Kiev, St. Petersburg and LGBT

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.

This entry was posted in Conventions, Feminism, Personal. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Kiev, St. Petersburg and LGBT

  1. Adele Haze says:

    I very much doubt the anti-LGBT law will go through in Ukraine. Our laws are “suggested” by MPs (who have various agendas), but they are recommended for development – or sunk without a trace – by a committee of scholars and lawyers. For example, over the last few of months an ultra-conservative MP has been campaigning to ban abortions, and the committee came out with an official response that reads something like “Haaahaha, no. Human rights, arsehole!” I’m not saying there are no stupid laws in Ukraine, but these are mostly lobbied for by parties that stand to gain from them. Nobody stands to gain financially from legislating against LGBTs.

    Last Eurocon in Kiev (in 2004? a while ago) was awesome. We had John Crowley. John Crowley!!!

    Kiev can be grim and dangerous in the way of desperately poor cities. There’s a reason I live in the UK now. But the fandom is *rocking*.

    • Cheryl says:

      Thank you. As you’ll know, that’s exactly opposite to the way things are being spun in the media here. All of the stories I’m seeing claim that the new law is a done deal and that all can stop it is a veto from the President, who is too scared to act.

      I don’t know who they are planning to get for 2013 yet, but if the last attempt is anything to go by they have superb taste. Geoff Ryman would be cool.

  2. Next Friday says:

    It’s atrocious within scifi community as well. There’s a recent scifi anthology called “Ruthless Tolerance” with the premise of examining “the imposition of tolerance and liberal values” through absurd. Just what you need when LGBT characters are non-existent and all the context for the issues in question is always negative. More negative context.

    Yes, it may not be safe to go. You might have some leverage as a foreigner, when it comes to the authorities, but expect to share your wealth.

  3. Well, it’s not just the UK papers trying to make it look bad– I recently looked up the US State Department’s advice for travellers there, and it’s a pretty exciting read even for a heteronormative white citizen of a country which is seen in a relatively positive light ’round those parts.

    (Still, I’d go, if I could afford it, and just be careful not to wander off the beaten path.)

  4. Elane says:

    “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.”

    Ne qua? Have been quietly getting on with life for almost 34 years, and upon no account have I ever felt that I was being forced to be public. It **is** possible to change one’s name, move from one place to another, and get on with living quietly.

    None of my words should be taken against those who wish to live public lives. My point is simply this: one doesn’t **have** to be public if one does not so desire.

    • Cheryl says:

      That’s not the point. A public display of homosexuality is presumably something like holding hands, kissing, or wearing a “glad to be gay” t-shirt. A public display of transness is presenting as a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth. It doesn’t matter how convincing that presentation is, you are still guilty to people who firmly believe that you are “really” your birth gender and can never, ever be anything else.

  5. Not quite a propos, but the last time I said “the Ukraine” I was taken to task by my Ukrainian friend, who says that now they’re independent this is a demeaning usage and the name of the country is simply “Ukraine”. As I don’t know how the usage of “the [whatever]” developed and quite what it signifies, I simply take her word for it.

  6. V says:

    Thank you for posting about this. I’m interested in going to a Eurocon someday, especially St. Petersburg beccause it is close to Finland, but I had never considered these ramifications.

Comments are closed.