It’s a very interesting time in the news for Russia. On the one hand, they’re giving asylum to a man who blew the whistle on American mass surveillance. On the other hand, they just passed a law that’s grounds to throw the other big American whistleblower into a different sort of asylum. Where to begin?
How Russia might treat the two whistleblowers differently is just one thing that comes to mind. Edward Snowden’s presumably straight and cisgendered, whereas Bradley Manning was at one point a gay man, probably now identifies as female (and may or may not label herself straight), but is in any case the kind of person who would be persecuted under Russian law. Manning came first, and Snowden learned from Manning that he should run from the US. Had it been the other way around, Manning probably wouldn’t have Russia as an option.
But that’s just a hook to get us thinking about this whole situation. It’s odd timing to have Russia both gaining and losing human rights high ground against the US. They took in a man persecuted for revealing abuses of the right to privacy, while at the same time persecuting their own people for loving each other.
Of course, neither government actually has any moral high ground. The Kremlin has done, and still does, its fair share of invading privacy. I’m sure they would kill to have the kinds of capabilities the NSA has. Across the Pacific, Washington is only just now — kicking and screaming — barely starting to give a crap about LGBT people. That is, at least the ones who are fortunate enough to be considering marriage; poor LGBT people in the US have disproportionate issues with homelessness, mental illness, and sexual abuse that are being completely ignored.
This is all pure realpolitik: Russia tries to make the US look bad by protecting Snowden, the US returns the favor by fanning the flames of righteous indignation about Russia’s anti-gay laws as they prepare to host the Olympics. Both objectively righteous things to do, done for cynical reasons. It’s a war of culture and diplomatic clout, back and forth, over and over again as they try to gain more market share over the planet.
The truth is, all governments are bastards. Every government throws stones around its glass house. We can be thankful that Russia gave asylum to a whistleblower in order to spite the US. We can be thankful that American politicians have to cater to the LGBT base in order to get elected so they can rake in the bribes from lobbyists. But that doesn’t make either of them the “good guy.”
Although, if you think Russia’s bad for LGBT people, just imagine what could be done by a country that’s collecting every email ever written. I’m very happy that I have the right to marry my boyfriend, let alone that I can walk down the street holding his hand without getting beaten to death by an angry mob. I also know how precarious that is. One crisis, plus one loudmouth naming homosexuality as a scapegoat, could throw the United States back into the 1950s. Except this time, anybody at the NSA could type a few terms into a search box, and find all of the people who had ever posted to the Men Seeking Men section of Craigslist back when it was legal.
I am thankful that the Kremlin doesn’t have that capability. I am thankful that they don’t have the political capital with Washington to ask if they can borrow the data that the NSA has inevitably collected on Russian citizens. It would be genocide.
But my government does have that capability. All they have to do is develop the will to persecute LGBT people again, and I’ll have a black bag over my head by next Friday.