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This week the gay community has just worked itself into a frothy lather of the non-sexual variety.
It has been decided (by Dan Savage, and Ku Bar, and G-A-Y) that we should boycott vodka. The reasons for this are manifold, but mainly to do with Vladimir Putin’s recent anti-gay laws and the upsurge in homophobic crime this is causing in the country. I stand with Savage, and Ku Bar, and G-A-Y, and I’m proud that they’re willing to take a stance for the rights of LGBT people in Russia. But I do have some questions, in general, about what else we can do.
Some pundits have asked how much effect a ban on Stoli (which is actually produced in Latvia) will have, especially when the brand itself has come out as a vocal supporter of LGBT rights. I personally have no problem with boycotting Russian vodka, because it does bring some kind of attention to what’s going on in the former USSR, but I do wonder if this is now the time to look more widely at how we can express our distaste at anti-gay and anti-trans laws around the world.
Take for instance Greece, where right now the government is rounding up our trans brothers and sisters, and forcing them into internment camps with sex workers, drug users and immigrants. This so-called ‘Operation Zeus’ strikes the vulnerable like a lightning bolt. Over 5,000 ‘undesirables’ have been locked away already, with the number in temporary facilities uncharted. Watchdog.net currently has a petition to call for an end to these internment camps. As a member state of the EU, and one that was recently given a bailout by other EU nations, it seems absurd that their persecution of trans people should be tolerated by other member states. What of the infamous European Court of Human Rights?
It was in May that sex workers were first arrested and forced to take HIV tests. It is under the pretence of hunting for sex workers that trans men and women are now being threatened to ‘return to normal’ or else. The threat reminds me, of course, of the provocative ‘go home or face arrest’ vans circling London. There’s a dark vein trickling through Europe, and it’s a familiar one: undesirables can leave or be arrested. Undesirables, of course, being whichever demonised group (or groups) the press and government thinks will be a winner with the public. (Whether it’s right to expel illegal immigrants or keep drug users off the streets is a debate we’ll have another time and in another place, but the invective behind these initiatives is what worries me most.)
Further afield there are the usual beatings and killings of LGBT people in Jamaica, Uganda and other parts of the world. If we’re going to boycott vodka, therefore, we should probably also have the discussion about boycotting rum, Ugandan Waragi and ouzo too.
Let’s not be naive in thinking this is just a Russian problem. It’s not. Let’s not also be naive in thinking it’s just an LGBT problem. Minorities are being persecuted everywhere, and while inequality exists for some it exists for all. What is disheartening is the way some members of the public, or at least certain factions with far right sympathies, embrace division and hate so readily. Take away a little human comfort in these times of austerity, and we seem to lose sight of our manners. Governments should know this, and yet they still wield the axe liberally.
In closing, I’d like to direct readers to the famous poem attributed to pastor Martin Niemöller, ‘First they came…’, which you can read in full at Wikipedia. We would all do well to remember it.
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