Los Angeles city officials joined the fight against Russia’s recently-passed anti-LGBT legislation on Tuesday, when council members and LGBT advocates hung a rainbow flag from the St. Petersburg sign on the city’s Sister Cities monument outside city hall.
According to elected officials in Los Angeles and West Hollywood, the rainbow flag would be considered “propaganda” promoting “nontraditional sexual relations” had it been hung in Russia.
“We are here this morning to send a message to Russia, with love,” said Councilman Mike Bonin, 11th District, an openly gay elected official. He added city officials wanted the LGBTQ community in Russia and around the world to know the city has heard of their plight and that L.A. officials have their backs. “By attaching this sign … we will be saying that the values of human rights and civil rights and human dignity are paramount to all of our international and Sister City relationships, and it is something that we intend to use and to embrace and to champion as Sister Cities.”
Bonin said he especially hoped that the message would reach Russian youth, who are the subject of the Russian legislation. According to reports, the bill is attempting to prevent young people from viewing LGBT “propaganda.”
The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance asking the U.S. government to expedite asylum for Russians who are negatively impacted by the legislation — whether it’s through abuse, discrimination, threats or torture.
“We know what’s going on, we have their backs and we’re going to do anything we can to help,” Bonin said.
He was joined by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, who is also openly gay. O’Farrell said the LGBT community in St. Petersburg needs support more than ever; however, he cautioned against cutting Sister City ties with “one of the great artistic and cultural capitals of the world.”
“Severing ties at this time will also sever any chance of making a difference there for those that need us most,” he said.
In February, then-Councilman Bill Rosendahl, Bonin’s predecessor, authored a resolution to sever ties with St. Petersburg. According to the resolution, two Italian cities, Venice and Milan, had moved to cease cultural exchanges with the city until the anti-LGBT laws are no longer in place. However, Rosendahl’s motion never went to a vote.
O’Farrell said the group would use the Sister Cities relationship as a vehicle to urge Russian leaders to do what is right. Cutting ties with St. Petersburg should be a last resort, he said.
“This is a process, albeit with profound urgency, and it is encouraging to see most of the world come together in unison in support of the persecuted,” the councilman added.
Councilman Tom LaBonge, 4th District, chair of the council’s Sister Cities Committee, said he was pleased to see how St. Petersburg had progressed since the demise of the Soviet Union, but was saddened by the recent developments.
“This is an international city,” he said of Los Angeles. “I’m very proud of this sign. I’m very proud of all cities, but I’m very concerned about St. Petersburg and other cities in Russia, and the impact they have on LGBT people. All people are valued in this world, and no one should be harmed by their government. …The people are being oppressed, and it should be stopped.”
According to Rosendahl’s resolution, Los Angeles suspended its Sister Cities relationship with Tehran, Iran, as a result of the political situation and hostage crisis in 1979. LaBonge lamented that move.
“I would love to talk to Tehran today,” he said. “I would love to talk to their people and try to bring peace to that nation. The Sister City program is all about peace.”
LaBonge noted that President Dwight D. Eisenhower started the Sister Cities program in 1956, and said the program exists so that not all correspondence between countries comes from their capitals. He said he is proud of the sign, as it shows that Los Angeles is connected to the rest of the world.
The councilman said the city would continue putting pressure on the Russian government and working with federal legislators as they prepare to attend the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg in September. He referenced photographer Nick Ut’s well-known Vietnam War photo commonly referred to as “Napalm Girl”, saying that he hoped photos of the rainbow flag draped from the St. Peterburg street sign would have a similar impact.
“I hope this picture … will give people hope in Russia that people love them, and we do here in Los Angeles,” LaBonge said. “This is a very important day.”
City controller Ron Galperin, who was described as Los Angeles’ first openly-gay, citywide elected official, said he takes the issue personally — not just as a member of the LGBT community, but also as an individual with Russian roots.
“It’s more important than ever that we stand up to bigotry in whatever form it takes,” he said. Galperin later quoted Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “The salvation of mankind lies only in making everything the concern of all.”
Jim Gilliam, deputy executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said the organization was particularly concerned about Russia’s legislation because it prevent LGBTQ youth from hearing positive information about being LGBTQ.
“We know first-hand from working with you across the state what a difference it makes in their lives, when they can see positive images of themselves or when they can hear positive messages like, ‘It gets better’,” he said.
Gilliam said Los Angeles is the only U.S. city with a Sister City relationship with St. Petersburg, so the ACLU knew that the community had a unique role to play in advocacy on the issue.
“By attaching a rainbow flag to the St. Petersburg sign on the Sister Cities monument here today, we are sending a clear message that Los Angeles will not tolerate such conduct from one our siblings,” he said.
In February, both the ACLU and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center approached the city to have the Sister Cities relationship with St. Petersburg severed. The center’s chief of staff, Darrel Cummings, also spoke.
“We can no longer ignore the gross human rights abuses and must do everything we can to bring attention and to end these abuses,” he said, adding that the Russian government is guilty of harassing its own citizens, their friends and family, and any LGBT member who visits. “Their actions, along with those of the Russian Orthodox Church, are fueling anti-LGBT sentiment that has increasingly taken the form of discrimination, violence and even murder.”
Cummings referred to Tuesday’s action is a good first step, but said governments, corporation and people from around the world must send a message to Russia.
“It’s important that fair-minded people everywhere take action and speak out in opposition to legal discrimination and the persecution of LGBT people wherever it exists,” he said, adding that the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games will provide a good platform to spotlight those human rights violations. “Today represents a good step, and there is clearly more to be done.”
Several other city officials attended or sent their regards. O’Farrell stressed that although only men were in attendance, there are lesbians involved in the effort as well. Bonin said such support offers hope to LGBT people in Russia.
“St. Petersburg, the whole world is watching,” he said. “St. Petersburg, the whole world is changing.”
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.