Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Reform through language

Throughout current President Vladimir Putin’s tenure in the Russian government, he has proven time after time that he’s in the business of driving the country back into the Stone Age regarding social development.

The recent “Anti-Gay Law,” signed into law by Putin on June 30, is Exhibit A. The law bans the spread of “homosexual propaganda,” which it defines as, “The act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.”

In other words, individuals will not be allowed to promote or even talk about LGBT culture on the street or on the Internet. They will not be allowed to hold pride parades or educate the Russian community about their existence. This law not only takes away from the kinds of freedoms everyone should be entitled to, but it most importantly treats LGBT individuals as pariahs.

The penalties for violating this law vary. Russian individuals engaging in this propaganda can be fined $120-150, whereas public officials can be subjected to fines of up to $1,500. Registered organizations can either be fined up to $30,000 or forced to cease operating for 90 days. Fines increase dramatically for spreading online propaganda. Foreign citizens can be subject to fines and deportation.

As heinous as this law appears, does it differ that much from some attitudes held by Americans? For example, the American Family Association, a non-profit organization upholding Christian values, actually supports and praises Putin for his actions. At first I couldn’t believe that people living in a country where freedom is so important could support such blatantly unjust laws.

But then I performed a little experiment. I sat my mother, born and raised in Russia but influenced by U.S. social customs, and her friend, a very level-headed individual with a political science degree from the University of Massachusetts, down and asked them their opinion on Putin’s new law.

My mother’s friend was disapproving, saying that the law is tyrannical and takes away from human rights. My mother was more hostile. Despite living in the U.S. for the last 15 years, she kept referring to gays and lesbians and their actions.” Nuances within her speech gave off subtle hints that set LGBTQ individuals apart from straight men or women.

I believe reform must start with language. The way we communicate with one another is such an integral part of our daily routine that what we say and hear soon becomes what we think and believe.

If we use words that alienate a certain group, then that is exactly how we are going to act toward that group. We shouldn’t refer to gays and lesbians as a negative “they,” but as a positive “us.”

One might say that because my mother was raised in Russia, her views are different. But if Americans really did have much more tolerant attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, her mindset would have changed by now. As American supporters of Putin’s laws show, homophobia doesn’t reside solely in Russia. It also rears its ugly head in the country where freedom is fundamental.

Having moved to the U.S. from Russia when I was 8 years old, I have been able to observe how Americans view those who are different. I have found that they tend to choose to look the other way and do not speak out. Russians, on the other hand, voice their distaste, whether through intolerance, acts of violence or repressive laws. Neither approach is preferred.

Russia is a country afraid of change. It is very black and white, with no gray area in between. What is traditional is right, while what is new or different is wrong. In a way, Russians are ignorant of social evolution, not because they are against learning, but because Putin speaks for the country without counsel.

Despite what people hear on the news, Russia should not be looked at as a country filled with cruelty and bigotry. That’s not where I was born. It’s a country plagued by a tyrant who blindly lusts for power and broadcasts his intolerance to the world.

Dennis Topakov is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].


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