What’s the best way for celebrities to take a stand against Russia’s anti-gay regime and its homophobic disciples?
Should they take actor Wentworth Miller’s approach and forgo any appearances in Russia until the country has done away with its anti-gay laws? Or does it make more sense to protest Russia by openly supporting gay rights while on their turf?
For Miller, it was a delicate issue. Historically, the “Prison Break” star had been private about his sexuality, but an invitation to the St. Petersburg International Film Festival pushed him over the edge. “I cannot in good conscience participate in a celebratory occasion hosted by a country where people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly,” he wrote in a letter, now posted on GLAAD’s website, declining the invitation.
Miller’s move was brave, an act of courage that certainly had ripple effects in the gay community and perhaps a positive impact on people here. But did it make a difference to the civil rights deniers in Russia? Or did he give them exactly what they wanted by keeping his gayness out of the country?
Gay rights advocates Madonna and Lady Gaga, on the other hand, have protested Russia’s anti-gay laws while performing in the country. “Tonight, this is my house, Russia. You can be gay in my house,” Lady Gaga said during a 2012 performance.
But they are not gay. Elton John, however, is. And he will be taking his show -- or “gay propaganda” as Russia’s homophobes call it -- to the country on Dec. 6.
“On one hand, I want to say, ‘I’m not going and you can go to hell, you guys.’ But that’s not helping anyone who’s gay or transgendered over there,” John told Terry Gross on Monday’s episode of “Fresh Air,” while promoting his new album “The Diving Board.” He went on: “You know there are a lot of great Russian people out there who are outraged by what’s going on […] I don’t want to abandon them. Now, I’ll probably get criticized for going, and I can understand that. It’s just that I, as a gay man and a gay musician, cannot stay at home and not support these people who have been to lots of my concerts in the past.”
Naturally, paranoid anti-gay groups are upset that John’s not intimidated by Russia’s anti-gay legislation. In a letter to President Vladimir Putin, for example, the Ural Parents Committee wrote, “The singer intends to come out in support of local sodomites and break the current Russian law, directed at protecting children.” Yes, because sixtysomething pianist and family man Elton John is going to corrupt your innocent children.
John’s not backing down, but he’s also not going to take a punk rock, anarchist approach when he’s there. Instead, he’s going to try to change their minds:
“I’m aware of the situation and I will be diplomatic. I’m not going to go into Russia and tell [Vladimir Putin] to go to hell and things like that. That’s not the way things are done. You chip away at something, and you hope there will be dialogue and that the situation can get better. You don’t just go in there with guns blazing and say, ‘Well, to hell with you.’ Because they’re going to say, ‘To hell with you, and get out of the country.’ That’s not going to solve anything. But if I can go there, maybe I can talk to some people in the administration.”
It’s a thoughtful approach, one that allows him to take a stand while also staying faithful to his fans. Maybe it doesn’t have the shock of Wentworth Miller’s boycott or the punch of Lady Gaga’s rebellious spirit, but perhaps his “adult in the room” style may be more persuasive to those whose minds need changing.