To mark Pride Month, the US Embassy in Moscow defiantly displayed a rainbow flag outside its building yesterday.
It was a provocative move for two reasons. Russia implemented a so-called “gay propaganda” law in 2013. The law bars the “promotion” of anything other than traditional family values to minors. It has been used to prohibit any expression of LGBTQ rights, including Pride parades, in the country.
Secondly, Russia also went to the ballot box yesterday. The country is holding a referendum between June 25 and July 1. Russians are voting on constitutional amendments introduced by President Vladimir Putin. These include a constitutional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman only.
If passed, it would make it much harder to ever introduce same-sex marriage legislation in the country.
The US Embassy to Moscow hung the flag prominently outside its building and posted a message – written in Russian – on its Instagram saying: “Today, the US Embassy in Russia honors the LGBTI Pride Flag during the #PrideFlagDay celebration.
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“The LGBTI flag was created by American artist and activist Gilbert Baker and was first hoisted on June 25, 1978 during the Gay Freedom Day parade in San Francisco. “The symbol of the rainbow was taken from the earliest history of mankind as a symbol of hope,” Baker wrote in his memoir, Rainbow Warrior. He wanted to convey his belief that the power of society is diverse.
“LGBTI rights are human rights. Human rights are universal. The month of pride is designed to emphasize that everyone deserves to live a life free of hatred, prejudice and persecution.”
To back up the message, US Ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, posted a video to the Embassy’s social media, filmed against a rainbow background. It featured Russian subtitles, so locals would understand his unequivocal message of support for LGBTQ rights.
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Sullivan, a member of the Republican Party, was formerly Deputy Secretary of State from 2017-2019. President Trump nominated him to become US Ambassador to Russia last October.
“Every year in June, members of the LGBTI community worldwide, come together with friends, families, and those who share their belief in equality, to celebrate Pride Month,” said Sullivan.
“This year, I’m honored to lead the team at the US Embassy in Moscow, in commemorating the history of the fight for LGBTI rights in the United States, and looking forward to a better future for LGBTI persons across the globe. LGBTI rights are human rights, and human rights are universal. It’s as simple as that. Pride Month recognizes that every individual deserves to live a life free from hate, prejudice and harassment.
“We applaud the brave individuals and groups working to promote tolerance, change laws, and help their fellow citizens to see diversity is a strength, not a weakness.
“Our embassy is displaying the rainbow flag in solidarity with these efforts. I’m proud to represent a country that acknowledges both a difficult history and the continued history that many LGBTI persons face,” he said.
Last year, the Trump administration reversed an Obama-era policy of allowing US embassies around the world to fly rainbow flags from official flagpoles for Pride Month. However, embassy staff are allowed to display rainbow flags in other parts of the building: indoors or outdoors. Some embassies now simply hang Pride flags outside their building instead of flying them on poles.
In what could be construed as a swipe at the Russia government, Sullivan went on to say, “I’m also proud that the United States is a country that allows its citizens to speak out against injustice, advocate for change from their government, and pursue justice through a fair and impartial judicial system.
“In fact, just this month, the US Supreme Court issued a watershed ruling that dramatically improves workplace protections for LGBTI persons. Now, employers will not be able to fire or punish employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or identity. As President Trump said, this is a very powerful decision.
“This year, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the first Pride March in New York City 1970, I wish all members of the Russian LGBTI community, and their friends, families and allies, a Happy Pride.”
President Putin’s referendum is thought to go beyond a simple act of homophobia. The proposed legislation also includes a range of measures that political observers believe would greatly extend Putin’s powers and ability to rule Russia well beyond the terms of his Presidency (due to end in 2024).
Because such measures are unlikely to persuade voters to go to the ballot box, adding populist legislation such as the ban on same-sex marriage may have been included for no other reason than to get people out to vote in favor of the amendments.