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This story first appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The path of history is littered with moments when progress in this country blinds us to appalling crimes against humanity elsewhere. At this very moment in Russia, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are facing harassment, arrest and violence under a set of horrific new laws. For their sake, we must take off the blinders and break this cycle of inaction. Hollywood is in a unique position to lead in this fight. The question now is, will we?
For LGBT Americans and the countless advocates in Hollywood who have helped champion the cause of full equality for all, these past few months have been filled with hope and celebration. Every day it seems we are taking a new step forward in this country. The dangerous temptation, however, is that we become content. Just days after the Supreme Court made so many of us feel more American with a pair of favorable marriage-equality rulings, on the other side of the globe, Russian President Vladimir Putin enacted some of the most vehemently anti-gay laws the world has ever known. The most dangerous weapon he has against his own LGBT citizens is the apathy that may spring from international ignorance and our own potential domestic contentment.
In Russia, it is currently illegal to walk down the street holding hands with someone of the same sex. But these new laws are even more far-reaching and sinister. As Harvey Fierstein wrote in his incredible whistle-blowing New York Times op-ed, “The law is broad and vague, so that any teacher who tells students that homosexuality is not evil, any parents who tell their child that homosexuality is normal, or anyone who makes pro-gay statements deemed accessible to someone underage is now subject to arrest and fines.”
Even worse than what these Russian laws target is what they tolerate. Hate is spreading to all corners of Russian society. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church called marriage equality a “sign of the apocalypse.” Roving groups of skinheads have attacked LGBT pride demonstrations, leaving blood on public streets. There are even profoundly disturbing reports of thugs posing as teenagers on the Internet and luring gay youth out into the open and then harassing, torturing and humiliating these young people before releasing videos of their tortured victims online.
It’s almost too infuriating and heartbreaking to believe, especially given the tremendous progress we see elsewhere. But most shocking to me is that Hollywood might continue to produce and premiere major motion pictures in Russia without doing its part to make sure this abuse is stopped.
Last week, my friend Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, sent a letter to six major studios and the Motion Picture Association of America, urging them to speak out about the ongoing atrocities in Russia. So far, every one of them has avoided comment. The truth is, there is virtually no other industry that can make a greater impact than ours. In 2012, annual box-office returns for the top 50 films in Russia topped $900 million. Nearly every one of those movies is a product of Hollywood. Our business matters to Russia, our voices are heard in Russia, and the combination of these avenues of influence can absolutely help end these dark days there.
Because the truth is, the other thing that will soon be noted by Putin and LGBT Russians alike is our industry’s silence and apathy. And LGBT Russians living in fear and putting their lives on the line deserve better than our inaction and silence.
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