On February 11, a court in St. Petersburg dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Russian Ministry of Justice. The government wanted to shut down the Russian LGBT Network, one of the country’s most powerful gay rights organizations, for allegedly spreading “LGBT views”.
Since 1993, it is no longer illegal to be LGBTQ in Russia, but since the passage of the “gay propaganda” law in 2013, it is illegal to talk about it around a minor.
That’s right, Vladimir Putin first created a ‘don’t say gay’ bill.
In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights, of which Russia was a member, ruled that the law was illegal. But that conviction did little to change the Kremlin’s attitude toward its LGBTQ population.
I bring this up because the WNBA’s Brittney Griner, who came out in 2013, has been flying in this harsh environment since she turned pro. What many of the league’s queer players, along with their families and friends, have been juggling isn’t just the emotional and physical toll of a nearly uninterrupted 12-month playing schedule between WNBA and international play. It’s trying to do all of this while being concerned about your spouse visiting you or meeting someone new on a dating app.
Griner, who wrote about her coming out process in her 2014 book, “In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court,” was arrested Feb. 17 on drug trafficking charges, just days after the government of Putin tried to shut down LGBT. Network to talk about LGBTQ issues. On Thursday, a Russian court extended his detention until May 19. On Friday, the US State Department released a statement demanding access to Griner, saying “we have repeatedly requested consular access to these detainees and have always been denied access.”
Even before the war, repatriating detained Americans from Russia was difficult. In 2020, Navy veteran Trevor Reed was sentenced to nine years in prison for allegedly assaulting police officers in Moscow. And Paul Whelan, a corporate security official, is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage.
One of the most recent reports on Griner’s condition came from a state-backed prison watchdog group that rarely challenges Russian authorities on major issues. The whole situation breaks my heart for Griner and his loved ones. She is one of the most visible lesbians on the planet and is currently being held in a country whose government ignored reports that gay men were “purged” in Chechnya in 2017.
“My desire to live authentically has often been at odds with my need to please,” Griner wrote in his autobiography. “I want to be me, but I also want to make people around me happy. It’s a standoff that has consumed me over the years, but one I’m finally learning to handle.
“I think anyone who has ever struggled to take a different path, while trying to fit in, can appreciate the difficulty of this journey and the lessons learned along the way.”
Given the United States’ global leadership on sanctions against Russia and military assistance to Ukraine, it’s hard not to see Griner as a political prisoner in Russia. I pray that his personal situation does not become further entangled with the war in Ukraine. Because she is gay and imprisoned by a government that is fighting to keep that word out, her detention should receive intense scrutiny in this country.
Maybe some elected officials who are looking at their own version of a “don’t say gay” law under the guise of protecting children should take a moment’s pause. They follow Putin’s example.
Is the man who bombed a Ukrainian children’s hospital during a ceasefire really the role model for children’s well-being?
LZ Granderson is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. ©2022 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by content agency Tribune.