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Why can’t we ever stop talking about Russia?

by Jeremy Hooper

I’m not saying there’s a direct connection. But it is weird.

If you followed politics anytime between 2013–2015, you are certainly aware of the preponderance of stories surrounding LGBTQ rights and the Russian government’s hostility toward them. From the 2013 “gay propaganda law” to the controversies surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, to the many stories about American anti-LGBTQ activists’ acting in concert with Russian activists in order to strategize around shared concerns, there was a three year period of time where just about any domestic story that popped up about the Eurasian nation or its President, Vladimir Putin, somehow involved LGBTQ rights, either in part or in full. Firsthand stories about the frightening state of being LGBTQ in Putin’s Russia were everywhere at the time (see here and here and here and here and here and here). The outsized focus sort of came out of nowhere.

For those of us who did follow this stuff so closely (and especially for those of us who also watch The Americans), it was almost surreal to then find Russia a daily talking point throughout the 2016 election. And of course now, Russia is in the news in an even bigger way, as the pivot point that’s turning a growing crop of concerns about the nascent Trump administration into a tempest of potential scandal:

Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence [NY Times]
It’s certainly peculiar to find this one nation so ubiquitous in our lives and headlines here in the U.S. What’s even more bizarre is how closely related to the whole thing Donald Trump was back then, when LGBTQ rights were the big focus and well before he was in a political role.

Back in 2013, there was a massive blowup about the Miss Universe pageant, which he then owned being hosted in Moscow. LGBTQ rights activists were outraged at the choice and called for the pageant to be moved. But not only did the pageant stay in Moscow, but the then-reality TV host, now-POTUS publicly (and now infamously) wondered if he could become best buds with President Putin while in the capital city.

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 At 8.37.16 Am

At this same time, Trump also told out gay newsman Thomas Roberts that the two do indeed have a relationship.

At the very least, isn’t it strange? A man who was known only as an entertainer and birth certificate hunter, reaching out in a truly bizarre way to a world leader who had backed draconian anti-LGBTQ laws in his nation, now shocking the nation by becoming the President of the United States under a thick and growing cloud of suspicion that this same world leader and his affiliates were somehow involved in the outcome. It’s one of those things that I probably wouldn't put into a novel out of fear of implausibility.

But while the whole thing is bizarre to just about everyone, for LGBTQ activists, it’s on another level. The period of time when LGBTQ rights dominated the Russian conversation here at home neatly abuts the time when the Russian conversation pivoted toward the election, and there are so many coincidences between them. Back then, we were always talking about the anti-LGBTQ activists who were making odd and suspect trips to visit Kremlin officials, and now this same crop of activists is simply over the moon about the election outcome. Back then, we were talking about Russian propaganda laws at a time when our own domestic conversation was largely about marriage equality, and now our domestic LGBTQ conversation has heavily shifted toward our own matters of expression and representation in the public square. Back then, some of President Obama’s allies and donors faced sanctions because of support for LGBTQ rights, and now we wake up to daily stories about potential meddling in an election that many saw as a referendum to build on or upend President Obama’s legacy.

Oh, and one through-line connecting then and now? Donald J. Trump. The friendship for which Trump once longed in a tweet has only seemed to grow in the subsequent years:

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 At 8.37.23 Am

Again, I’m not saying there’s a direct connection linking all this mess. But it is weird.

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