The parents of PinkNews founder Benjamin Cohen have performed an impromptu gay rights protest in the Russian city of St Petersburg, the birthplace of the country’s recently passed anti-gay laws. Here he explains what they did.
I was surprised to receive an email from my father recently with a collection of photographs from Russia, a country that he had stopped off in during a cruise with my mother. I was surprised not because they sent me photographs from their holiday, because they often do, but because they contained a simple message, that they support LGBT rights. The collection of photographs showed my parents holding up a sign reading “Gay OK”, an action that is technically illegal following a change in the law. President Vladimir Putin signed the law in June banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors, a move that has been criticised as part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community. This new law has been interpreted as everything from gay pride marches to gay couples kissing in the street. No one is sure how the law will be applied to gay parents, who would day in, day out, be promoting a loving relationship to their children.
My father Richard, who is a board director of PinkNews and the executive chairman of online legal service MyLawyer picks up the story:-
“My wife Rochelle and I, like many of the parents of LGBT children regularly read PinkNews and it has been impossible for us to ignore the situation that has developed in recent months in Russia. It was in particular Stephen Fry’s letter to David Cameron and the PinkNews compilation of some of the 20 most shocking anti-gay stories to come out of the country that convinced us that we should use our brief time in Russia to highlight.
“We didn’t and couldn’t do much in the few hours that we had in the country, so we decided to grab some paper and write a simple message ‘Gay OK’. It’s contained on an American Apparel T-shirt that Benjamin often wears and it exemplifies our own views when it comes to LGBT issues. Being gay is OK. It’s not special, it’s not extraordinary, it’s OK. It is no different from us being straight, we just are and that’s OK, just like it’s OK our son is gay.
“While we wanted to show solidarity with the Russian community, it was also very personal. Our son does a lot to fight for LGBT rights in the UK, whether its through PinkNews or through his campaign for same-sex marriage. It’s shocking that if he lived where we held up our sign, he would more than likely have been arrested at points for simply protesting for the rights that we enjoy because we happen to be straight.”
Being supporters of gay rights appears to run in my family. My Grandparents helped launch the Out4Marriage campaign for same-sex marriage in England and Wales with a YouTube video explaining why they believed that love is the same, straight or gay. Their video viewed by thousands was praised by people such as Stephen Fry on social media and in a speech by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
What my parents did in Russia isn’t comparable to the courage of people like Peter Tatchell, violently beaten up by neo-Nazi homophobic thugs and then arrested by the police. It doesn’t compare with what the courageous gay rights campaigners in the country have to do all the time. But in my view it is still important. Our rights in the UK have been won in part because of the change in attitudes in wider society towards homosexuality. People in society like my parents. People who ask “so what?” when their children come out, people who support same-sex marriage because they want all of their children to be treated equally. Having straight allies like my parents make me hope that unlike in Russia, we won’t go down the same path and revoke the rights that we fought so hard for.
Benjamin Cohen is the publisher of PinkNews.co.uk. He Tweets @benjamincohen