With only two weeks to go before the Sochi Olympic games, Russia’s stance on prohibiting so-called homosexual ‘propaganda’ remains a highly controversial issue. Sir Elton John has issued a statement on his impressions of the impact of this legislation.
The Elton John AIDS Foundation has given over £1.3m to programmes in Russia since 2000.
“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,” said Sir Elton. "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.”