual and collective rights and unfairly dominated independent countries.
Luckily, the United States slightly amended themselves with regards to racism and sexism (the USSR was explicitly feminist and anti-racist, with relative success), but on the whole, nothing really happened on either side. By blaming the other’s lack of freedom, both the USA and the USSR could continue not being free themselves.
Examples are numerous. Allegedly, we, the Western World, have burned the Middle East to the ground because women were oppressed there — and yet our feminist movements are stalled, and there is even regression with regards to reproductive rights. The Rest of Canada is great at saying how Quebec is racist and xenophobic, which allows them not to deal with racism and xenophobia at home. News broadcasts of repression abroad show the full, real violence that’s happening, whereas local repression is glossed over. During the 2012 student strike, in Quebec, police violence was omitted on home news (whereas French news were showing the SPVM beating protesters and the like), but it was all over the place when reporting on Turkey.
The list goes on and on. Constructing an Other as everything you’re not supposed to be is a great way to canalize tensions towards inoffensive targets while not doing anything yourself, or even while reinforcing oppression.
Oppressed people do not want token support. We want acts. Sure, it’s great to support Russian LGB people as a show of solidarity — no question about that. But on the home front where much remains to be done, it’s just rhetoric and propaganda unless something is done.
You waved a Rainbow Flag back at Putin? That’s great! But now, let’s go back to changing the world.