After Seattle mayor Mike McGinn attended a demonstration at the Russian consular residence in Madison Park earlier this month—where the mayor mingled with protesters and waved a sign that said "Stop Putin!"—Andrey Yushmanov, the Russian diplomat who lives in the mansion where the demonstration took place, sent an angry letter to the mayor.
"I would appreciate it if you could clarify whether your support of the protesters reflects the official position of the authorities of Seattle," Yushmanov wrote.
The protesters were at Yushmanov's mansion to call for the repeal of a series of antigay laws that recently passed in Russia and to condemn the wave of antigay violence that has swept through Russia since.
The mayor went to Sally J. Clark, the president of the Seattle City Council (herself a lesbian), and asked if the council would join the mayor in sponsoring a resolution that said, in effect, that the city officially stood with the protesters.
Clark declined. Russian queers are living in fear, going into hiding, being abducted and assaulted, fleeing the country—and our supposedly gay-friendly city council (and its two gay members) can't be bothered to answer a direct yes-or-no question about their plight.
Russian activists, gays, and lesbians have been asking Americans to exert what political pressure we can here because it makes them somewhat safer there. "The Russian Embassy cares about what happens in Seattle," Russian author and activist Masha Gessen said last week. She added that the Russian consul in Seattle is one of just four Russian consuls living in the United States. "You may think that this [resolution] is useless, but actually it matters to us."
But the moment has passed. Russia's top diplomat in Seattle can report to Moscow that Seattle is divided on this issue. While hundreds showed up at his residence to protest, and while the current mayor and his challenger were both at the demonstration, when he sent a letter to the city demanding to know if this was the city's official position, he heard back from the mayor that, no, he was at the demonstration expressing his personal position. The City of Seattle refused to take a position one way or the other on Russia's unfolding antigay pogrom.
This was a straightforward question—does the City of Seattle have a position on discriminatory laws and anti-LGBT violence?—and the only reasonable answer was yes, the city does have a position on that: The City of Seattle stands in opposition. (And again, it was the Russian consul general who asked the city to take a position, not the mayor.)
Clark refused because... well, that's open for debate. But it looks like she refused because that would have meant working with the mayor on a joint resolution. Clark and four other council members endorsed McGinn's election opponent, Ed Murray, and Clark has been at loggerheads with McGinn for years. This latest episode is more of the same childish game-playing obstructionism we've seen from Clark and the rest of the city council since McGinn took office.
So what is she proposing now? That if we're going to do a resolution, we "do it right." That means holding hearings, taking testimony, and instead of answering a direct yes-or-no question about the abuse of LGBT people in Russia, crafting a resolution that looks at the abuse of LGBT people in the 76 other countries where LGBT people are persecuted. (Do you know who else is out there deflecting questions about antigay violence in Russia by pointing out that other countries are as bad or worse for LGBT people? Vladimir Putin.)
Why did the council refuse to take a position now? What goes on in Russia was "perceived as being off-topic" by the council and did not "directly relate to city work," according to Clark's spokeswoman. But it turns out the council has taken positions on anti-immigration laws in Arizona (a resolution sponsored by Clark), apartheid in South Africa, and genetically engineered salmon. It should be noted that all of those resolutions were narrowly focused. There was no grousing that a resolution about Arizona's "papers, please" law was illegitimate because it didn't focus on immigration abuses in other states, or that the apartheid-era resolutions were a waste of time because they neglected to mention systemic racism in other countries (including our own).
Targeted, specific resolutions were the norm—until the mayor sought one about the plight of Russia's LGBT community.
But, like I said, it's too late now. The divisiveness on display—all of it Clark's fault—is the story that the Russian consul general gets to report back to Moscow. Even if the city council were to pass the resolution that Clark envisions, it will be watered down and come out months after these antigay laws passed and the antigay hate crimes swept Russia—and it will most likely come too late to give Russia pause before passing a newly proposed law that would take children from the homes of gay and lesbian parents and place them in notoriously awful Russian orphanages.
The hesitation is the answer now, at least as far as the Russian consul general is concerned. (He must think, "How bad could our antigay laws really be if the liberal Seattle City Council had to think about them for six months before denouncing them?")
So it's too late, Sally. Drop it. There's no unscrewing this pooch. Your actions were shameful, your rationalizations are lame, and your suggestions for "moving forward" are a joke.