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    You Can’t Bomb a Rainbow

    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney–

    Last week, horrific news emerged from Russia. The Russian Supreme Court gave the green light to the government to prosecute and sentence to long prison terms essentially anyone who engaged in LGBTIQ support or activism. The court held that such activities constituted participating in an “extremist organization,” which Russian law criminalizes. Sergei Troshin, an openly gay city official from St Petersburg, explained to the BBC how the ruling would exacerbate the severe persecution that LGBTIQ Russians already face: “This is real repression. There is panic in Russia’s LGBT community. People are emigrating urgently … . We’re having to evacuate from our own country.”

    Particularly striking about the court’s decision is its basis. The court declared that something it called the “international LGBT public movement” was a prohibited “extremist organization.” Putting aside the fact that there’s nothing extreme about LGBTIQ people advocating for equality, there’s an even more glaring problem with the court’s declaration. There is, in fact, no organization, extremist or not, called the “international LGBT public movement.” 

    Belgian Pride Parade, Brussels, Belgium (2017)

    That did not stop virulently anti-LGBTIQ Russian Parliament Member Vitaly Milonov from describing how this nonexistent organization supposedly operates: “They have their own tasks, their own goals. They act as a political force, a political structure and the goals of this structure contravene the Russian Constitution.”

    BBC reporter Steve Rosenberg responded to Milonov by reiterating how in actuality there wasn’t such an organization, much less one with a political structure, and asked the obvious question: “How can you ban something that doesn’t exist?”

    Rosenberg’s pertinent query points to something broader and more insidious at work here: the creation, manufacturing, teaching, and propagating of queerphobia. As we all know, babies are not born homophobic. Those who grow up to be so are taught it, or learn it from myriad possible external sources.

    Russian efforts to brand their LGBTIQ movement the product of pernicious outside influence are mirrored by similar events around the world today. In China, President Xi Jinping and his government are currently perpetrating a nationwide anti-LGBTIQ crackdown as a tool to promote Chinese political nationalism, by falsely claiming that a global LGBTIQ movement is trying to impose Western values on China. Xi undoubtedly knows that such an assertion is fantastical, given the millennia-long, well-documented existence of same-sex love throughout Chinese history.

    Since the rise in the power and influence of fundamentalist Islam beginning in the 1980s, extremist leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere have employed anti-LGBTIQ rhetoric as a political tool against the West. They justify persecuting queer people, by claiming erroneously that homosexuality exemplifies Western “moral decay.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad notoriously declared in New York in 2007 that: “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” Ahmadinejad seemed to forget the exquisite expressions of same-sex love in the poetry of renowned Persian Poets Rumi, Hafiz, and Sistaní, whose verse written hundreds of years ago still resonates today.

    Earlier this year, the Ugandan government enacted the “Anti-Homosexuality Act,” which made worse Uganda’s already existing harsh anti-LGBTIQ laws. Widely condemned by Western leaders and human rights advocates, the draconian new law among other things institutes the death penalty for people convicted of so-called “aggravated homosexuality.” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who signed the measure into law, applauded lawmakers for having “rejected the pressure from the imperialists.”

    Pride March for Freedom Together in Riga, Latvia (2022)

    Museveni declined to mention the significant outside monetary and other support for the law from U.S. conservative Christian political groups and the fact that the very law that Museveni heralded has its origins in nineteenth century anti-LGBTIQ laws that British imperialists imposed on its African colonies.

    And, of course, for decades, conservative political forces in the U.S. have cynically fabricated fears and fictions about the purported threats that LGBTIQ people pose to society, Christianity, and especially children—all to further conservative political interests. The current onslaught of legislation targeting transgender people, especially trans youth, and efforts to evade anti-discrimination laws under the guise of religion are the latest iterations of these tactics.

    Russian PM Milonov gleefully told the BBC how he was “looking forward to the next step” of “banning the … rainbow flag.” Chinese activists tell us that the Chinese government appears to be moving to ban display of the rainbow imagery there, too. An LGBTIQ Chinese person responding on social media to the apparent prohibition of rainbow attire at a recent large popular music concert asked the government rhetorically: “What exactly are you afraid of?”

    All of this reminds us of a queer Arab friend who lives in exile from their home country and reports regularly seeing appalling anti-LGBTIQ social media posts from their home country, some from their own family and friends. A family member recently wrote with disgust: “We are in 2023 and still have the right to live.” Our friend explained to us that sometimes queer supporters mock such posts by chiding the poster that he wants to “bomb a rainbow”—something which, of course, you just can’t do, because a rainbow is simply a radiant refraction of sunlight in the sky.

    Regardless of the lies and fictions that conservative political forces around the world construct to oppress LGBTIQ people, one thing they will never be able to stop is the existence of LGBTIQ people and the love we share. Indeed, our movement is based on truth, and we hope that the fabricated nature of opponents’ claims will accelerate their dissolution over time.

    Last year, international Russian tennis star Daria Kasatkina came out as lesbian, a decision that she recognized may prevent her from returning to Russia for the foreseeable future. She chose truth over fiction: “Living in the closet is impossible. It is too hard; it is pointless. Living in peace with yourself is the only thing that matters.”

    Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis at the Tom & Jerry House for the San Francisco Bay Times Holiday Party. (2019)

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

    6/26 and Beyond
    Published on December 7, 2023