Social Equality of Traditional and Non-traditional Sexual Relations
“Currently, there are over 72 countries that still criminalize sexual and gender minorities, most of which choose death and/or imprisonment as the modalities of punishment. Aside from these countries, there are still others, were the LGBTQA+ community face harassment, and beatings. All of which are the main contributing factors, that force thousands of people to flee their country of origin. (Oram, 2018)There is no quantifiable number of people that belong to this community, in large because for many, they do not identify themselves due to fear of prosecution. Russian asylum seekers, provide a prime example of how legislation can suddenly make a citizen feel unwelcome in their own country.
For many other countries that deny having anti-sgm laws, they hide behind vague words such as, debauchery, and unnatural acts, all of which allow for a perpetuation of violence. In 2013, Russia passed a law known as the “protecting children from information promoting the denial of traditional family values”, in other words this gay propaganda prevents the promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors. (Knight & Garcia Bochenek, 2018) Article 6.21 in its entirety states, “Propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors, manifested in the distribution of information aimed at forming non-traditional sexual orientations, the attraction of non-traditional relations, distorted conceptions of the social equality of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations among minors or imposing information on non-traditional sexual relations which invoke interest in these kinds of relations.” This law severely contributed to the increased harassment, stigma, and violence against SGM people. With the enactment of this law, it has given license for prosecution, because of its vagueness, officials are allowed to mend the rules in accordance to their interpretation.
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In comparison to Europe, Russia has maintained documentation of homosexuality for centuries. The earliest record ban on same-sex relations dates back to the mid 17th century, with Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich’s process of modernizing Russia. Male homosexuals were immediately put to death, while female homosexuals were burned alive. Later, in the 18th century, under Tsar Peter the Great’s reign the government attempted to end homosexual relations in the armed forced, as an additional attempt to modernize the country. Then in 1832, more extensive laws were put in place, which effectively criminalized specific acts between two men. However, in the face of adversity, there was an LGBT subculture that started to develop, with a vast number of Russians being open about their sexuality.
There is a long legislative history in Russia concerning the LGBT community. In more recent centuries, 1917, the Soviet government decriminalized homosexuality following the October Revolution, which effectively discarded the legal code of Tzarist Russia. Although homosexuality was legal the Russian Communist Party maintained Orthodox views and upheld the right to discriminate and persecute any individual as they sought fit. Under the reign of Joseph Stalin, Russia had outlawed sodomy in 1933, which was punishable by five years in prison, by which was only lifted in 1993. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, President Yeltsin was pressured to change laws that were put in place by Stalin. Yeltsin did so but with several restrictions to the activities related to homosexuality. However, the decriminalization was not upheld in the republics that were formed after the Soviet Union fell. Furthermore, it was not until 1999, that homosexuality was removed from the list of Russian mental disorders.
In 1994, Post-Soviet Russia was under the rule of Boris Yeltsin, during that time the record for first-time asylum applicants was set. However, this record was proceeded in 2012, when Vladimir Putin was elected to his third term as president after serving for four years as prime minister. Over the next five years, in 2017, Putin’s formerly held record was doubled, in large part due to the 2013 passing of the Russian federal law “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values”. (Schreck, Russian Asylum Applications In U.S. Hit 24-Year Record, 2018) This law was passed in spite of both Saint Petersburgh and Moscow, having been known for a flourishing LGBTQA+ community. Putin believed in respect and liberty for all Russian citizens, however it was made clear to him that he was out ruled on this matter. Therefore, the passing of this law was in an attempt to prevent violence against this minority group. Which to some would seem contradictory.
Since 2006, there have been oppositions in gay rights that have hinted at the development of anti-gay propaganda. For example, the refusal to authorize the first gay pride parade in Moscow, and large fines placed on gay activist groups that are acting as a “foreign agents”. (RFE/RL, 2018) The acting mayor in 2006, Yuri Luzhkov defended his opposition by viewing homosexuality as satanic, and has often gone on record blaming western countries for influencing “such enlightenment” in Russia. Fast forward, in June of 2013, a survey was conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, to which the results revealed that over 90 percent of Russian participants were in fact in favor of this laws passing. (Soboleva & Bakhmetjev, 2015)With all of this animosity, and hiding behind ambiguous political words, violent acts on the LGBTQA+ community, or even those suspected of being gay, have become prevalent.
Under this propaganda there are set stipulations, as well as set consequences. First, providing information to minors that is directed at the creation of nontraditional sexual attitudes. Second, creating nontraditional sexual relations desirable, and third equating the social value of nontraditional and traditional sexual relations. Lastly, influencing an interest in any nontraditional sexual relations. For Russian citizens that engage in this propaganda, one can be fined 4-5 thousand rubles, political officials can be fined 40-50 thousand rubles, and related organizations can be fined 800 thousand to one million rubles, and can include a ninety-day suspension of operations. For foreigners that engage in propaganda, they will be subjected to a fine of 4-5 thousand rubles, and/or can be deported, and/or serve up to fifteen days in jail. However, if a foreigner uses the internet or media to engage, the fine then increases to 50,000-100,000 rubles or 15 days in jail with the eventual deportation. (Grekov, 2013)
Homophobic views in Russia have always played an intricate role in legislation long before 1933 and will carry on long past present day. Now that this law has been passed those with homophobic views have been given license to act, like never before. A recent survey by the Levada Center shows that 83 percent of Russians view intimate same-sex relationships as and will always be reprehensible. (Soboleva & Bakhmetjev, 2015) Recently, in the conservative region of Chechnya, there have been numerous accounts of authorities killing and/or imprisoning local LGBTQA+ civilians. Although there have been attempts to investigate these reports, Chechen political officials have effectively denied something of this degree has even occurred.
In addition to Chechnya, other regions like Uzbekistan, and other former Soviet republics in Central Asia that are predominately Muslim, have much worse punishments for same-sex relationships. For people belonging to the LGBTQA+ community in these regions, such acts are punishable by up to three years in prison, and for some death. Those seeking asylum from these regions are under the false pretense that Russia is like any other European country. For example, in July of 2018, a gay, HIV-positive alien attempted to find respite at the immigration office in Moscow. In his attempt to seek safety, the Uzbek required a translator to interact with the officer. This officer made remarks that include; “If it were up to me, they would all be put up against a wall”, “Cursed be your father. Do you understand me, dog?”. (Schreck, ‘AIDS Boy,’ ‘Dog,’ And ‘Disgrace To Society’: How Russia Greets Gay Men Seeking Asylum, 2018) Although the rate of people seeking asylum for sexual orientation reasons are extremely low, when it does occur, they are welcomed by strong homophobia.
In class we learned about the organization formally known as the Rainbow Railroad. This organization originating in Toronto, CA in 2006, has helped over 500 LGBTQ individuals find a new path to safety and free from persecution. The discussion topic centered around those seeking asylum primarily in various countries in Africa, however the Rainbow Railroad is also heavily involved with Chechen and Russian asylum seekers. In 2017, the Rainbow Railroad inquired on the rumors that gay and bisexual men were being rounded up and tortured. Furthermore, in 2017 alone this organization was able to help over 140 persecuted men gain safe passage to Canada.
Since Trump entered into office, Canada has lowered its standards for obtaining citizenship, and has expanded its laws to be all inclusive for those seeking asylum. Canada has open its borders to the LGBT community while Trump remains quiet. The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went on to say, “In Canada and around the world, we must continue to fight against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia, and to defend gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation rights.” Then in Trudeau’s speech at the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, “We deplore the recent, reprehensible reports of violations of the human rights of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya. We call for the protection of all people in Chechnya whose sexual orientation makes them a target for persecution. Human rights have no borders.”
In July of 2017, the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, participated in an interview with HBO, during this interview he asserted that LGBTQ people do not exist in his country, before adding, “They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people.” Although the U.S. State Department recognized this as being concerning and also upsetting, it was not enough to stir a reaction. Trump remained silent and did not go on record to condemn the active persecutions in Chechnya, nor did he express any opinion regarding these horrors for that matter. If he had spoken against the Chechen or Russian government, it would be hypocritical considering his own position on gay rights. Trump has been working on his own campaign to eliminate gay rights including but not exclusively gay marriage.
In 2017 alone, there were 2,664 new Russian asylum applicants in the United States alone, despite this seemingly low number, it is in fact a 268% increase in just five years. (Persson, 2015) Due to the current strain in immigration, it is reported that those seeking asylum are reaching out to other European countries. Germany in 2017, received 4,885 first time Russian asylum applications, in total for that year there were 12,600 applications globally. (Hylton, et al., 2017) Although the current population in Russia sits at 144 million, these 12,600 simply represent those that are willing to express that they are indeed part of this minority category. (Hylton, et al., 2017)
The current state of this situation continues to worsen, according the Immigration Equality, the majority of those seeking asylum are coming from the younger (30 and under) population, who are in fear of prosecution, harassment, or even killed by anti-gay groups such as “Occupy Pedophilia”. As this situation worsens, violent and non-violent protests from the LGBTQ community continue to take place, despite President Putin’s ban on repeated street protests. Although the pro-gay position as not been swayed, it goes without saying that these particular groups have had to face severe opposition. Several months preceding the passing of Article 6.21, a peaceful pro-gay rally was intending to simply observe National Coming Out Day in St. Petersburg. Roughly fifteen people were harassed by over 200 religious protestors. Soon after the event began, the situation escalated to violence, following the action of one protester, whom tore a rainbow flag from a woman’s hands. Thus, resulting in many injuries, and forcing the police to arrest a total of 67 people from both sides.
In modern day Russia, as well as, the surrounding former Soviet republics, to be a part of a sexual minority group, ensures that safety is not guaranteed. Although the number of Russians seeking asylum in the United States has become limited, the numbers of those seeking asylum continues to climb on a global scale. The overarching goal is to bring recognition to those seeking asylum, as well as the victims of this specific law that has criminalized sexual and gender minorities. For many, these Russian citizens are forgotten, and not given enough recognition, due to the nature in which they seek asylum. Regardless of how or why an individual seeks asylum, it is important that the SGM community stays relevant in the efforts of international social work.
There is a large amount of ethical concern that must be taken into consideration when trying to help those seeking asylum for sexual orientation purposes. As previously stated, over 73 countries still find any same sex relation to be illegal. The United States only started accepting gay and lesbian asylum seekers in 1990, and even then some states still upheld anti-sodomy laws. The Supreme Court finally decided in 2003, with Lawrence v. Texas, that those laws were deemed unconstitutional. Moreover, for the countries that have legalized homosexuality, it is still disputed whether those seeking asylum for sexual orientation, are not a unified social group, but also that those individuals could hide their sexual identity.
The Queer identity is unlike any other, specifically however, different from other persecuted identities. Being even remotely associated with this orientation can often alienate individuals from their immediate family. This factor is not usually true of others who belong to persecuted political or religious groups. For this simple fact, it can make it rather difficult for LGBTQ asylum seekers to confide in anyone about their identity. Furthermore, appearing before an immigration committee can be even more intimidating. Also, the complex nature of sexual identity can prove difficult to prove in a court. Even when it can be proven, immigration courts have traditionally been slow to recognize the vast range of persecuted sexual identities. Even in 2019, court rulings generally refer to the rights of lesbian and gay or homosexual asylum seekers, but not to the community on a broader spectrum.
Looking back throughout history since the Immigration Act of 1917, LGBTQ immigrants were excluded from entering United States under vague categories that purposefully shut out the “mentally or physically defective.” A few decades later in 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act was reworded but preserved the excluding language, with the addition of “any person afflicted with psychopathic personality.” Due to a vast amount of LGBTQ immigrants being denied for this reason, the act was questioned for its vague wording. Thirteen years later, the Immigration and Nationality Act was reworded to include language specifically aimed to prevent LGBTQ individuals from entering the country, with the words “specifically included the term sexual deviation as ground of exclusion”, thus, resolved any doubt. To put things into perspective, the United States is only 28 years removed from this excluding terminology.
Social work since its conception has placed critical importance for immigrant and refugee rights in the United States. Jane Addams and Grace and Edith Abbott, molded the field of social work through their work in settlement houses, that served as social services and centers of residence for migrants whom had arrived in America in large numbers seeking employment. Furthermore, in parallel charitable organizations, ethnic and religious associations worked alongside to facilitate the integration of displaced and migrant persons. The NASW quickly recognized that refugees and immigrants are faced with uncommon challenges because of migration policies. These stipulations are essential for social workers to consider, as the social and legal statuses of refugees directly impact social service accouterment and also the communities well-being in America.
To the extent that international social workers are placed within or working with organizations that aid immigrants and refugees we must be better prepared for the variation in social groups that require immediate assistance. Social workers can deepen their commitments to refugees and immigrants by expanding their levels of cultural competency. Moreover, by engaging in social movement strategies, and mobilizing resources through social service and non-government organizations, much like ORAM and Rainbow Railroad. By drawing on social movement models and theories, we can establish the possibility for creating multi-issue coalitions that can connect refugee and immigrant advocates, with other social justice and racial groups.
The NASW Code of Ethics asks social works to “pursue social change, particularly with and on the behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people”. While many pressing issues involved in the various new social movements intersect with multiple identities, enrollment into these movements can often involve appealing to the issue’s impact on members of a particular identity group. As previously stated, the ethical concern is that the LGBTQ community and those seeking asylum particularly for their sexual orientation, are not getting the recognition they require. Although these populations are vulnerable and oppressed, sexual orientation has historically been overlooked as a reason for seeking asylum. As social works we must create these multi-issue coalitions to further advance affirmative policies and maintain the ability to push back against legislation that can, and often do restrict the civil liberties of people of LGBTQ, color, women, and immigrant communities. Often times we work on only one issue at a time as it arises throughout history, but by developing these local and state coalitions, we must also centralize the essential communities who are being pinpointed out for bigotry purposes.
Social workers have a unique power to take action in ways that can combat social injustices and policies. We can help shape the public views towards the promotion of justice for refugees and immigrants. Diverse social strategies can guide social work in building a bridge across identities and mobilizing resources throughout organizations. The opportunity to serve as advocates by organizing multi-issue communities around contention of racial and migration justice, but also encouraging foundations to provide greater funding for organizing initiatives. On a macro level we can educate political and governmental officials about policies that can impact refugees and immigrants. By doing so, it can demonstrate and potentially deepen our commitment as social workers to seek social justice, and the interests of all vulnerable populations in society.
The preamble of the NASW Code of Ethics is as follows, “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession’s focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.” Furthermore, “Social workers must also be sensitive to varying diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice.” It is important now more than ever, that those seeking asylum from Russia and Chechnya, receive the safety and justice they deserve.”