A chief editor at a local television channel called homosexuality an “abomination” in a caustic reply to an open letter written by an insulted viewer. The viewer, St. Petersburg resident Maria Yefremenkova, had earlier held a one-woman protest against what she described as a “homophobic” broadcast that “discriminated” against sexual minorities.
Valery Tatarov, the editor of 100TV’s public affairs talk show “Bridge of Freedom,” refused to apologize for the broadcast, as requested by Yefremenkova. Instead, he informed her, in an e-mail dated July 1, that he would not apologize unless a court ordered him to do so.
In closing, Tatarov expressed “the deepest disrespect for homosexuality and other abominations” and wished Yefremenkova “the best of luck in studying the law as well as civil rights and liberties.”
The program that sparked Yefremenkova’s campaign was broadcast on 100TV on May 22. [It can be viewed in full here.] The topic debated by the show’s in-studio guests was “Is homosexualism [sic] a crime against childhood?”
The phrasing of the topic was inspired by a statement made by the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox priest Andrei Kurayev, one of the church’s most visible public figures. When asked about a planned gay pride event in Moscow in May, Kurayev slammed what he called the “propaganda of homosexuality.”
During the course of the fifty-three minute program, anti-gay guests and interviewees argued several times that the aim of gay rights protests was to recruit minors into the homosexual community by making homosexuality “fashionable.” “Is homosexuality a fashion or a psychiatric disease?” one of the presenters asked a guest.
The terms gomoseksualism and gomoseksualist, seen as inappropriate by gays because they suggest that homosexuality is a disease or a form of deviancy, were used consistently throughout the entire program.
Yefremenkova found remarks made by journalists and guests, as well as pre-recorded video sequences aired during the program, insulting to sexual minorities.
“As a member of Russian society, I am deeply outraged by this instance of discrimination against sexual minorities. It’s intolerable,” Yefremenkova said by phone last week.
In a letter she wrote to 100TV’s general director and editor, Andrei Radin, after she received Tatarov’s response last week, Yefremenkova alleged that the “hosts and creators of this program violated the rights, honor and dignity of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community.”
She also wrote that the presenters “spread rumors disguised as reliable facts; [they] presented information on homosexuality in such a way as to demean this category of citizens, ignite intolerance and contribute to the rise of hatred in society.”
Yefremenkova accused the show’s hosts of “fabricating facts” and allowing the program’s guests — Igor Knyazkin (introduced as a doctor of medicine), political analyst Alexander Konfisakhor of St. Petersburg State University, and historian Yury Sokolov — to threaten and insult sexual minorities.
“Don’t write on your t-shirt that you’re a faggot, and nobody will touch you,” said Knyazkin, who also described homosexuality as a “social disease.” Konfisakhor seconded him: “In my youth, you would get punched in the face for [openly expressing homosexuality] — long, hard, and so that it hurt.”
In response to a post on the channel’s web forum that read “Gay culture is being exported from abroad. The goal is the destruction of Russia,” Sokolov said, “Strange as it may seem, this might be true.” ”That’s right,” an off-screen voice was heard to say in reply.
Moreover, guests repeatedly compared homosexuality to bestiality, necrophilia and pedophilia.
Although there were two speakers on behalf of sexual minorities in the studio, the show’s general tone was hostile. When Valery Sozayev, an activist with the LGBT rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out) asked his opponents and the presenters to imagine how they would react “if [their own] children turn[ed] out to be gay,” presenter Svetlana Malinina sarcastically retorted, “God forbid!”
Journalist Andrei Klyushev concluded the broadcast by remarking that a person should not speak publicly about his or her sexual orientation.
“In the U.S. army […] they have arrived at a very simple slogan — ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ That is, sexual orientation is everyone’s personal affair, but you shouldn’t speak about it publicly. I think that is a rather healthy idea,” Klyushev said.
What Klyushev did not mention, however, was that the Pentagon’s controversial ban did not extend to civilians, and that several recent surveys have shown that the vast majority of Americans are against the ban.
Last year, during his presidential campaign, Barack Obama pledged to work with military leaders and Congress on repealing the law that bans openly gay men and women from serving in the military.
At the end of the broadcast, the results of a viewer call-in poll were shown on screen. Those who agreed that “homosexualism” was a “crime against childhood” outnumbered those who disagreed by an overwhelming margin — 7,263 to 1,298, or 85 versus 15 percent.
On Monday, the program’s web site showed that a video of the controversial broadcast had been viewed over 13,000 times since the May 22 airing. Other recent broadcasts in the series, which airs three times a week, have garnered just over a thousand online re-viewings at most.
Yefremenkova wrote that the facts she cited in her letter constitute “evidence of discrimination against sexual minorities by employees of 100TV” and were thus violations of Russian and international law.
On June 6, Yefremenkova held a picket near 100TV’s studios, near Petrogradskaya Naberezhnaya. She held up a placard that read, “Against discrimination toward sexual minorities in the media. 100TV is a homophobic channel.” She also distributed leaflets in which she demanded that the channel apologize to the LGBT community.
Under the Soviet legal code, male homosexual acts were criminal offenses, punishable by terms of five to eight years in prison. This law was abolished in 1993, two years after the Soviet Union collapsed, during the administration of President Boris Yeltsin. During Soviet times, the subject of homosexuality was strictly banned from print and broadcast media.
Speaking by phone this week, LGBT rights activist Sozayev talked about what he called the “lack of professionalism” of 100TV’s journalists.
“In a debate, the hosts should not take sides, whatever their personal views are, but these hosts demonstrated their homophobia in a very obvious way,” he said.
“Many thoughtful people I spoke to, people who are able to think for themselves, said the program had the opposite effect on them,” Sozayev added.
“If the editor wanted to use this program to incite homophobia, he failed. As one woman wrote in her blog, ‘For the longest time I couldn’t explain to my husband why LGBT rights have to be protected. After watching this program he understood why.”
Radin, who heads 100TV, said he had not received the letter when called on Monday and declined to comment.