Although struggles in Russia over anti-LGBT sentiments may seem an ocean away, the backlash has reached Gainesville.
For the past few decades, the city has facilitated the Sister City Program of Gainesville Inc., which pairs Gainesville with cities abroad and allows joint international programs.
Because of the passing of anti-LGBT legislation in Russia, some Gainesville residents have voiced the desire to end the 31-year partnership with the Russian city Novorossiysk.
“Russia has passed several appalling laws aimed at dehumanizing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia and abroad,” wrote Mallory Garner-Wells, a public policy director for Equality Florida, in an email to Mayor Ed Braddy.
Garner-Wells wrote that terminating the relationship would reflect that anti-LGBT legislation passed in Russia is considered unacceptable.
“As a resident of Gainesville, I know our city has always been a leader in ensuring LGBT people are treated fairly,” she wrote. “By continuing a Sister City relationship…we are turning a blind eye to the atrocities that are happening in Russia.”
According to the Sister Cities International policy, members are encouraged to keep “their sister city relationships active, especially when political issues threaten to disrupt” the relationship because of political disputes.
But former Mayor Craig Lowe said ending the relationship would inhibit Gainesville’s ability to discuss equality values and promote positive change.
“As someone who is gay and was an elected official, I value the opportunity the sister city program provides ... including human rights,” he said. “What we should do is increase our activity with [the] sister city and encourage others who are supportive of LGBT equality across the country to do the same.”
Lowe said this mindset should be applied toward other sister cities as well, including Duhok, Iraq.
Director of Sister City Program of Gainesville Inc., Steven Kalishman agreed that canceling the partnership would deprive Gainesville of international opportunities.
“We would be removing ourselves from any contact with our sister city who had nothing to do with passing this law,” he said. “Sister Cities are just people, ordinary people, getting together and collaborating on things that are of interest at a local level.”
Mayor Ed Braddy voiced a similar opinion, citing common respect and mutual interest between the sister cities.
“I don’t see any need for us to alter our relationship with a sister city over national policy,” he said. “I’m sure there are national policies we hold that sister cities could take issue with.”
A version of this story ran on page 1 on 8/23/2013 under the headline "City’s link to Russia scrutinized in LGBT controversy"