When Cat Valente and I tweeted enthusiastically about the prospect of a St.Petersburg Eurocon we immediately received replies condemning us for considering visiting a city that had passed an oppressive anti-LGBT statute. Now it seems that Ukraine is about to follow suit with a similar law to those being adopted in Russia. So, what is one to do?
As ever, these things are much more complicated than they appear on Twitter. To start with, Ukraine is about to play co-host to the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, and the UK papers are therefore full of stories about what a hideous place it is. This happens every time a major soccer tournament takes place overseas. There are few things the British tabloids like more than encouraging their readers to think poorly of foreigners. So my cynicism filters are turned up to the max right now.
Secondly I’m not convinced of the utility of sending petitions to foreign governments. I know how people here would react if there were a Twitter campaign aimed at discouraging the UK from passing a law that had popular support. It may make more sense to lobby our own governments to put pressure on their peers.
But my main concern is the effect boycotts can have on the people on the ground. Let’s not forget that many people credit developments in telecommunications for helping bring down various dictatorships. From fax machines in Soviet Russia to mobile phones in the Arab Spring, the ability of oppressed peoples to see how their lives might be different, and to organize themselves, has allegedly been crucial to effecting change. It is also believed that in the past science fiction was used by writers to avoid censorship when they wished to protest against dictatorial governments. Refusing to attend a convention in a country because its government has repressive policies may only succeed in depriving ordinary people in that country of support that they desperately need.
Then again, there’s the safety issue. As I understand it, these laws forbid public displays and mention of LGBT activities. So for a lot of people there’s no great danger unless you go with a partner and are very obvious about it. Those of us who are LGBT advocates, on the other hand, are more likely to be known by the authorities. And of course it is pretty much impossible for a post-op trans person to not be publicly trans. You might not be noticed by those not in the know, but you are very definitely doing it, all the time.
So I have a dilemma. I’d love to go to Kiev, and to St. Petersburg if it happens. I want to help fans in those cities become more of a part of the international community. But at the same time I have the real concerns of fellow LGBT people to think about, the possibility that my attendance will get the convention into trouble with the authorities, and my own safety to consider. It’s complicated.