T he only way you could have failed to see the press around Russia’s legal crackdown on the LGBT community is if you’ve been in a media vacuum; and if you’ve managed that, you are probably a happier individual for having done so. If that is the case, then I’m sorry to burst the bubble, but I’d like to talk about protest kissing – that’s right, you heard me – kissing in protest.
Whilst protest kissing isn’t a new thing, two Russian athletes, Tatyana Firova and Kseniya Ryzhova, kissed on the podium after winning a medal at the World Championships; most have assumed that this was in direct protest of the Draconian law, and ensuing attitudes (and actions) against expressions of sexuality and gender identity. This follows a number of comments, photos and statements that have either seem to support Russia’s decision to legitimise this oppression, or those who have directly, consciously defied it; but today, there is some speculation that the kiss wasn’t a conscious protest at all…
So my question is this – does it matter if it was a conscious protest or otherwise? Of course, it does matter to the two athletes concerned; fear of reprisal for such an action is of genuine concern. But does it matter to those of us outside Russia whether it was a conscious protest or simply an expression of joy about winning a medal? If it wasn’t a conscious decision, is it ok that this image has been appropriated by the media? Is it ok that it’s been used to spark further discussion, objection, and ultimately (hopefully) action, to support our LGBT brothers and sisters in Russia? Or is this simply a projection of our own liberal values and ultimately counterproductive to the cause?
The Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, has argued that this is an ‘invented problem’ created by Western media and that the law is designed to protect Russian children (yes, yes this does sound familiar… hmm, Section 28 anyone?) – according to him, we simply must not promote homosexuality… Does two women kissing promote homosexuality, does two women kissing amount to active protest, will two women kissing ultimately lead to the said Western media to strengthen the calls for a boycott of the Winter Olympics? It seems only time will tell, but for me the longer that this photo stays in the public eye, the stronger the possibilities are that something will have to give. one can only hope that this kiss doesn’t end with a call for all of us to simply abide by the old adage of ‘when in Rome…’
And perhaps we might also use this as an opportunity to look a little closer to home – we may have repealed Section 28 in name at least, but the British Humanist Association have found at least 44 schools in England and Wales that appear to replicate it. So maybe we ought to also consider some protest kissing of our own?
Sonia Hendy-Isaac, Birmingham City University