CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, together with Council Member Lee Storrow, is asking the council to approve dissolving the relationship with sister-city Saratov, Russia.
“Some of them would have LGBT people erased from the planet,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says. “Now we have to decide, what’s the best way to help create that change.”
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The Russian government has illegalized propaganda of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) people or “nontraditional sexual relations around minors.”
The law was signed last week and eliminated discussion of gay rights and relationships anywhere children might hear it. The law has been condemned by many, including rights groups in Russian and internationally saying it’s highly discriminatory.
“When we’re talking about a country whose legislature unanimously passed these bills and there has been an international outcry against this—the closest analogy was the international outcry against apartheid in South Africa, for example,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says. “Not that these two issues are the same. But, I think what you have here is a country that’s decided something that the rest of the world thinks is improper, and we need to figure out how to handle it. In that instance, it was about isolating South Africa. I think in this instance on LGBT issues, it’s about isolating Russia.”
Mayor Kleinschmidt says the sister-city relationship hasn’t really meant anything in the past decade or so. He said it’s never even come up in all his time on the Council dating back to 2001 and that this act can serve as a strong statement.
The relationship was formed after the Cold War when, as Mayor Kleinschmidt describes, similarities were realized.
“It was about understanding that there were human beings living in towns and cities that were just like us and that the Cold War politics—it was a different kind of experience, you know, that was a national, geo-political conflict—but at the bottom of it, at the end of the day, they were ordinary people, trying to make a living and taking care of their families,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says.
He says now it’s become clear just who those people are.
Mayor Kleinschmidt says if he were to visit Chapel Hill’s sister-city now, he’s concerned for how he’d be received.
“If the headline is, ‘here comes Chapel Hill’s mayor with his gay boyfriend’ am I going to be arrested for propagandizing in Russia?” Mayor Kleinschmidt asks. “Because my understanding is that might just be enough.”
He says he hopes the Council will swiftly act on the resolution he and Storrow presented.
“I’d like to get it done on the ninth of September in the consent agenda and move right on,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says.
Created decades ago, the relationship has been inactive as long as we have served on Council. The Town of Chapel Hill currently has no communication or active relationship with Saratov, Russia, and due to the enactment of Russia’s anti-LGBT policies, we see no reason to keep the relationship even in name.
We hope soon Russian society – as well as all societies foreign and domestic- will recognize that LGBT people deserve equal protection and freedom under the law. The law Russian’s passed against LGBT citizens is a law designed to address a problem that does not exist. LGBT citizens in all societies represent a great source of talent and value, able to contribute immeasurably to the betterment of a nation and a people. Until Russian society is able to come to this basic truth, we see no ability to move forward in a productive sister city relationship with a Russian city or town.