Enough of the liberal pieties on Sochi and gay rights

The Guardian‘s website decided to have a rainbow “G” in its title during the past few days in order to support LGBT rights, and to thumb its nose at Russia (a few other news broadcasters/outlets did, too), just as Google did last week with its rainbow doodle. I’m sure they feel very pleased with themselves. But did they do anything symbolic in support of Nigerians, Ugandans, Malawians, Zambians when they needed support most, when the hate that US televangelists were funding throughout subsaharan Africa was coming to fruition, in tandem with opportunist political manoeuvres by savvy local politicians? Nope. These are powerful corporations. They can do a whole hell of a lot more than include pretty pictures and colours in “support” of causes (this sort of gesture is similar to other inane nonsense like buying red stuff to spread “awareness” of HIV and AIDS). Google and the Guardian: what about doing something substantial, like countering the monies that US evangelical churches siphon to African countries with funding for the LGBT communities in those key warzones?

Russia’s disgraceful treatment of LGBT people has also given US liberals a fake moral premise to take the piss out of Russia (see US internet passim — reporters have even started making stuff up to get hits). These are the same people who have nothing to say about the US’s own anti-LGBT laws, who are uncomfortable saying anything about how political prisoners like Chelsea Manning have been relegated to the rubbish heap of US history, while those whose actions she spoke up against remain quite free to receive my taxpayer dollars as part of their salaries/retirement. While companies with cute graphics project themselves as serious, sophisticated, ultra-modern advocates of LGBT rights (and don’t do “evil”), they are just old-fashioned nationalists who do nice things that don’t cost them politically or financially.

This just in: the Cold War is over, people. And anyway, that war was actually fought in Africa and South/S.East Asia all along. For all the morally superior US Google-liberals, over the weekend one of our readers posed a question for you: “Should other countries boycott if the US hosts an Olympics because of its drone program?”



Neelika Jayawardane

Sharp-tongued literature professor. Senior editor at Africa is a Country.

  1. I’ve never heard the Guardian called a ‘powerful corporation’ before. It loses money hand over fist. Its also published many articles highlighting the relationship between US Evangelicals and countries like Uganda in particular Not sure what else you can expect a newspaper to do except that.

  2. I do recognise that The Guardian, in particular, has run several stories following the US govt’s persecution of Chelsea Manning, and, in fact, articles showing the relationship between powerful so-called evangelical ‘Christian’ churches and how their financial support and moral pressure has helped fuel hate in certain key African countries.

    My point was that by doing cutsey things, large corps. like Google only attract attention to themselves as “good” corporations, but do not do much for the struggle/those on the frontlines (so I disagree with “any effort = good/effective effort.” A lot of galas in NYC are based on the same principle. Wealthy people, Hollywood elite kill to be seen/photographed doing “support” for XYZ well-known/already “fashionable” cause (because there’s really no risk in supporting it anymore – it’s so fashionable that it’s only going to make the celebrity look good to jump on that bandwagon). But how much do these galas actually do for the actual issue that the lavish party’s (or wonderful symbolic gesture) is supposed to be “about”?

    Yeah, I lumped the Guardian into the same critique as Google bec. they (and several other news orgs) jumped on that let’s use cute rainbow graphics! wheee! bandwagon. But it’s true. The Little Newspaper G isn’t the same as another Big Corporate G. It’d be great if both did something beyond relying on their Graphics Dept. as the way to go – a rainbow on your G isn’t going to mean the difference between life and death for thousands.

    1. Your article is very correct! Although I do appreaciate any little support my community (LGBT) gets I do feel like we’re just being used as pawns in a sick post cold war game of who is best, while America and the rest of the West keep funding and supporting hate groups and other homophobic countries. I’m all in favour of calling Russia’s attention and boycotting it, but I’m against double standards. If we’re going to do this about Russia we must also take action against the other countries (including our own) to bring real change!

    1. I completely agree. My comment which was longer but similar to yours didn’t make it into the feed. Hmm…? Thank you for saying this – “how to look ignorant and hurt your cause” by africa is a

  3. I embrace gay rights across Africa As a progressive pan Africanist of the millenial generation. however, I don’t think it’s strategic for the struggle to presume that major corp financially supporting LGBT communities would help the movement in Africa. we need more homegrown voices, more Wainainas, and more spaces for the African LGBT to come in its own. We can’t expect google, coca cola, or any other euro corporate entity fight for the rights of our people. and yes, gays are our people in Africa too!

  4. I’ve also been wondering why no one threatened to boycott Canada’s Olympics over our human rights abuses towards the indigenous population. The U.N. issued a special report on it, which the Canadian government totally ignored! But yeah, we’re really on the moral high ground here.

  5. Are you kidding me!? I’m gay and this article is the most self-righteous thing ever. You realize Google has an ethical and legal duty to keep profits on the up as much as possible for their investors — why would they go further than putting a cute little picture up? That could jeoprdize their appeal to as many as about ~50% of more religiously conservative Americans who feel their rights are being infringed upon by the pending legalization of gay marriage in this country. Maybe instead of asking for companies to do more, we should be appreciative of the risk they take doing even these small gestures. It may just seem like a picture, but it’s taking a risk in showing symbolic support for something much greater. That means a lot; don’t take it for granted.

    Maybe if you’re mad about Google not doing enough, do something yourself.

  6. While I totally understand where you’re coming from and I agree with a lot of what you said, I think you need to recognize that little gestures like Google’s will make a small, but significant impact. Google is a major global company, so small “protests” like that have a huge global voice. Sometimes being quiet in your protest is the most effective way, especially for influential corporations like Google, to reach an otherwise unreceptive audience.

  7. If I understand you correctly, one has to be perfect, to be entitelt to criticise an undemocratic despot, who supports other dictators, allows and encourages the killing of gay people and uses slavework in order to celebrate his greatness. You are right about all those bad things happening in our world, about responsibility and hypocrisy, but you can fight only one at a time.

  8. Russia’s stance on LGBT rights is a problem and people are entitled to opine about it. Others are also entitled to comment about how these people are going about it and to compare it to other relevant examples that reveal underlying things going on.

    The snark projected towards Russia is thickly lathered in opportunistic anti-Putinism as much as LGBT rights concerns, in my opinion. Putin is an easy target, he’s such a creepy villain after all. Where was this when Beijing hosted the Olympics? Their human rights record is atrocious, but the pundits showed more restraint in that case, such is the power dynamic. The glee with which the CNN pundits and Sochi reporters have been tearing into Russia’s preparations made me stop watching them for a few days. They really really want to set the narrative. But even when one has winning cards in hand, it’s best not to overplay them, and the anti-Sochi drumbeat has become a bit farcical and lacking in focus imo. If the Swiss hosted it would we hear endlessly about their anti-minaret law/s? I doubt it.

  9. So they shouldn’t put a rainbow, right? Because what’s the point since they don’t help everyone, let’s not help anyone.

    The stupid “buying red stuff” you mention is not only meant to spread awareness, the company actually gives money from those products to global fund.

  10. True but also when companies do those things they also get told they have a first world savior complex and should back the fuck off. Which I’m not saying is right or wrong but obviously things they are thinking about before they act.

    But also this article is accurate because I don’t think supporting LGBT to piss of Russia is really making much of a difference to the LGBT people in Russia (the rioters who are being hurt/injured). It is the world making a statement that whether a country wants to be progressive or not in terms of gay rights that these other countries will be.

  11. Neelika,

    I can’t tell you how much, as a 20-something black African studying in the US (though not intending to permanently remain here upon graduation), I have come to loathe American liberalism. American liberals seem to feel that they, more than their conservative counterparts, must have a certain appeal to non-Westerners because they are, of course, “on the side of the downtrodden”.

    I had always, like many of my peers, identified with the social positions of left-leaning political parties (Feminism, Pro-LGBT rights, Pro-Abortion rights etc). And being in the US – it is difficult to divorce oneself from the politics. It’s everywhere, it surrounds you. A huge part of people’s identities here is what party they support. Politics here, as Chimamanda Adichie says, is such a tribalistic thing and you have to be on one side or the other. And people end friendships and romantic relationships based on the politics of the other. It’s really something else. But back to the point — because I held these left-leaning positions I began to think of myself as a “liberal”.

    Thank god those days are over and I am free at last. The drone project (which has made but a squeak in mainstream US media), the “america is the greatest nation on earth and every other country is dispensable” line that Mr. Obama (whom I find completely unfathomable) has been throwing around since circa 2011, the US/West picking on anti-gay countries like Russia and Uganda but not a word at the likes of Saudi Arabia; all this together with the global modern project at large (of which we are all a part and of which I have grown increasingly wary of) have made me realise that there is no difference at the end of the day between American conservative politics (Jingoistic and Dreaming of Imperialism), and American liberalism (Jingoistic and Dreaming of Imperialism).

    But I think why I dislike the American left more than the right (whom I don’t love but whom I feel are more transparent) is because they seem to believe themselves to be the most amicable of the imperialists and jingoists and on that basis the rest of us just have to be grateful that our communities and identities are being spat on and erased with a smile.

  12. I think the critics of this article made the most sense. It isn’t the job of profit seeking corporations to fund LGBT campaigns. Google has a large charity budget that they divy up, very generously, to many important causes. That, in combination with symbolic gestures that reach a huge audience, are more than can be expected of a corporation in their position.
    I think before you sit down to write an article like this, you should take time to question your own personal motivations, check your facts, and address the validity of your points. Anyone can see this was written in anger, and that aimless feel of someone writing to spit venom for venom sake does nothing to influence objective readers or promote change.

  13. This article is spectacular.

    1. The U.S. Evangelical movement is not the government.

    2. The writer seems to have picked the evangelical movement as a point of argument at complete random, aside from the fact they deem it ‘bad’.

    3. Calling The Guardian and Google ‘powerful corporations’ and thus implying they are remotely similar is dumb.

    4. Wait, the Guardian should start sending funding to disadvantaged countries now? Then this would somehow justify them as…….. a newspaper? Or Google as a search engine? Will they then be permitted to take a stance on issues?

    5. So, the ‘liberal media’ shouldn’t be criticizing Russia, because the U.S. still have their own issues with LGBT prejudices? Those very prejudices are being criticized on a daily basis by the ‘liberal media’.

    6. Comparing the drone program to the oppression of the LGBT community in Russia is just…… I give up.

    7. Actually, no I don’t. Putting out a message expressing opposition to the Russian government’s behavior? That is literally ALL THAT THE GUARDIAN CAN DO. THEY ARE A PAPER. IT IS THEIR JOB.

    8. Google putting a LGBT banner on their site is actually a big deal. Although a lot of it doesn’t go to the right people, there is a stinking amount of money in Russia that is invested worldwide. Many of the companies like Google and Facebook working out of Palo Alto got the money needed to expand to their scale they are at through Russian investment (see ‘The Boy Kings’ by Katherine Losse), and they continue to exist partially because of these funds and a relationship with those investors. That’s before we even consider that they exist under the scrutiny of multiple governments and vested interests that aren’t Russian who will be alarmed by the choice to try and ‘send a message’. Putting that banner up took a risk far beyond their obligations, and is a show of support that they entire world will see every time they turn on a computer.
    This website is a joke. Read something else.

  14. Such self-righteous BS. First, equality is neither a “liberal” or “conservative” issue. Next, every person gay or hetero should be distrusting of government and corporations pandering. However, the attention is aimed at Russia now because they’re hosting the Olympics now. Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi, and Zambia aren’t hosting the Olympics or any major world events. This pathetic op-ed is just an attempt to minimize LGBT oppression.

    1. As an LGBT individual I disagree. “rainbow-washing” as some call it has often been used like “green-washing” as a strategy to pander to neo-liberals (especially those who have a sizeable market presence). Not only is it used for corporate benefit but it has been used in situations like the Isreali-Palestinian conflict to further demonize one side. What this article is saying is that it’s a shallow effort if they don’t also spend some time raising awareness to lesser known oppression (and harsher) of LGBT individuals (Nigeria etc).

  15. The anti-Russia propaganda is obviously because Russia is a rival to US/Western hegemony over Central Asia and especially the energy resources of the region. It is all geopolitics and imperialism. US liberals are morons who are utterly mesmerized by identity politics navel gazing.

  16. Couldn’t agree more with you, so sick of the whole “hey, let’s troll Russia and its situation with gay rights” bandwagon. Not a homophobe in the slightest and I happen to live in a country that is considered “friendly” towards the gays.

    Let me start off by announcing this breaking piece of news – it is NOT illegal to be gay in Russia. Is it the best country to be gay in? No. Is it the worst? No. Stop acting like it is.

    The attention that gays/Russia are now receiving is NOT because of the Olympics, it’s because in this day and age with morons spending every waking moment on social media, everyone needs to feel important and have an opinion, a stance, to appear to be fighting to some sort of cause (have you noticed the sudden influx of pseudo vegetarians, vegans, people with made up sexualities (pan sexual?), made up genders (or lack thereof), animal rights extremists, etc?). So it’s the trendy thing to do right now, and everyone’s doing it. I guarantee you most of those people think it’s in fact illegal to be gay in Russia, which is not true. It’s exactly like Kony – retards with too much free time supporting a cause they have no clue about, just to be part of something.

    Let’s look at the facts, shall we? Russia is full of old religious people, is it really that hard to understand why it’s not really about rainbows and unicorns and cupcakes and glitter? The attitutude to homosexuality is hardly down to just a couple government guys. Give it a couple decades and the gay situation in Russia will improve automatically on its own thanks to the freedom of the Internet and the overall shift of attitude towards homosexuality across the globe, and decline of religion in the developed world.

    I can see the whole rainbow vomiting in Russia’s face as actually having an opposite effect on its citizens – they’ll probably grow even more resentful of the LGBT community, so yeah…

    I find it extremely hypocritical the whole “yay gays!” country collective pushing something down another country’s throat when they themselves have a ton of problems with the same issue. How about we fix our own countries before we try to fix others? How many gay teenagers still commit suicide in America due to extreme bullying? How many gay kids still get beat up on the streets of UK?

    And the most pathetic of all is the fact we all seem to have forgotten about all of the countries where being gay is truly horrible, which in Russia it is not. Yeah, why don’t we just ignore countries where being gay will get you stoned to death, or earn you a lovely cheerful “corrective rape”, because OH MY GOD we can’t throw gay pride parades in Russia, that is so much more important!

  17. The article is about politicized and propagandized selectivity of moral outrage. Powerful corporations and major media – such as, most certainly, the Guardian News Group – routinely deride ‘official’ enemies (and bete noires like Russia) with self-righteous indignation while routinely obfuscating or ignoring the comparable crimes of ‘our own’ teflon elites.

    None of that is news (read Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, or Glenn Greenwald) and this piece merely highlights the latest batch of liberal hypocrisy – and does so lucidly.

    Liberals will always – always – take *feel-good* over *actual good*, because the latter is normally far less comforting, requiring serious work and radical questions. It’s much easier to reassure ourselves of our superiority by finger-pointing, while changing nothing about *our* lives, or how *we* live….

    Meanwhile the cozy living arrangements of privileged Westerners, ‘liberal’ or otherwise, across Europe and the US are buttressed by the most egregious human rights abuses, whether in the DRC, Saudi Arabia, China, or any other place we’re happy to poke fun at – or ignore completely – while our high-energy, high-amusement lifestyles are fuelled by *their* stolen wares, and *their* stolen lives.

    Great article, thanks. And the stream of hysterical indignation it’s provoked in the comments only testifies further to its troubling accuracy.

  18. I second the motion put forward by the author! Enough of those with white western privilege judging the cultures of others. When I am in America I cannot go through a day without person commenting unneeded on my clothing or the way I to wear my hair. In my home country, homosexuals are considered to be like pedophiles and rapist, it is our customs, yet I do not tell you you must consider pedophile ok in your western country.

  19. Televangelists are not the root of the problem. It’s not because these televangelists are popular that people develop conservative views about homosexuality. It is because they already have a deep-seated aversion to it that they gravitate toward the people who are telling them that they’re right to feel like that. In the same way that even secular people 50 years ago in Europe thought that homosexuality was a perversion.

    Polls in Uganda show that more than 90% of the population believes that society should not accept homosexuality. What exactly do you suggest Google and the Guardian do about that, and how exactly is it progressive to suggest that what the world needs is more Western companies interfering in the domestic affairs of African countries? Are you not aware that in Russia and many other countries, a gay rights organization that would get most of its support from other countries would be immediately labeled as a front organization for Western interests?

  20. Russia is evolving in terms of sexual orientation tolerance but it will take a while. In the mean time the same banking bloodlines, Rothschild, Warburg, Schiff, Kuhn & Loeb are hell bent on breaking up Russia, after Russia prevented the breakup of Syria to the same banking bloodlines.

    These banksters will use any means they can to smash up countries.

    Look at Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria et al.

    The deeper researcher may wish to study the Oded Yinon plan for more granular information.

  21. The world is spiraling at breakneck speed down the tunnel of corruption and idiocy and you are worried most about determining a severe enough punishment for persons not wearing the proper garb to celebrate pole smoking.
    Grow up!

  22. Neelika Jayawardane: I apologize to you for accusing you of trivializing LGBT oppression in reaction to this commentary – I was flat out wrong. Due to the excessive degradation I experience as a gay man, I can be extraordinarily sensitive about LGBT content online. Nonetheless, I was wrong to be so quick to accuse. I am sorry.

  23. I’m sorry that I didn’t notice this post months ago, Prof. Jayawardane—though its argument has no expiration date. I agree that the problem with high-profile campaigns against human-rights abuses is that they tend to push other, comparably egregious abuses into the background. It is reasonable to ask if the American drone strikes ought to provoke the boycott of an Olympics held in the U.S., just as yesterday’s excellent post to “Africa Is a Country” by Cornelia Knoll at http://africasacountry.com/decolonising-white-berlin/ might make one consider boycotting an Olympics held in Germany because of the inhuman German approach to refugees of “criminalising their bodies.”

    The necessary passion for making war on injustice is often unfortunately in tension with the martial passion for dividing humanity into opposing sides: Russia’s contempt for LGBT rights makes them evil, hence we who oppose them must be good, hence our own evil must be trivialized or ignored. Thank you, Prof. Jayawardane, for reminding us that the challenge is to make war on all injustice everywhere.

Mailing List

Sign up for email updates!


Not the continent with 54 countries

©Africa is a Country, 2016