An old new power struggle is underway in Europe. With Russia on one side and the United States and the European Union on the other, the struggle is geopolitical—in Ukraine, violently so. But it is also ideological, a clash of values and cultures at the heart of which is the question of whether societies should integrate or ostracize their LGBTQ citizens. It is Europe’s new gay Cold War.
In countries aligned with the United States and the European Union, the general trend on LGBTQ rights is toward greater equality under the law. In 2014, the United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland) became the 10th country in Europe to legalize same-sex marriage, and beginning on Jan. 1, 2015, Luxembourg will be the 11th. In 2013, Croatia, Malta, and Gibraltar made same-sex unions legal. In the coming years, Finland and Estonia will open up legal unions to same-sex couples, while Ireland will hold a referendum on the subject in May 2015.
One of the most admirable aspects of Obama-era foreign policy has been the decision to use American soft power to actively promote LGBTQ rights, including in Europe. Since I frequently meet with LGBTQ rights organizations in Eastern Europe, I have learned that many of them receive financial, logistical, and moral support from U.S. Embassies and NGOs in their countries, as well as from European embassies. Qesh in Kosovo, for example, receives assistance from USAID and the Finnish Embassy.
By contrast, the experience of being queer in Russia today modulates between miserable and brutish. It is illegal, through the legislation on gay “propaganda,” to speak openly of homosexuality in the street or to petition for LGBTQ rights. Gay people are hunted for sport, beaten, and raped—and the government chooses not to respond. Read more via Slate