The Assault on Russia's Gay Community

I recently watched a troubling video of a Russian gay teenage boy being harassed, belittled and sprayed with urine by a group his own age. The video was so repugnant and upsetting that I had to stop and start it a few times, eventually to come back to it days later. It's open season on gays and lesbians in Russia. This must end.

The scenes from Russia remind us all about the preciousness and fragility of human dignity. Under certain conditions, it takes but a moment in time to strip someone naked of their dignity. We don't need to look to Russia to know this. But what's happening to Russia's gay community calls upon all of us to turn our attention to that nation.

Throughout Russia, police authorities often stand by as gay and lesbian individuals are physically and sometimes brutally attacked.

A television news anchor was just fired when he publicly declared that he is gay.

In June, President Putin signed an anti-gay propaganda law that is so vague that it's ripe for abuse. For instance, teachers, parents, and others cannot talk to children – even their own children – about homosexuality as something that is normal.

News articles that involve gay issues must now run a disclaimer to warn that the content is not appropriate for children. The list goes on.

We might ask, "What can we do about this issue?"

We must keep this issue alive in the public consciousness. Growing public awareness tied to news reports, social media and other efforts can in fact produce much needed public pressure on Russian leaders who do not want to be ostracized. At gay bars worldwide, people have stopped ordering Russian vodka. President Obama also has spoken out in clear and firm terms against what's happening.

Indeed, the 2014 Winter Olympics are just months away, and international pressure on Putin to change Russia's stance can only help. Otherwise this issue will become a central narrative coming out of Sochi, thereby undermining the very desire of Russia to leverage the Olympics for international positioning.

We may also ask, "How does this affect me?"

Our own sensitivity to such issues in other countries can only make us more sensitive to issues here at home. In just days we will be reminded of some of the struggles that remain: August 28th marks the 50th anniversary of the civil rights March on Washington, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King. And the recent Trayvon Martin case raises a host of issues to address as well.

On a daily basis, each of us find ourselves face-to-face with issues involving human dignity.  The small acts we take in our own lives add up to a larger public consciousness about what we value and the ways in which we wish to live together.

This morning I saw yet another video of a young Russian gay man, Krill Kalugin, being harassed and shoved around by a large group of former Russian paratroopers. His sin? Carrying a rainbow banner that read: “This is propagating tolerance.”

Let us all pick up the banner of human dignity. It matters.