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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Chicago Sister Cities won't suspend Moscow relationship
Lawmakers send letter to Kerry urging Olympic vigilance
by Matt Simonette
2013-08-04

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Following a call by Equality Illinois last week for Chicago to drop its sister city status with Moscow, the Chair of the Moscow Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International released a statement July 31 saying that it would be wrong to end the relationship.

"As Chair of the Moscow Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International, I share my deepest concerns with those around the world that have shed light on the discriminatory policies of the Russian government toward its LGBT citizens," said Committee Chair Aleksandra Efimova. "…As a person who has lived her life in both the United States and Russia, I firmly believe the best way I can effect change on this situation is to continue to keep relations open between Chicago and Moscow. I feel that ending the sister city relationship with Moscow will only further hurt the LGBT citizens of our sister city by isolating them from places like our own city of Chicago that embrace their rights as individuals."

She added that, "with an open dialogue and connection with Moscow, we are able to bring to them that which has made Chicago so great—respect for all its citizens and tolerance for diversity."

In an editorial in mid-July, Windy City Times called for Chicago to suspend the relationship. Chicago Sister Cities International is now part of World Business Chicago; its honorary chairman is President Barack Obama. The honorary chairman of Chicago Sister Cities is Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is also the chairman of World Business Chicago. Chicago Sister Cities did not respond to a request for clarification about any specific strategies or timelines by press time.

The Equality Illinois statement called for two additional steps in registering protest: suspending business relationships with the Russian Federation and cancelling cultural and recreational travel to it.

"Among countries with homophobic laws, Russia is unique in that it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and wants to be a player on the European and world stages, yet it fails to provide basic human rights for millions of its citizens and visitors. More than being persecuted and harassed, people in Russia are also being violently attacked for their advocacy. This cannot go unanswered," said Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov.

Gay bars in Chicago and numerous cities around the world have banned Stolichnaya vodka, a signature Russian import. This past week the Latvian LGBT rights group MOZAIKA urged for the boycott to stop.

"All Stolichnaya vodka for worldwide export is produced in Russia," said Kaspars Zalitis of MOZAIKA in a statement Aug. 1. Stolichnaya is produced by the Latvian company Latvijas Balzams and production takes place in Riga, the capital of Latvia. …The company employs over 600 people in Latvia and our much-weakened economy will suffer if the boycott continues."

Queer Nation responded to the release by saying that SPI, Stolichnaya's corporate owners, had long extolled the product's Russian roots until just before the call for boycott.

"More importantly, though the company claims to be friend to our community, it was silent as the Russian government considered this horrific law, and it said nothing after the law was enacted. Stolichnaya only spoke up after the boycott was announced. Friends do not keep silent when those they claim to value are under attack," said Queer Nation's statement.

SIDEBAR:

Lawmakers send letter to Kerry urging Olympic vigilance

By Matt Simonette

A group of 83 lawmakers, led by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, last week sent Secretary of State John Kerry a letter seeking assurances about the safety of LGBT athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

The letter follows conflicting reports about whether the athletes would be subject to the harsh anti-LGBT legislation enacted in June. The International Olympic Committee in July said that it had received assurances that they would not, but offered no specifics. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said July 31 that that was incorrect.

"No one is forbidding an athlete with non-traditional sexual orientation from coming to Sochi, but if he goes onto the street and starts propagandizing it, then of course he will be held accountable," Mutko told R-Sport.

A day later, however, Igor Ananskikh, deputy chairman of the State Duma's Physical Culture, Sport and Youth Policy Committee, told Interfax that, "We need to be as polite and tolerant as possible. That is why a decision has been made not to raise this issue during the Olympics."

Nadler's Aug. 2 letter inquired as to "what diplomatic measures the State Department is planning to take to ensure that American LGBT athletes, staff and spectators, and their supporters, are not arrested, detained or otherwise penalized during the Sochi Games. …In light of the importance of U.S. leadership on LGBT issues, and the quickly-approaching Sochi Games, we urge the State Department to determine the appropriate course of action to assure the safety and well being of LGBT and LGBT— supporting individuals involved in or attending the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Paralympics."


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