Wednesday, October 16, 2013

RIA Novosti: SF Backs Out of Russian Commemoration Over Gay Law?

The anti-gay propaganda law sign into law by Russian president Vladimir Putin continues to create diplomatic headaches. Reporter Maria Young of the RIA Novosti news service has the details to the latest fallout over the law. Until I spoke with her, I had no idea the October 23 commemoration was in development and knew nothing about the cancellation due to promises of a protest by LGBT people.

One aspect that I find highly amusing is the chief of our local fire department in the spring had invited Putin to attend the now-cancelled ceremony. Imagine how gay and straight human rights defenders would have reacted and publicly demonstrated against his over all terrible human rights record: loudly and proudly!

It's quite pathetic that neither Mayor Ed Lee's office nor the fire department, both stacked with plenty of staffers paid to communicate with the press and public, and both pro-gay to the max, had nothing to say to RIA Novosti's Maria Young about a gay-related matter.

Why the silence Mayor Lee and Chief Hayes-White?

Excerpts from Young's article published today, where she shares the fire department's letter to Putin and the letter of protest to the mayor over the cancellation:

The city of San Francisco has cancelled plans to participate in an upcoming 150th anniversary ceremony recognizing the Russian Navy for its critical, historic assistance in fighting a massive fire that consumed much of the San Francisco financial district in 1863, an organizer of the event told RIA Novosti.

“We had an agreement with the City Hall, with its fire department, police department, port administration, that they will participate in the event,” said Leonid Nakhodkin, chairman of the nonprofit United Humanitarian Mission (UHM), a civil society group which describes its mission as the promotion of “universal human values.”

“At the last minute, I got a message from the City Hall of San Francisco saying that the municipality ceases all plans to participate in this event, and the same message was received by the Consulate General,” said Nakhodkin, who was born in the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan and raised in Ukraine before immigrating to the United States.“Why? Because gay community threatened the San Francisco City Hall to hold a protest against Russia at the event,” he told RIA Novosti in recent conversations about the ceremony originally slated for Oct. 23. 

Documents from a San Francisco Fire Commission meeting on March 14 show that Nakhodkin discussed plans to order medals commemorating the Russian Navy’s assistance in saving lives in the 1863 fire.

A letter dated April 2 from San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White to Russian President Vladimir Putin detailed the “huge fire” with “catastrophic potential to destroy the Bay Area,” and invited Putin to attend the festivities. [...] “We… would be honored to have you visit San Francisco." [...]

“These are humanitarian acts, existing above and beyond any politicization,” and the commemoration ceremony “aims at removing the barriers between our peoples,” wrote Nakhodkin in an August letter to San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, asking him to reconsider his position and take part in the ceremony. [...]

Since June, when Putin signed a law banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” to minors, there have been at least half a dozen protest rallies held around San Francisco, including a vodka dump on the steps of City Hall, a rally at the Russian Consulate, and a demonstration at St. Nicholas’ Russian Orthodox Church in the heart of the city’s gay district. [...]

Contacted by RIA Novosti, a number of prominent LGBT groups in San Francisco said they had no plans to protest the event commemorating Russia’s assistance fighting the 1863 fire, and knew of no plans for such a protest. But they also expressed frustration at what they said has been a stunning lack of response from the mayor’s office in the face of vocal opposition to the Russian law.

“Now, this is San Francisco, it’s a gay mecca, it’s a gay capital of the world practically,” which means the mayor has “a responsibility to take a stand, number one on the Russian vodka dump, and number two, a symbolic stand and agree not to serve any Russian products at any city functions,” said Michael Petrilis, a community organizer with the San Francisco chapter of Gays Without Borders.

Gay rights activists have called on Lee to support their boycott of Russian vodka and to publicly oppose the Russian law, but Petrelis said the mayor has not responded to those requests. He added in an interview with RIA Novosti that Lee was elected to office with large support from the gay community of San Francisco, and backed a boycott of national fast food franchise Chick-Fil-A last year, following statements by the company president opposing gay marriage. 

Lee’s office and the San Francisco Fire Department did not respond to repeated emails and phone calls from RIA Novosti seeking comment for this story, although in August the mayor’s spokeswoman told the LGBT newspaper, The Bay Area Reporter, that "Mayor Lee is deeply concerned and troubled about the discriminatory legislation and anti-gay laws recently passed in Russia and he is interested in actions that can help the LGBT community there."

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