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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Elton John Speaks Out Against Rampant Homophobic Injustice in Russia Ahead of the Winter Olympics

"Pop singer Elton John spoke out on Wednesday against Russia's ban on homosexual propaganda, saying the law legitimized homophobia and provided legal cover to extremists," reported Reuters news service today.

"Everyone shared stories of verbal and physical abuse - at work, in bars and restaurants or in the street - since the legislation came into force last June," said the 66-year-old international pop star.

"Russia's law bans the dissemination of 'gay propaganda' among minors, and has become a focal point of criticism by the West and human rights activists who say the law is discriminatory and represents a crackdown on rights and freedoms under Putin," Reuters explained.

Last week, a pro bono legal document from a prominent international, corporate law firm crossed my desk. It was the testimony of a young man with HIV who was from Russia, currently living in the USA, but threatened with deportation. His story of the injustices, brutality and lack of any equal, basic human rights in his native country shocked me because it was so far beyond what we even read in the news and are aware of in this country and perhaps in most of the world. It was a nightmare and I can't even imagine living that kind of life where unprovoked physical, emotional and psychological brutality as well as the most extreme forms of discrimination against an individual, a citizen, are sanctioned by the authorities. This man's story is corroborated by what Elton heard from the LGBT community in Russia.

Elton John's statement, quoted in its entirety, in today's Rolling Stone on-line:

I am deeply grateful for the support of the Russian people who have welcomed and accepted me in their country ever since I first visited in 1979.

On my last visit, in December 2013, I wondered whether the new legislation banning "homosexual propaganda" might have changed that. It hadn't. I still felt the same warmth and welcome from the audiences that I have felt every time I have been in Russia.

On that trip I met with members of the LGBT community in Moscow. Although I was still welcomed as an openly gay foreigner, I wanted to really understand at first-hand what difference the legislation had made to Russian LGBT in their own country. What I heard reinforced all the media stories that have been circling since the propaganda bill became federal law: that vicious homophobia has been legitimised by this legislation and given extremists the cover to abuse people's basic human rights.

The people I met in Moscow – gay men and lesbians in their 20′s, 30′s and 40′s - told me stories about receiving threats from vigilante groups who would 'cure' them of homosexuality by dousing them with urine or beating them up. One young man was stalked outside a gay club by someone posing as a taxi driver who tried to garrotte him with a guitar string because he was a "sodomite". Everyone shared stories of verbal and physical abuse – at work, in bars and restaurants or in the street – since the legislation came into force last June. And, some of the vital work providing HIV prevention information to the gay community has been labelled "homosexual propaganda" and shut down.

It was very clear to me that, although foreigners like myself who are visiting Russia are not affected by this new law (and President Putin has recently confirmed this), it is a very different story for those living inside the country. As Maria Maksakova told her fellow Russian MPs last month: "We are seeing extremely negative consequences as a result of this law, with the growth of hate crimes."
President Putin asserts that this was not the intention, but it is undoubtedly the effect that this law has had by promoting misunderstanding and ignorance. In particular, it is very disappointing that the law explicitly links homosexuality with child sex abuse, which countless studies have shown to be conclusively wrong.

The people I met in Moscow were decent, kind, patriotic men and women who had no thought of forcing their sexuality on anyone. Whatever the intention of Russia's homosexuality and paedophilia propaganda laws, I am absolutely clear from my own personal experience that it is proving deeply dangerous to the LGBT community and deeply divisive to Russian society. I would welcome the opportunity to introduce President Putin to some Russians who deserve to be heard, and who deserve to be treated in their own country with the same respect and warm welcome that I received on my last visit.

1 comment:

  1. Sad, but as long as people outside of Russia, give in to watch the Olympics,and/or continue supporting that hateful law, nothing will change.