Professor Warren Blumenfeld sees parallels between Russia’s anti-homosexual agenda and Nazi ideology. And he’s sees a bit of hypocrisy in the US as well.
NBC made what I consider to be an unconscionable error in judgment by editing from airing a key portion of International Olympic Committee President Thomas Back’s speech at the opening Olympic ceremony that related to Russia’s blatantly intolerant and bigoted laws against LGBT people. A portion of Back’s remarks deleted by NBC include:
“It is possible – even as competitors – to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason.”
Though I rarely offer comparisons between events transpiring before and during the ascension to power of the German Third Reich with resemblances to contemporary events – since to do so could result in trivializing one of the most horrific episodes in human history – nonetheless, I am haunted by certain parallels that demand expression.
The Nazis acted on and eventually extended Paragraph 175, the section of the German Penal Code dating back to 1871 with the unification of Germany. The law read:
“Unnatural vice committed by two persons of the male sex or by people with animals is to be punished by imprisonment; the verdict may also include the loss of civil rights.”
Nazi ideology rested on the assumption that homosexuals (males) lowered the German birth rate; they endangered, recruited, enticed, and corrupted youth; that a possible homosexual epidemic could spread; that homosexuals are “potential oppositionists” and enemies of respectable society; and that sexual relations between people of the same sex impairs their “sense of shame” and undermines morality, which inevitably will bring about the “decline of social community.”
While Nazi ideology and practice rejected lesbianism as well, they did not criminalize same sex sexuality between women, as they had for men because they believed that so-called “Aryan” lesbians could at least produce children for the “New Germany.” On the other hand, Heinrich Himmler, Gestapo head and chief architect of the Reich’s anti-homosexual campaign, justified his actions by arguing that male homosexuals were “like women” and therefore, could not fight in any German war effort.
Before and during the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics, the Nazi command ordered massive raids on suspected homosexuals in bars and throughout the city to present a “morally clean” Germany to visiting athletes, journalists, and tourists. However, on July 20, 1936, Himmler ordered the Gestapo not to arrest foreign homosexuals to enhance the nation’s image and to circumvent any possible boycott by participating countries and individual athletes.
“For the coming weeks, I forbid the taking of action, including interrogation or summons, against any foreigners under Paragraph 175 without my personal approval.” Following the Olympics, however, Himmler tightened his grip on German homosexuals resulting in mass incarceration for up to two years imprisonment, and eventually detention in concentration campus.
Since the Nazis did not keep detailed records, and toward the closing days of the war, destroyed many documents, we will never know the exact numbers they tortured and killed. However, historians estimate that the Gestapo investigated approximately 90,000 suspected homosexuals, and sentenced approximately 50,000 men under Paragraph 175 and its expanded version, Paragraph 175a, while deporting many to concentration camps. Though Paragraphs 175 and 175a did not apply to women, the Nazis interned a number of lesbians on “political” and “vagrancy” charges. Very few of these men and women survived.
As the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” we are witnessing related policies and actions, this time taken by the Russian government in its latest crackdown on members of the LGBT community and their supporters.
Last June, the Russian Parliament passed and President Vladimir Putin signed what has come to be known as the “Anti-Homosexual Propaganda Law” outlawing “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. Among its provisions, the law forbids LGBT Pride marches, positive media depictions of same-sex relationships and public displays of same-sex affection, and discussions in the schools. It carries a fine of up to 5,000 rubles ($156) for individuals and up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) for media outlets.
The Russian government attempted to assure the International Olympic Committee that the law will be set aside during the 2014 Winter Olympic games in the Russian resort city of Sochi, St. Petersburg. Putin’s comments at a January press conference in Sochi came in response to international concerns for the physical and statutory safety of LGBT athletes and visitors to the upcoming Olympics. At the press conference, when responding to a reporter’s question about Russia’s attitude toward LGBT people and about athletes and tourists coming to the games, Putin responded: “One can feel calm and at ease. Just leave kids alone, please.” — a clear stereotypical jab at LGBT people “recruiting” and abusing youth.
As activists in the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) movement demonstrations bent on highlighting the crisis and the relative inaction we found among government and business officials as well as the public at large, to have the biggest impact, our purpose was to bring the issue to the highest level of public discourse. Though NBC censors have failed in their responsibility, we as individuals and as groups cannot fail the brave embattled civil rights crusaders in Russia, and throughout the world.
I fear that as they extinguish the Olympic torch in Sochi following the games, the Russian government will continue and expand its crackdown. But I am also not so unenlightened to believe that conditions here in the United States create an environment that metaphorically awards Gold Medals to LGBT people and their supporters for being themselves and for attempting to live their/our lives with dignity and with integrity.
Remaining in 34 states, we cannot legally marry. In many states, we do not have simple rights and protections from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, insurance, hospital visitation, joint tax benefits, and many others. National anti-violence statues generally do not include “sexual identity” nor “gender identity and expression” as protected categories.
While we must remain ever vigilant by shining a glaring spotlight on the atrocities against anyone anywhere in the world, in like fashion, we must keep that torch focused here on the U.S. as well. Our talented and courageous LGBT athletes have committed themselves to performing their very best in Sochi. As a nation, we must commit nothing less to them and to others of every social identity.
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