Russians Scrap Jobs Tribute Over Tim Cook’s Being Gay

What a world, what a world. Russia has gotten so homophobic that it apparently believes a nice smartphone and the power of suggestion is all it takes to turn its kids gay. "The law is so extremely vague that it allows a simple monument to be seen as a symbol of homosexual propaganda in Russia," said Tanya Cooper, a Russia researcher with Human Rights Watch.

A group of Russian companies called the “Western European Financial Union,” or ZEFS, on Friday dismantled a 6-foot, 6-inch tribute to Steve Jobs after Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly acknowledged he’s gay.

The Jobs tribute — an interactive kiosk in the shape of an iPhone — had graced the courtyard of the National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics in St. Petersburg.

It was taken down because it violated a law banning the advocacy of lifestyles contrary to traditional family values, ZEFS said.

The iPhone, claimed to be the largest in the world, was erected in January 2013. It allowed people to learn about Apple and Jobs’ life through an interactive media show.

Russia’s lifestyle propaganda law bans “advocacy of lifestyles contrary to traditional family values among minors.” The Jobs monument was located where it could be accessed by school children.

On top of threatening the Russian lifestyle, Apple products were being used by U.S. Intelligence Services to monitor worldwide communications, ZEFS founder Maxim Dolgopolov also maintained.

In the U.S., however, Apple has been criticized for equipping iPhones with encryption that law enforcement and intelligence agencies can’t crack.

Broad Law

If the Jobs monument is reinstalled, Dolgopolov said, it will be to allow people to send direct messages to the U.S. National Security Agency and Apple headquarters saying they won’t use technology that spies on its users.

Prior to Tim Cook’s announcement, ZEFS had informed the National Research University that it would be dismantling the Jobs monument for repairs, according to Tass, a state-sponsored news agency.

Making the jump from a CEO’s declaration of sexual preference to the dismantling of a monument in honor of a titan of technology illustrates how broad Russia’s gay propaganda law is, noted Tanya Cooper, a Russia researcher with Human Rights Watch.

“The law is so extremely vague that it allows a simple monument to be seen as a symbol of homosexual propaganda in Russia,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

“It opens many opportunities for misinterpretation, misuse and abuse,” Cooper added. “It also shows that the level of homophobia has risen in recent years.”

Senator Loves His iPhone

Although Cook’s declaration may be upsetting Russian authorities, it’s unlikely to have the same effect elsewhere.

“Almost everywhere in the world, there’s a clear understanding that Tim Cook and his sexual orientation has nothing to do with Apple and its products,” said Dorie Clark, an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

“Even Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) here in the U.S., who is not considered an ally of the LGBT community, said in response to Tim Cook’s coming out, ‘I still love my iPhone,'” she told the E-Commerce Times.

“This push to remove the Steve Jobs tribute is the result of a national impulse in Russia that has been raging for some time, and I think it’s unlikely to be repeated elsewhere in the world,”Clark stressed.

However, Russia isn’t alone in the world when it comes to homophobia, noted Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy and insight at the Local Search Association.

“There are places in the world that remain intensely homophobic. Russia is probably one of several places in the world where there will be a short-term backlash against Apple,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Ultimately, however, any impact on the company will be short-lived.”

Russian Sales Declining

Russia could be a lucrative market for Apple. It’s the largest Internet market in Europe, as well as the fastest-growing European nation for mobile usage.

Tim Cook’s declaration “will not have an impact on Apple sales as long as the Russian government does not ban Apple products,” said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies.

“People don’t buy products because of a CEO,” he said. “They buy them based on merit and value.”

While Tim Cook’s sexual orientation may have a limited impact on Russian sales, other factors may dampen Apple’s prospects there.

“Sales of iPhones and iPad have been declining in Russia, not because of Tim Cook’s announcement, but because of global economic trends,” Duke’s Clark explained.

“The Russian economy has suffered because of economic sanctions and, as a result, Russian consumers are turning to cheaper goods,” she said, “so it’s possible sale of Apple products in Russia may continue to decline, but it likely won’t have anything to do with Mr. Cook’s sexuality one way or the other.”

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and contributor to Chief Security Officer magazine. You can connect with him on Google+.

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