Rushin' Elsewhere

Canada to Gay Travelers: Enter Saint Petersburg at Your Own Peril

Canada’s government has issued a stark warning to LGBT travelers who’re still contemplating holidays in Russia’s second city: Enter at your own risk.

“Canadians [in Saint Petersburg] are advised to avoid displaying affection in public, as homosexuals can be targets of violence,” reads the advisory from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, released on Friday. “Homosexuality is legal, though some still strongly disapprove of it.”

The alert comes on the heels of Saint Petersburg’s new “gay gag” law, which mandates fines for anything that could be perceived as “promoting” homosexuality.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the regulation “runs contrary to core Canadian values of freedom of speech, of human rights and the rule of law.”

Baird added that Canada’s Russian ambassador has “written to the Russian government” to express his deep concern about the situation.

The director of Travel Gay Canada, Bruce McDonald, says LGBT Canadians will likely heed the warning and shun Saint Petersburg.

“The number one thing that gay and lesbian travelers look for is safety,” he told the Ottawa Citizen. “If they don’t feel safe, it’s certainly going to be a deterrent.”

Photo by AntoniO BovinO

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  • the other Greg

    “Canadians [in Saint Petersburg] are advised to avoid displaying affection in public, as homosexuals can be targets of violence.”

    Insert [New York], [Los Angeles], [Chicago], [Boston], [Washington], [Detroit – border city], [even San Francisco], or practically any U.S. city. Note that I haven’t even bothered to mention any in the South or Texas.

    My boyfriend and I would refrain from “displaying affection in public” even in the gay nabes of New York or Boston, which we know very well. Or even in Montreal or Toronto, for that matter – who knows what those hockey jocks will do?

    There are still gay people living in St. Petersburg. But alas, not everything in the world is geared to Canadian sensibilities. South Africa for example has – on paper – some of the most pro-gay laws anyone could imagine, and s/s marriage, and all that. Is it a gay paradise? Probably not. (We hope to find out though, eventually!)

    “The number one thing that gay and lesbian travelers look for is safety.” Over-generalize much? Travel is always a danger. If you want someplace “safe” and boring, try one of the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean. I’d suggest Florida or California but, you know, fuck them, they have some anti-gay laws so maybe we should all boycott them.

  • mishi

    Oh, the other Greg…

    Equating what’s happening in Russia to the homophobia in the USA betrays a staggering level of denial. I happen to live in San Francisco, and while there are still ‘phobes about, my partner and I can walk around hand in hand without fears of gangs of neofascist thugs beating us as the police stand by, all with the support of the government and church. Hey, we actually have a queer parade – and a pretty big one, in case you haven’t heard – without worries it will be shut down by the government.

    And your comparing Proposition 8 to the Saint Petersburg law displays an utter inability to make rational moral distinctions. Or maybe you actually believe that what goes on in Salt Lake City is no different from what happens in Kingston, Jamaica? Oh, by all means, ditch your dollars in a city that wishes you dead. You are, after all, such a brave lad.

    And a boycott? What do the lives of Russian queers matter compared to your inalienable right to tourism?

  • RS

    Of note about this posting is that this warning is from the Stephan Harper majority conservative government. They are as right-wing as it gets in Canada.

  • the other Greg

    @mishi: How does it help gay people who are stuck LIVING in St. Petersburg, if we simply avoid going there? I don’t get it. Aren’t the gay people still stuck there? Don’t they still need help, and maybe, some contact with gay people in the outside world?

    I’ve heard all kinds of calls for tourism boycotts, which mostly seem to originate from self-righteous airheads in California. Yet, when Prop 8 passed and there were a few suggestions to boycott California… oh, the agonized squawking from the B&B queens and bar-owners there. THAT, we cannot even consider!

    And boycotting Key West? Apparently it’s not part of the “real” Florida, or something.

    Come on. We went to Newfoundland once to go kayaking, but we didn’t smooch each other in downtown Corner Brook. I doubt anyone would have beat us up if we did, but who knows, eh?

    With your attitude, if you have a passport (which I doubt), I suggest Iceland, and please don’t venture any further into Europe than that.

  • mishi

    Once again, the other Greg…if you find no distinction between Prop 8 and what’s happening in Russia, nothing I can say will change your mind.

    I have no clue as to how ineffective or not a tourism boycott, especially coupled with other international sanctions, would be. Though – since you brought up South Africa – it might be useful to direct your attention to a long-running tourist boycott (coupled with other sanctions) that brought real pressure against the apartheid government there.

    OK, you want to make contact with the queers in Russia? Since things like, oh, gay meetings will presumably be banned, along with any public proclamations of orientation, even wearing a pro-gay T-shirt, just how do you propose to make those contacts? Precisely what sort of “help” would you, as a tourist, have to offer? I mean, I can see, from wherever you are, donating to an international human rights campaign, demonstrating in front of a Russian embassy, even signing onto an online awareness campaign. And this supposed help you’d have to offer between visits to the Peterhof and the Catherine Palace would be exactly what? By all means, elaborate.

    It’s odd that you conflate a concern for human rights with fear of travel. Listen, I originally criticized your attitude, not you. I really have no reason to get into a pissing match, so I hereby decline. No, I don’t have to show you no stinkin’ badges, but since you doubted, I’ve traveled (independently, I might add) all over the world, to over 60 countries at last count, from Cambodia to Syria, from Peru to India. Which has no bearing whatsoever on the matter at hand.

    Lastly, I find it quaint that you criticize over-generalization, then diss boycott supporters as “self-righteous airheads in California.” Talk about attitude! I just read, FYI, a pro-boycott article in the International Herald Tribune by one Masha Gessen, a prominent journalist living in Moscow, which, last time I looked was pretty far from Marin County.

  • the other Greg

    “It’s odd that you conflate a concern for human rights with fear of travel.” No, I don’t do that, the Canadian government is doing that and I’m making fun of that. Also the glorified travel agent who said, “The number one thing that gay and lesbian travelers look for is safety.” And I suppose Queerty adds to the fear a bit with their choice of hyperbolic headline.

    Why is the whole concern boiled down to “displaying affection in public” anyway? (And I thought Canadians were so reserved! Except in Montreal of course.) Displaying gay affection in public is, I guess, a nice perk of western society, but we’ve maybe done that exactly twice here in New England in ten years. Gosh, I think we might be able to refrain from it on vacation in an unfamiliar and slightly scary place like Russia, or say, Laramie, Wyoming.

    Oh dear, how could we possibly get in contact with queers in St. Petersburg, ahead of time, if we were planning to go there? Such a quandary. Well I suppose we might use this internet thing everybody is talking about, or an old-fashioned gay travel book. Or just use our “gaydar.”

    OK, I’ll look up the article you mention. But, you’ve been to “over 60 countries at last count, from Cambodia to Syria [!], from Peru to India.” I think it’s great that you went to all those places, fantastic, but by your own standards, why did you go there? Weren’t most of those places anti-gay, in terms not only of “attitudes,” but of laws? Certainly every country you mention, and any majority Muslim country almost by definition, is worse than this St. Petersburg law! So why a boycott there, specifically, and not… well, MOST countries all around the world?

  • the other Greg

    And to clarify, I DO make a distinction between Prop 8 and *real* anti-gay laws. Marriage is a fairly trivial, upper-middle-class luxury, it’s nice but I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. I was being sarcastic, mishi!

    Real anti-gay repression as in St. Petersburg is serious, and yes I regard it seriously. I just don’t understand how avoiding travel there – and NOT to, for instance, Syria (hot damn, what a gay paradise THAT must be, ha ha ha) is supposed to help.

  • Christopher Banks

    This is something of an academic conversation, really. The two solutions:

    Boycott: The idea being that enough of an economic dent will be made in the city to make it realise that such laws are a dumb idea and their country looks draconian in the eyes of the world.

    Go there and be damned: Yes, I imagine it would be great for other gay men and women to have contact with their brothers/sisters from the outside world, but if you’re going to do that you have to be prepared for the consequences. You may end up being beaten, abused and thrown in some gulag. Are you ready to be a hero? How many of us are like Peter Tatchell?

  • mishi

    No, Syria was not a tolerant place when I visited it (under Daddy Assad). But the difference, at least in my mind, was that anti-gay repression there was not in the international headlines and that there was no organized boycott. Just avoiding travel to a politically objectionable place may make someone feel better about not contributing even a few bucks to repression. But when an actual boycott is being called for, there’s the possibility of collective action leading to change. Boycotts not only result in economic pressure, but send the message, “This place is a pariah state.”

    So OK, you go cruise a park in St. Petersburg and find someone that sets off your gaydar. And then – assuming he speaks English or you speak Russian – what? You say, “Gee, you should not be oppressed” and that makes them feel better? Or you stay at a hotel that Damron says is gay-friendly and that changes something? You think a boycott won’t effect change, but being nice to random homos will? As Christopher Banks pointed out, queer Russian activists are quite aware that Westerners know of their plight. Peter Tatchell and Dan Choi risked life and limb to show their support.

    Once again…if Russian activists were to ask us to visit and lend physical support, that would be one thing. But, as far as I’m aware, that’s not happening. The opposite is.

  • the other Greg

    @mishi: If gays in St. P want a boycott & think it will help, sure.

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