Masha Gessen is a Russian journalist and author. She wrote the critically acclaimed book The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. She is also a lesbian, the mother of three, and a vocal critic of the anti-gay laws and violence that are sweeping Russia. She lives in Moscow where I reached her via Skype.
DAN SAVAGE: Your reaction to president of the Seattle City Council blocking a resolution condemning the "gay propaganda" law, and other anti-gay laws in Russia, and the wave of anti-LGBT violence that has swept the country?
MASHA GESSEN: The story makes a good point in that clearly your city council has passed other resolutions that don't directly touch on city business. I don't live in Seattle, I don't know how common that is—
DS: It's very common.
MG: —but as to the argument that a resolution passed by the Seattle City Council would have no impact here, I would say this: anything can have an impact. It's odd question to ask that question about an action that's so clearly morally right.
DS: What is your reaction to learning that Sally J. Clark, the president of our city council who blocked the resolution, is a lesbian?
MG: What can my reaction be? That's insane. And it is a betrayal.
DS: Three of her straight colleagues support the resolution. The straight mayor of Seattle was at the demonstration at the Russian Consular Residence here earlier this month. That's what lead to this.
MG: From what I understand there are only four Russian consul residences in the United States. That makes Seattle a city of reference for the Russian embassy. The Russian embassy cares about what happens in Seattle. This is the reason the international campaign is so important. [The Putin regime] thought this was the one minority group they could attack and get away with it. The international reaction over the last few months has taken them by surprise.
DS: Would news of an action like this—the Seattle City Council passing a resolution condemning the anti-gay laws and anti-gay violence in Russia—reach average Russians?
MG: Yes. Obviously it depends on other news of the day. But this is the kind of thing that gets coverage. So say you're a scared nineteen year old gay boy in Yaroslavl and you about this on hear radio. It will give you a little bit of hope. You realize that you are not alone.
What people there need to understand is that we are living through a concerted campaign of hatred here. You turn on the TV and you get a talk show where the question under discussion is whether the "gay propaganda" laws go far enough to protect "our children."
DS: Stories about actions like this—the city council here passing a resolution—could break through that and reach average LGBT Russians?
MG: Yes. When I was driving my car and heard coverage of the vodka boycott it was incredibly exciting. Because it felt like for a second I could poke my head out of this ocean of hatred.
DS: Would a resolution passed by the city council make LGBT Russians on the ground there safer?
MG: International attention keeps people a little bit safer. Obviously things are not going to be 'safe' here. We are talking about a little bit safer. But people who stick out are a little less likely to be objects of violence as long as the people who might attack or kill us know that doing so will carry a diplomatic price. Every little bit helps. Even if Seattle is not particularly on Putin's radar right now, this act would be yet another sign of international attention. It would be useful. It would be helpful.
And not just in Russia: I am very much hoping that the federal government is going to address the issue of potential LGBT refugees from Russia. For federal action like that to have local support is also important. Your city council taking action could help with that effort.
DS: If you could say something to Seattle City Council president Sally Clark—I'm thinking she's going to read this—what would you say to her?
MG: I would say this to her: You may think that this is useless but actually it matter to us. And some will argue that it has few practical consequences. But solidarity has it's own value and denying LGBT people here solidarity when you yourself are gay is kind of creepy and awful.
Sally J. Clark