It seemed simple enough. On Feb. 12, the ACLU of Southern California and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center sent a letter to the L.A. City Council asking that the Council sever L.A.’s “sister city” ties to St. Petersburg, Russia, in response to that city’s March 2012 ordinance banning “public action aimed at propagandizing sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderismamong minors.”
“Particularly troubling is the law’s aim at preventing youth from accessing the information they may need to help them deal with their own sexual orientation and/or gender nonconformity,” they wrote. “Since its passage, police have arrested dozens of people, including LGBT-rights advocates, for expressing support for the LGBT community.”
The ACLU/SC and the Center noted that by severing ties, L.A. would join several other cities protesting the harsh law. Besides, there’s precedent. “It is our understanding that Los Angeles has already suspended “sister city” relationships with other cities—most notably Tehran, capital of perennial human rights violator Iran—after that country’s revolution in 1979,” they wrote. (See the full letter below)
Openly gay L.A. City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl introduced a Resolution that same day, seconded by L.A. mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry. (See Resolution below) “The passing of this resolution sends a strong message that the city will not tolerate discrimination against our LGBT brothers and sisters in a sister city relationship,” Rosendahl said. “We must stand together and continue to fight for our basic civil and human rights for all human beings on this earth.”
But instead of being immediately voted on and passed, LGBT ally Council President Herb Wesson put a hold on the vote. Several attempts to ask Wesson “why” a hold was put on the Resolution have gone unanswered. Nor has word gone out as to how the public may voice their opinion, if necessary.
L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was cc'd on the letter to the City Council. His LGBT liaison Mike Ai says the mayor is aware of Rosendahl’s motion but did not provide any further comment.
Meanwhile, Jim Key, the Center’s Chief Public Affairs Officer, says the Center “is going to reach out to LGBT organizations in the other cities that are ‘sisters’ with St. Petersburg to encourage their local governments to sever their relationships with the Russian municipality.” There is already a petition on Change.org asking other cities to sever ties until the St. Petersburg law is repealed, too.
One other important note: lest angry LGBT activists think all Russians share the same beliefs as those of anti-gay St. Petersburg, gay West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Prang points out that the sizable Russian-speaking community in West Hollywood would probably be LGBT allies in this. “The Russian-speaking people in West Hollywood would probably be sympathetic to Bill Rosendahl’s actions,” Prang said by phone. “The vast majority of them are Jewish and most came from the Ukraine. These folks left the old country because they weren’t treated well there. That’s why they are here.”
Prang said that when there was a gay-bashing incident involving Russian evangelicals in Sacramento, the West Hollywood Russian Advisory Board adopted a resolution condemning that anti-gay behavior. “It’s unfortunate that the “Sister-Cities” effort—which was created to build good will—has to be a causality of the St. Petersburg actions,” Prang said. “I’m proud of what Bill is doing. It’s important to send a message that this type of homophobic conduct and treatment is just unconscionable.”
Here’s the letter from the ACLU/SC and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center:
February 12, 2013
Los Angeles City Council
Los Angeles City Hall
200 North Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Re: Suspension of Los Angeles’ “Sister City” Status with St. Petersburg, Russia
The ACLU of Southern California and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center write to request that the Council vote to sever the city of Los Angeles’ “sister city” ties to St. Petersburg, Russia.
In doing so, Los Angeles would be joining a growing number of cities around the world that have taken similar measures recently, in response to St. Petersburg’s passage of increasingly repressive laws directed at the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. It is our understanding that Los Angeles has already suspended “sister city” relationships with other cities—most notably Tehran, capital of perennial human rights violator Iran—after that country’s revolution in 1979.
In March 2012, the city of St. Petersburg, Russia passed an ordinance banning “public action aimed at propagandizing sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism, and transgenderismamong minors.” Particularly troubling is the law’s aim at preventing youth from accessing the information they may need to help them deal with their own sexual orientation and/or gender nonconformity. Since its passage, police have arrested dozens of people, including LGBT-rights advocates, for expressing support for the LGBT community.
The ACLU was founded to defend and secure rights established by the Constitution and Bill of Rights—including the freedoms of speech, association and religion, freedom of the press, and the right to privacy, to equal protection of the laws and to due process—and to extend these rights to people who have been excluded from their protection. The ACLU of Southern California accomplishes its mission through lobbying, public education and litigation.
The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, the world’s largest LGBT organization, has been building the health, advocating for the rights and enriching the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people since 1969.
Both of our organizations take pride in our service to Los Angeles’ LGBT community, particularly its youth. We are concerned about the implicit message Los Angeles’ LGBT youth may discern from a continued relationship between Los Angeles and St. Petersburg, absent some change in the law there.
As one of the largest and most prominent of St. Petersburg’s “sister cities” around the world, it is particularly important for the Council to act to suspend this relationship, which the City of Los Angeles has enjoyed since 1993, until St. Petersburg repeals the laws that are being used there to oppress its LGBT residents.
We strongly urge you to vote to sever the City of Los Angeles’ sister-city relationship with St. Petersburg, Russia to send a strong message that Los Angeles is a global city committed to the diversity of its residents, and will not be linked to any city that is not.
James Gilliam, Deputy Executive Director, ACLU of Southern California
Lorri Jean, CEO, LA Gay & Lesbian Center
cc: Mayor Antonio Villagraigosa
Here’s Rosendahl’s Resolution:
~ff8 t 2 2013
WHEREAS, the People to People (Sister Cities) program was established by President Eisenhower in 1956 to establish greater friendship and understanding between the peoples of the United States and other nations through the medium of direct personal contacts; and
WHEREAS, to implement this program, the cities of the United States were requested to affiliate with cities abroad under the auspices of Sister Cities International, Inc.; and’
WHEREAS, the City of Los Angeles established a Sister City relationship with St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia on December 8, 1989 (CF 89-1289); and
WHEREAS, St. Petersburg has recently embarked on anti-gay initiatives, including enactment of legislation curbing gay rights and a police crack down on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activities; last year, St. Petersburg approved a bill that imposes fines for the “promotion of homosexuality;” and
WHEREAS, the St. Petersburg legislation banning “gay propaganda” seeks to restrict freedom of speech as well as such fundamental activities as gay pride festivals and parades; and
WHEREAS, two prominent Italian cities, Venice and Milan, have acted to sever cultural relations with St. Petersburg because of its anti-gay legislation; on January 28, the Venice city council unanimously approved a motion asking officials to cease cultural exchanges as long as anti-gay laws, are in place; and
WHEREAS, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California as well as the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, have approached the City of Los Angeles requesting that the City follow the lead of Italian cities Venice and Milan and terminate cultural exchanges and ties with our Sister City of St. Petersburg for its anti-gay initiatives; and
WHEREAS, in 1979, the City of Los Angeles suspended its relationship with its Sister City of Tehran, Iran as a result of the political situation and the hostage crisis (CF 72-1719- S1); and
WHEREAS, the Los Angeles Sister City program is a “people-to-people” program aimed at establishing greater friendship and understanding with peoples of other nations but in light of the anti-gay initiatives of St. Petersburg it is not realistic or possible to pursue this goal of “friendship and understanding” at this time, especially since Los Angeles is recognized for furthering the rights of all citizens and is ranked as a leader in LGBT rights;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that by the adoption of this Resolution with the concurrence of the Mayor, the City of Los Angeles hereby temporarily suspends its action of December 8, 1989 which established a Sister City relationship with St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia, such suspension to remain in effect until further action by the City Council.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City Clerk is hereby directed to notify all interested parties of this action, including the local committee established in Los Angeles.to implement the Sister City relationship with St. Petersburg, Sister Cities International, Inc., and others as appropriate,
PRESENTED BY: —4!~f—–.r.~ffiM.R-r.,..,…..-’=f—