CHAPEL HILL – The Town Council decided Monday to postpone a decision about severing ties with Saratov, Chapel Hill’s sister city in Russia. The country’s anti-gay policies prompted a petition to end the relationship, but the Council delayed taking action to have more time for public input.
The petition was proposed by Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and council member Lee Storrow last month in response to Russia’s growing discrimination and violence against its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. Both leaders are openly gay.
Storrow explained that the postponement wasn’t an indication of what the Council will ultimately decide, but rather an acknowledgement of the differing opinions surrounding the issue. He added that occasionally a petition that is non-controversial or doesn’t have much substance to it will be taken up immediately by the Council.
“Mark and I and the rest of the Council thought it would be best to schedule a public hearing in either September or October,” Storrow said.
An excerpt from the statement released by Storrow and Kleinschmidt last month said: “As openly LGBT politicians, the visuals and news stories coming out of Russia since the enactment of Russia’s new anti-Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) law banning “homosexual propaganda” have been heartbreaking.”
They added that Chapel Hill currently has no communication with Saratov, and due to the enactment of Russia’s anti-LGBTQ policies, they saw no reason to keep the relationship even in name. Storrow said that elected officials in Saratov have not responded to the statement.
Some Chapel Hillians, though, have expressed their desire use the Town’s relationship to show the importance of tolerance.
“I think that there is a way we can take a stance that includes ending the ties and severing the relationship, or there might be another creative solution we can talk about,” Storrow said. “I look forward to getting that input during the public hearing.”
Storrow said the non-profit group, Equality NC, emailed several cities in the area last month, asking them to consider ending relationships with Russian cities following the country’s enactment of laws banning “homosexual propaganda.”