Chapel Hill postpones breakup with sister city over Russia’s anti-gay policies

tgrubb@newsobserver.comSeptember 10, 2013 

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt

TOWN OF CHAPEL HILL

— The Town Council postponed a decision Monday night to give Chapel Hill’s sister city Saratov time to address Russia’s anti-gay policies.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and council member Lee Storrow, who are gay, announced last month they would petition the council to break ties with Saratov to protest Russia’s growing discrimination and violence against its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.

Chapel Hill’s relationship with the port city, located about 450 miles southeast of Moscow on Russia’s Volga River, has stagnated since formed in 1992, officials said.

Resident Carl Schuler asked the council to use those ties instead to work with the Russian people.

“I think that there is a very strong, positive influence that could be brought,” he said.

Kleinschmidt has written Saratov’s government about the issue. He asked the council to allow more time for a response. He previously compared Russia to South Africa during apartheid, saying it cannot be taught that its persecution of gays is wrong.

Chapel Hill’s council members and residents will have another chance to comment on the matter at a future meeting.

Neighboring cities also considered the question recently in response to a demand from the nonprofit group Equality NC.

Carrboro also is Saratov’s sister city but has lost contact over the years. The town’s two gay elected officials – Alderwoman and mayoral candidate Lydia Lavelle and Alderman Damon Seils – expect to bring the issue of its ties to the full board this fall. They first wanted to find out if Saratov’s government shares the nation’s anti-gay views, Lavelle said.

Durham’s Sister Cities committee decided earlier this summer to not break ties with its Sister City of Kostroma, Russia. The cities have visited each other a few times, and the committee felt it would do more harm than good, spokeswoman Beverly Thompson said.

Raleigh no longer has Sister City ties to Kolomna, Russia.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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