Leading up to the Winter Olympic Games of 2014 in Russia, the single most important issue for the Western media was the gay rights issue. Those familiar with Russian society today and the history of the country know that this predominantly conservative male-dominated society has not been friendly to gay people. On the contrary, the anti-gay trend in the country has been associated with the hard-core nationalist-militarist mentality that President Vladimir Putin and other leaders have been projecting as a way of rejecting the pro-gay West. Gay people have suffered merely because they have tried to assert their rights or to expose the hypocrisy of the country that tries to present itself as a “democracy”.
As much as gay rights is a legitimate issue that the government needs to address seriously with anti-gay legislation and strong penalties for those violating the law, the question is the degree to which the media has seized upon the gay rights issue as though it is the sole defining one for Russia. Let us consider just some of the country’s problems and see how gay rights fits into the larger framework.
These are very serious issues that editorial boards decide when they have their writers put together the news. Why does the BBC and the New York Times choose to focus on the Russian gay issue and not so many other social justice issues within the country as well as comparable issues in pro-West countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan? Of course, I realize that the gay rights issue has the kind of celebrity glam-glitz appeal that ordinary run of the mill human rights in Afghanistan do not have. After all, gay rights is historically a Western bourgeois issue, while working class human rights issues like clean drinking water in sub-Sahara Africa simply does not appeal to the Western middle class. This is not to diminish the importance of those fighting for their rights and paying a price for it in the process, nor to criticize the gay activists in the West for their solidarity demonstrations. However, are gay rights the defining issue of for Russia in the early 21st century, at least as far as the commercial Western media is concerned? Are gay rights a “politically correct” issue serving the political agenda of Western governments and corporations that need a way to criticize Moscow but cannot do it any other way without sounding like they are nostalgic for Communism.