LA City leaders, LGBT community protest anti-gay laws in St Petersburg

 Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Mitch O'Farrell

Los Angeles City Councilmembers and Controller, as well as leaders of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center (LAGLC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California today placed a Gay Pride flag on the Sister City landmark in downtown LA to protest anti-gay laws that are forcing many in St Petersburg to conceal their sexuality or gender identity.

The Sister City landmark stands at the corner of First and Main Streets, directly across the street from LA City Hall and features signs pointing to each of Los Angeles’ Sister Cities, including St. Petersburg, Russia.

Also today, the Los Angeles City Council voted on a motion introduced by Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Mitch O’Farrell and seconded by Councilmember Tom LaBonge, which calls on the federal government to immediately and aggressively expand asylum programs offered to people facing persecution because of sexual orientation or gender identity around the world.

"LGBT equality advances when we are visible, when we share the truth about our lives and our love, and when we constructively, repeatedly, and conspicuously engage with those who fear, misunderstand or oppose us," said Bonin. "Russia’s repugnant and offensive laws are only one recent example of the persecution people face around the globe because of who they love, and our action today will send a message to St. Petersburg and beyond that hope lives and that we will not be silent while they suffer.”

"As a community and a nation that stands up for equality, we need to find short cuts to a person’s heart instead of drawing a line in the sand,” said O’Farrell. “We want to enlighten and inspire as opposed to ending any opportunity for real conversation on this issue. There are untold stories of gays and lesbians in St. Petersburg - and in Russia - who need us to demonstrate to their leaders that compassion and understanding will increase their chances of having a better life.”

"We are gravely concerned that Russia has taken two steps backward for its LGBT community,” added LaBonge. “Our brothers and sisters in St. Petersburg, with whom we've had a sister city relationship since 1989, need to know that here in Los Angeles, we support all people, whoever they are. President Eisenhower created the Sister Cities program 57 years ago to encourage people-to-people citizen diplomacy, and I'm proud to use our relationship to stand up for what is right."

City Controller Ron Galperin, who is also openly gay, and Councilmemnber Paul Koretz, also stood with the group at the flag event at the Sister City landmark.

“It’s horrifying when people are persecuted and endangered because of sexual orientation or identity, or for speaking up against discrimination and homophobic laws. Yet that’s happening increasingly in Russia. It’s particularly heartbreaking that anti-gay laws and violence are taking place in our official Sister City of St. Petersburg,” said Koretz. “The great news is Los Angeles has sent a powerful message of protest, by draping a Gay Pride flag on the St. Petersburg sign/Sister City landmark near City Hall. We’re also showing our shared humanity, by urging expansion of asylum for people imperiled by such hateful policies and practices in foreign lands.”

“I call upon the members of the LA - St. Petersburg Sister Committee – and all people of good will – in the Russian community in LA and in Russia – to join in condemning bigotry - and stand resolute in the call to repeal the pernicious laws that have been recently adopted,” said Galperin.

The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center (LAGLC) working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were part of the ground troops from the local LGBT community who first requested the assistance of the LA City Councilmembers to help raise awareness about the situation in St Petersburg.

“The ACLU of Southern California is encouraged that city leaders responded to our request for the City of Los Angeles to take a stance against the anti-gay laws the LGBT community in St. Petersburg is being forced to live under,” said James Gilliam, deputy executive director for the ACLU of Southern California. “Los Angeles' sister city relationship with St. Petersburg compels us to speak out to let all Angelenos--particularly theLGBT community--know that the City of Angels is a model and a leader in advancing the rights of LGBT individuals."

The Chief of Staff of the LAGLC was on hand at the event today to announce the organization has launched a fund to send financial support to its colleagues working on the ground in Russia. The funds will be used to assist those who are persecuted under the new Russian law. Those who want to assist can visit the LAGLC website at www.lagaycenter.org to make a donation and make a difference.

“Hanging this rainbow flag is a public sign of our solidarity with LGBT people in Los Angeles’s sister city of St. Petersburg,” said Darrel Cummings, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center chief of staff. “This is just the first of a few actions we’re developing with L.A. city leaders to call attention to human rights abuses against LGBT Russians. There is more we can do and will do to help end the country’s draconian anti-gay laws.”

The symbolic protest outside City Hall on Tuesday was one in a series of actions the City of Los Angeles and its partners in the LGBT community are taking in response to the approval of laws in Russia that criminalizes expression of “non-traditional sexual relations.”

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