New East Digital Archive

Elton John denounces “vicious homophobia” in Russia

Elton John denounces "vicious homophobia" in Russia

23 January 2014

Elton John has condemned the Russian “anti-gay propaganda” law and called on President Vladimir Putin to meet with members of Russia’s LGBT community to hear of the intimidation and abuse, which they have been victim to since the law was passed last summer.

John wrote that despite the law, when visiting in December 2013 he still felt the “same warmth and welcome from audiences” that he has felt during every visit to Russia over the past three decades. The openly gay pop star was in the Russian city of Kazan for a concert in December, an event that was met with hostility from local imam Seidzhagfar Lutfullin who advised people to stay away.

In his letter, John wrote that while visiting in December he met with members of the LGBT community in Moscow to try and understand the impact of the law on the country. He said: “What I heard reinforced in 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.”

John added that he heard stories of gay men and women who had been threatened by vigilante groups wanting to “cure” them of their homosexuality either by urinating on them or assaulting them. He recounted a story about a young man outside a gay club who was attacked by a man posing as a taxi driver 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,” he wrote.

In an interview with BBC journalist Andrew Marr this week, Putin said that he was a fan of Elton John and even had gay friends. His comments came just days after a statement in which he said that LGBT people would be safe at the Sochi Winter Olympics in February as long as they stayed away from children. Picking up on this point in his letter, John said: “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.”

He ended his letter by saying that the law was “proving deeply dangerous to the LGBT community and deeply divisive to Russian society”. He added: “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.”

John, who has a civil partnership and two children with his long-term partner David Furnish, is a staunch advocate of same-sex marriage around the world. He has said he will defend gay rights while on tour in Russia, a position that could land him with a 15-day prison sentence and a fine under the new law. Both Madonna and Lady Gaga landed in hot water with the Russian authorities this year after openly defending gay rights while on tour in the country, although no legal action was eventually taken.

The anti-gay law bans “the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors”. Since its passage, a number of high-profile cultural figures have declined invitations to visit Russia including Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller, German playwright Marius von Mayenburg, US TV host Andy Cohen and British choreographer Ben Wright.