Calif pension bill targets Russia's anti-gay laws
California pension bill targets Russia’s anti-gay laws
Published Sunday, Sep. 01, 2013 07:30PM EDT
Last updated Sunday, Sep. 01, 2013 07:37PM EDT
The efforts of a San Francisco legislator to keep California’s largest pension funds from investing millions of dollars in Russia is turning into an international affair – with a Russian diplomat claiming that a new law has been unfairly characterized by the media as antigay.
State Sen. Mark Leno, whose resolution would curb investments from the state’s largest pension funds, said Russian officials’ dismissive attitude toward the backlash over the law shows that they are in “deep denial.”
Some LGBT activists say the “antipropaganda” law, passed by Russian lawmakers this summer, could turn the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia into a watershed moment for gay rights. The law punishes anyone who “promotes” homosexuality to young people.
Leno, who is gay, predicted that with the Olympic Games set for Sochi, Russia, in February, “the level of concern and protest is just beginning.”
“Russia is going to have a huge problem on their hands,” the San Francisco Democrat said last week. “They refuse to get it.”
Leno made the comments after receiving a letter from Sergey Petrov, the Russian consul-general in San Francisco, who argued that the new law will not erode tolerance of gay people or gay rights in Russia but is in place “only as far as necessary to protect children.”
“Punishing a country for having a different opinion is a form of discrimination in itself,” Petrov wrote.
On June 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the bill, promoted by conservatives, that bans the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors” – ambiguous wording that critics said could outlaw activities from kissing or holding hands to wearing a rainbow pin.
LGBT activists argue that the law could endanger gay and lesbian parents in and out of Russia who have biological children or hope to adopt kids.
As protests and criticism mount, Putin has taken a hard line. Last week, he banned demonstrations for nearly three months before the Winter Olympics, which will be held Feb. 7-23 in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
At the same time, activists have called for boycotts of Russian consumer products and withdrawals of sister-city relationships and U.S. investments in Russia. Bay Area LGBT activist Michael Petrelis said the Winter Games are poised to become “a watershed moment for the global movement” toward LGBT rights.
In August, activists in San Francisco targeted the Russian Orthodox Church, which has strongly backed the new laws, said Petrelis, who helped organize the event.
LGBT groups also have ramped up pressure on corporations including Coke, a major Olympic sponsor, to pull out of the games.
The high-profile moves are a concern for Russian officials, who issued a rare public response after Leno proposed the resolution urging the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System not to invest in Russia.
Leno’s resolution passed through the Senate Public Employment and Retirement Committee with bipartisan support and is expected to be heard by the full Senate this week.
Leno said he wrote the resolution after learning that CalPERS had a substantial stake in what he described as “the largest-ever transaction in the Russian commercial real estate market.” The deal involves Morgan Stanley Real Estate Investing’s purchase of the Metropolis Mall near Moscow for an estimated $1-billion.
Petrov, in his response to Leno, said the resolution would hurt both countries.
“The media spin around the adoption in Russia of a law that bans propaganda of non-traditional relations among minors is aimed at portraying our country as being non-tolerant toward the LGBT community,” Petrov wrote to Leno. “That is simply not true.”
Petrov said gay citizens earned equal rights in Russia in 1993 – a decade before the U.S. Supreme Court banned state sodomy laws in 2003. In his letter, he said Russia’s new law was meant to “protect children.”
“Family, motherhood and childhood in the traditional sense are values that lead to the preservation and development” of Russia, Petrov wrote, and “therefore require special protection from the state.”
Petrov urged Leno to rethink his resolution.
“If you genuinely want to support the LGBT community in Russia, the most effective way to do that is certainly not to penalize our country but to promote an open and effective exchange of views,” the diplomat wrote.
Leno said he is not convinced that Russian officials will safeguard the rights of LGBT activists – before or after the games.
“They could arrest two people of the same gender for holding hands or wearing a rainbow pin,” Leno said.
While Putin has declared a ban on protests before the Winter Games, Leno said he believes that “there will be entire sections of the stadium that will actively protest.”
Julie Dorf, founder of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said in a recent article in the Bay Area Reporter, a San Francisco newspaper that covers the gay community, that the new law seems to be Putin’s way of pumping up his popularity in Russia.
“Russia leads the charge at the United Nations against progress on human rights for LGBT people, with its ‘traditional values resolution,”’ she wrote, which makes it “illegal for same-sex parents to adopt in Russia.”
Gloria Nieto, a South Bay lesbian activist involved with Russian LGBT organizations, said Bay Area activism in the months before the Olympics seems to be having an impact through social media and could protect Russian LGBT activists from being targeted.
“Can you imagine what would have happened if Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had Twitter?” Nieto said.
The famed Russian historian who wrote The Gulag Archipelago and criticized the communist system and Joseph Stalin was accused of producing “anti-Soviet propaganda,” and was exiled for more than a decade in Soviet labor camps.
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