fri 24/05/2019

Dispatches: Hunted - Gay and Afraid, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Dispatches: Hunted - Gay and Afraid, Channel 4

Dispatches: Hunted - Gay and Afraid, Channel 4

Meet the American right promoting 'family' values worldwide, resulting violence against gays notwithstanding

'A real family' reads the slogan on the flag launched in July by Russia's leading political party in response to American legalisation of same-sex marriage

There can’t be many American public figures who are welcome on Russian television these days, but Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage is one of them. In Hunted: Gay and Afraid we saw him sitting in on legislative gatherings too, and when the World Congress of Families (WCF) holds its assemblies in Moscow – which it seems to do quite often – the atmosphere is of a meeting of minds between leading Russian politicians and the ideologues of the conservative, Christian-aligned American organisations that, through their emphatic upholding of traditional values, effectively reject the right of homosexuality to a place in the world.

In Gay and Afraid presenter Liz MacKean revealed just how close that unlikely bond has become, especially when set against the background of a wider political relationship between the two countries that’s as cold as it has been in three decades. Why “unlikely”, though? We heard that the WCF regarded the Kremlin’s criminalising the “propaganda” of “non-traditional” relationships to minors two years ago as a victory, while Russia’s increasingly shunned political elite is always keen to exploit almost any association with the outside world.

The attackers didn’t bother to disguise their identities to camera, knowing that the police just wouldn’t be interested

The title of this Dispatches film was something of a misnomer though, since it was much more about the American entities that are using their considerable resources to lobby similarly inclined political powerbrokers across the globe (after Russia, MacKean went on to Slovakia and Uganda). Not that she doesn’t know the world of those who are being persecuted for their sexuality, and where the level of that persecution is being racked up by new legislation as it is in Russia, inside out. MacKean (pictured below right) made another film for the Channel 4 strand last year, titled just Hunted, that caught the level of violent intolerance towards gays in St Petersburg on the eve of the Sochi Olympics.

Some of that footage – the so-called “safaris”, in which gay men are lured into what they think may be a date, and then assailed by a group of thugs who will beat them up, filming their humiliations and putting them up on social media – was reprised here. Hunted was a really visceral piece of television (watch it here), alarming not least for the sheer sense of impunity with which the attackers behaved; they didn’t bother to disguise their identities to camera, knowing that the police just wouldn’t be interested.

MacKean’s primary interest here was in America, her new film starting at the WCF’s annual march in Washington, before she proceeded to meet some of those closest to the organization. She’s a valiantly persistent interviewer, but attempting to get any admission that rises in anti-gay violence might be a direct result of new legislation – Uganda passed an extreme anti-homosexuality law at the end of 2013, which though later annulled on a technicality, is likely to be reintroduced soon – brought home just how much minds were not meeting here.

We had Larry Jacobs, director of WCF (motto “beauty, goodness, truth”), just deploring violence, denying any possible connections, as well, of course, that his organisation was in any way helping to influence foreign law-making. He rather slipped up though, noting that the Russian legislation didn’t even contain the word "homosexuality", so the term “non-traditional” might equally refer to, er, bestiality. Then there was Pastor Scott Lively, who has been pressing his message that the “gay movement is an evil institution” home in Uganda for years, and proceeding from that to link homosexuality to paedophilia (a frequent refrain throughout). Was he going to believe the studies asserting that Ugandan homosexuals like Jonathan and Kim (pictured below) had seen higher rates of violent intolerance after changes in the laws? One stock reply to such questioning is, “I haven’t seen those figures”, another, more than exploited by Lively, to question the organizations reporting it: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had “taken sides,” even the UN was “not impartial”.

Which made MacKean’s sojourn in Bratislava almost optimisic. Not for the fact, of course, that Slovakia’s gay pride marches are increasingly accompanied by a rising neo-Nazi movement, nor that activist Romana was worried about a new complacency following EU integration. When another well-funded transatlantic player Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) started a petition that called for, among other things, a referendum defining marriage as between man and woman only, it gathered, with support from the Catholic Church, the necessary 350,000 signatures. The president referred it to the constitutional court, which, after lobbying, agreed it could go ahead. But when it did so this February, a low 21% turnout saw it declared invalid: apathy may not always be the enemy of progress.

ADF’s main lobbyist there was the slick lawyer Daniel Lipsic, a Slovak MP and former deputy-Prime Minister, who was the only one of MacKean’s interlocutors to give her anything like direct answers. Lipsic had pocketed annual fees that were double his MP’s salary for his consultancy for ADF, which in 2013-13 spent around $1 million challenging legislation around Europe. It has to, in fact, to protect its home ground, so that foreign cases can’t be cited as precedent in the American courts.

BBC Two’s Stephen Fry: Out charted some of the same territory two years ago, and it’s well worth catching the St Petersburg homophobia episode of Reggie Yates’ Extreme Russia which will be repeated on the BBC next week. That last one actually got, just a bit, into the mind of one of those whom, in MacKean’s original Hunted, we saw only at the other end of a fist. Deeper issues remain, however, what with Russian sociologist Igor Kon declaring in his time that the “specific feature of Russian political homophobia is its strict anti-Western orientation”; that reveals much about how popular homophobia in the country has been whipped up by the Putin regime to create the concept of an enemy, and distract attention from other issues.  

A recent op-ed in The Moscow Times developed such sociological ideas further, as well as giving other chilling reasons why anyone supporting the family should pay attention to Russia: estimates that 10,000-14,000 women annually are murdered there by husbands or partners, compared to the US where, despite a population twice the size, that figure is 1,000-2,000. Not something that the WCF seems to be paying attention to.

The World Congress of Families regarded the Kremlin’s criminalising the 'propaganda' of 'non-traditional' relationships to minors two years ago as a victory

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