I knew Russia was likely to embrace homophobia the moment I read that approximately 1.25 million Russians have emigrated from the nation in the past decade. Population experts say that the mass exodus is comparable in size to the migration following the Bolshevik Revolution.
This one-time superpower is disintegrating into a superstitious country more concerned about angels than economics. Each day, for example, tens of thousands of Russians stand in line for up to 12 hours in frigid weather to kiss a glass covered case that they believe holds the Virgin Mary’s belt.
To top it off, Vladimir Putin’s voracious appetite for power is morphing Russia into an unsettling hybrid that vacillates between pseudo-Democracy and sort-of dictatorship. The faltering of this country, which has the world’s 11th largest economy, would be significantly worse if it were not for the good fortune of having oil and gas exports.
In this politically stagnating and spiritually stifling environment, it is predictable that the city of Saint Petersburg would consider a totalitarian bill imposing fines for the so-called promotion of gay “propaganda.” If it were to pass, anyone who committed “public acts” promoting homosexuality, bisexuality or transgender identity to minors could pay up to 3,000 rubles while an organization could pay 10,000 to 50,000 rubles.
Such an outright assault on expression and speech are not the product of a free country and rightfully raised red flags within the U.S. State Department.
“Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights,” the State Department said. “We have called on Russian officials to safeguard these freedoms, and to foster an environment which promotes respect for the rights of all citizens.”
Without exception, loser nations are always the most homophobic. Leaders of such lands desperately look for scapegoats to distract the public from noticing their dismal failures. They also find the promotion of religious extremism useful, because it is more difficult to vilify leaders who present themselves as deified.
The LGBT community rarely thrives in backward places that promote ignorance over education and medieval views over modernity. As these intellectual swamps sink, sexual minorities make ideal targets because their members are often isolated and deeply closeted, vulnerable to persecution, and don’t have the numbers to fight back.
Russia is not the only loser nation where leaders manipulate the public through virulent gay bashing. Brutal Zimbabwe dictator, Robert Mugabe, called homosexuality un-Christian and un-African last week, and then threatened to severely discipline anyone in a gay relationship.
“Do not get tempted into that (homosexuality). If you do fall for it we will punish you severely,” said Mugabe.
This warning comes from a loathsome tyrant who is single-handedly responsible for this nation’s despair and disrepair. By attacking LGBT people, the potentate hopes to mask his misdeeds. Anti-gay hate groups, such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, aid this criminal by allowing him to pose as pious.
Even in some advanced nations there is the threat of retrograde preachers who have no qualms about dragging their countries into the gutter for personal riches and political gain. In Brazil, televangelist Silas Malafaia has become the country’s Pat Robertson, politicizing culture war issues like LGBT equality.
The New York Times reports that the self-righteous televangelist is transported in a private jet and that his fingers are “adorned with diamond-encrusted gold rings.”
Sure, the Bible says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” But one gets the distinct impression that Malafaia would solve this problem by hiring an architect to build a hollow needle of gold the size of the Lincoln Tunnel and drive through it in his Mercedes-Benz.
Homophobia is a mark of failing nations. Even in America, it is the emblem of poor, second-tier states. It is the signpost of inferior cities that perpetually fail to reach their potential and can’t figure out why.
It is not that anti-gay sentiment on its own causes the collapse of such places. It is that homophobia virtually never stands alone. It can only flower in corrupt environments that lack basic freedom, devalue education, limit liberty, have huge income disparities, degrade women, discourage religious pluralism, mock intellectuals, and promote superstition at the expense of science.
As a general rule, places that are leaders in passing anti-gay laws are losers in virtually every other category that defines successful, civilized societies.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”