Towns consider cutting ties with Russian city
Leaders in Chapel Hill and Carrboro object to the country’s anti-gay law.
Unlike fine wine, Chapel Hill’s relationship with its Russian sister city Saratov has not gotten better with time.
Last week, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Town Council member Lee Storrow , who are both openly gay, petitioned the council to sever the town’s relationship with Saratov, its sister city since the Cold War ended in 1992.
The request comes after Russia passed a law in June banning “homosexual propaganda.”
“On Thursday morning, I began receiving scores and scores of emails asking to reconsider the relationship with our Russian sister city,” Kleinschmidt said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law, which is considered by many to be anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, in June.
“(Saratov officials) are even ridding bookstores of books about LGBT people making a difference in the world,” Kleinschmidt said. “It’s disgusting.”
Saratov is a port city on the Volga River located about 100 miles from the Russian border with Kazakhstan.
Due to the inequality of the law and an already dormant relationship with Saratov, Kleinschmidt said he’s ready to cut ties with the city.
Storrow said he and Kleinschmidt felt the new law embodies different views than those of Chapel Hill citizens.
“I think that Chapel Hill can take a stand to say that we as a community stand for LGBT rights,” Storrow said.
“Given the general direction of America, and especially being a college town, support for this case aligns with most of the views in Chapel Hill,” said Chapel Hill resident Devon Lane.
Contact with Saratov
The town of Carrboro is also a sister city to Saratov, and the Carrboro Board of Aldermen is considering cutting the town’s ties with the Russian city.
Communication between the two cities was last recorded in 1997 when then-Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson read a letter expressing Easter greetings from Saratov, according to an email to the board from Alderman Lydia Lavelle, who is also openly gay.
Lavelle said the new legislation in Russia, which will likely be upheld during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, is not representative of Carrboro’s views.
“They are absolutely horrendous, they are some of the worst in the world,” Lavelle said of the laws. “It is incredible and kind of scary to see such a civil power have those views.”
But Lavelle said she isn’t ready to completely cut ties with Saratov.
“I would be inclined to have some sort of contact with the sister city and get their thoughts,” Lavelle said. “Even though Russia has passed these laws, we don’t know how this particular town feels toward them.”
Kleinschmidt said he plans to contact Saratov about its differing views on gay rights before the next Town Council meeting on Sept. 9.
“This is a situation that calls into question keeping a relationship with a country that has some of the harshest anti-LGBT laws,” Kleinschmidt said.
firstname.lastname@example.orgOriginally Published: 08/25/13 4:20pm