CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Town Councilmember Lee Storrow, both of whom are openly gay, announced today that they would seek to drop their town’s sister-city relationship with Saratov, Russia.

The move comes after increased scrutiny over Russia’s new anti-LGBT laws and growing reports of violence against LGBT people in that country. The two politicians have called the situation “heartbreaking.”

“Innocent individuals and families face persecution, violence and detainment for expressing themselves openly and non-violently in the public square,” Kleinschmidt and Storrow said in a joint statement. “These laws are deplorable and do nothing but create hardship, suffering, and in some cases death, for innocent people.”

The two will ask Chapel Hill Town Council to server its tie with Saratov, a relationship they say has been inactive for several years.

“Created decades ago, the relationship has been inactive as long as we have served on Council,” the leaders said. “The Town of Chapel Hill currently has no communication or active relationship with Saratov, Russia, and due to the enactment of Russia’s anti-LGBT policies, we see no reason to keep the relationship even in name.”

They added, “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.  The law Russian’s 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.  Until Russian society is able to come to this basic truth, we see no ability to move forward in a productive sister city relationship with a Russian city or town.”

Kleinschmidt’s and Storrow’s announcement follows weeks of similar news from cities across the state and nation. Activists in Charlotte had made a similar request to cut ties with its sister city, Voronezh, where 14 peaceful LGBT activists were attacked in January. That story is explored in-depth, with interviews from a Voronezh human rights advocate, in the Aug. 16, 2013 print edition cover story.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.