CHAPEL HILL — Anti-gay laws should mark the end of Chapel Hill’s relationship with its estranged Russian sister city, two local leaders said Thursday.
In a news release, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Town Council member Lee Storrow called for the Town Council to sever its relationship with Saratov, a port city located about 450 miles southeast of Moscow on Russia’s Volga River.
The cities have been linked through the Sister Cities program since 1992, but Kleinschmidt and Storrow, who are gay, said in the release the relationship has gone dormant.
In light of Russia’s “heartbreaking” persecution of homosexuals and the recent enactment of a new anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender law banning “homosexual propaganda,” the men said it is time to call it quits.
“Innocent individuals and families face persecution, violence and detainment for expressing themselves openly and non-violently in the public square. These laws are deplorable and do nothing but create hardship, suffering, and in some cases death, for innocent people,” the release said.
The move to break ties stems from an Equality NC release Thursday that demanded Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh and Charlotte protest Russian bias against homosexuals. Until Russian society changes, there is no way the cities can maintain a productive relationship, the Chapel Hill news release said.
“We hope soon Russian society – as well as all societies foreign and domestic – will recognize that LGBT people deserve equal protection and freedom under the law,” Kleinschmidt and Storrow said in the release. “The law Russians passed against LGBT citizens is a law designed to address a problem that does not exist. LGBT citizens in all societies represent a great source of talent and value, able to contribute immeasurably to the betterment of a nation and a people.”
Carrboro also is Saratov’s sister city. There is no word yet whether that town’s leaders, which include lesbian Alderwoman and mayoral candidate Lydia Lavelle, will follow Chapel Hill’s example. Durham spokeswoman Beverly Thompson said members of the Sister City program there talked about severing ties, but they decided it would do more harm than good.
The Sister Cities program is operated through the nonprofit group Sister Cities International. According to the group, members met in 1973 with representatives from the former Soviet Republic to develop guidelines for the program. In 1977, there were five partnerships with Soviet cities, and when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there were 36 recorded relationships. By 2012, there were 75 partnerships with Russian cities.