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Not the Suffering Olympics: Things Are Bad in Russia. That Doesn’t Mean They’re Fine Here.

Comparisons are an incredibly important part of sense-making for us humans. We’re always making them, especially when trying to describe something to someone else. We might say, “I just heard this great band. They sound a lot like if Guns N’ Roses were fronted by an opera singer.” Or, “His husband is a very buff guy. Think The Rock but with blonde hair.”

Helpful! Harmless! And essential.

But not all comparisons are made in good faith. And one of the favorite comparisons of the radical right is to point to a country where LGBTQ+ people are treated worse than they are in the U.S. as if to say, “See? It isn’t so bad here. Quit your complaining.”

It’s a way to just shut down conversations about LGBTQ+ rights and discrimination by declaring such discussions unnecessary, even silly. As if someone being treated even worse than you negates your own mistreatment.

Thus, when I encountered an alarming Dec. 22 Washington Post headline, I could already hear conservatives say stuff like, “Well, if you don’t like it here, move to Russia! See how that works out.”

Because, folks, it isn’t working out well. The headline in question reads, “In Russia, parents are having gay children abducted to be ‘cured.’”

“In Russia, where the entire LGBTQ+ community has been banned as ‘extremist,’ some parents are paying thugs to abduct their queer sons and daughters, forcing them into secure private centers to ‘cure’ them with so-called conversion therapy,” the opening paragraph reads.

This is, of course, horrific. Though in case any disingenuous conservatives who might want to point to a story like this to counter claims of LGBTQ+ oppression in the United States, let’s remember that these folks believe in conversion therapy. They believe LGBTQ+ people are sick and need to be cured. And if they aren’t cured? Well, are their lives really even valuable?

I can already hear the “love the sinner, hate the sin” crowd complaining that my depiction of them is hateful and wrong, as if telling someone, “I love you, but you are going to hell unless you renounce being queer, because being queer is disgusting and sinful,” isn’t hateful and wrong.

“Many were tricked or abducted, then held for months,” the Post article continues. “They recounted being beaten, humiliated or forced to read out confessions that they were destructive and selfish because of their ‘addiction’ to their sexual or gender identity — mimicking rigid programs designed to combat drug and alcohol addiction.”

The article also reports that they “emerged somehow mentally broken.” Ain’t no “somehow” about it. That’s the whole point of conversation therapy.

In 2020 the United Nations called for a global ban on conversion therapy, calling the practice “deeply harmful…inflicting severe pain and suffering and resulting in long-lasting psychological and physical damage,” the Post reports.

Anyone who has ever been put through this hell will tell you the same. And experts across the board condemn it.

If Russia seems to have taken a very nasty turn against LGBTQ+ people, well, they have. Though things weren’t good before. They’re just a lot worse now.

There is, of course, a method to the madness.

“In President Vladimir Putin’s move to cement his rule and build a repressive, deeply conservative nation, he has singled out LGBTQ+ people as scapegoats alongside antiwar activists,” the Post reports. “But the rhetoric is also part of Putin’s bid to enlist socially conservative nations in Africa and the Middle East to back Russia in its war against Ukraine. At the same, he hopes to divide liberal Western democracies by encouraging antipathy to LGBTQ+ rights.”

Huh. Using LGBTQ+ people as rhetorical cannon fodder in your war to justify your continued use of Ukrainian people as literal cannon fodder. Sick. But not surprising!

Thankfully, singling out LGBTQ+ people for harm to acquire political gains would never happen in the United States. (Checks the Republican Party playbook going back to Ronald Reagan). Oh, wait.

Honestly, besides wanting to make the rich richer and the poor suffer as much as possible, fanning hatred for LGBTQ+ people and trying to ban abortion nationwide, the GOP doesn’t have much else.

Yet people keep electing them, FFS.

I’m very tired of hearing, “But they put gays to death in Iran! Don’t you care about that?” when the subject of LGBTQ+ oppression in the United States comes up. The truth of the matter is, the person giving such a response probably doesn’t actually care about a gay man being killed in Iran or any other country. They just want to minimize the suffering caused by the policies they support here at home.

This isn’t the Suffering Olympics. This is a complex, worldwide human rights issue. Just because some places “aren’t as bad” as others doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do.

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