Illinois’ largest gay civil rights group is asking Chicago officials to suspend the sister city relationship with Moscow to protest Russia’s persecution and prosecution of LGBT citizens and tourists.
The call was issued by Equality Illinois as activists around the country explore boycotts of Russian products, especially vodka, and upcoming Russian events, particularly the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“We believe that it cannot be business as usual in Illinois’ relations with Russia until that country’s oppressive laws are reversed and gays are not targeted for oppression,” stated Bernard Cherkasov, the CEO of Equality Illinois. “From many small but meaningful steps, a national and then an international consensus will grow and ultimately, we believe, force Russia to change its behavior toward its gay citizens and visitors.”
Russian law makes it a crime to promote homosexuality or portray same-sex relationships as equal to opposite-sex relationships. The law is not an antiquated measure lawmakers neglected to repeal but instead was enacted this year, with the signature of President Vladimir Putin. And it is actively enforced.
With the government prosecution of LGBT people has come a rise in anti-gay violence.
“More than being persecuted and harassed, people in Russia are also being violently attacked for their advocacy. This cannot go unanswered,” Cherkasov said.
Equality Illinois is calling for:
• Chicago to immediately suspend its sister city relationship with Moscow. The relationship includes business forums and arts programs and an annual black-tie celebration in Chicago of Russia Day, which remembers the creation of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Equality Illinois also wants Chicago to exclude representatives from Russia from participating in the upcoming Chicago Sister Cities International Festival.
• LGBT Illinoisans and allies to suspend business relationships with Russia. Some Chicago bars have stopped selling Russian vodka, but Equality Illinois says all Illinois businesses should suspend activities that help the Russian government or empower it by strengthening their economy.
• Illinois citizens to cancel recreational or cultural travel to Russia. The Equality Illinois statement said, “There are many other destinations worthy of our dollars and our time where LGBT visitors won’t feel threatened and risk arrest just for being who they are.”