Celebrities Speaking Up Against Russia's Anti-Gay Laws

Dozens of celebrities have spoken out against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s passing of what they see as an anti-gay law last June. What the law bad sates is “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual relations” around minors.  In effect this means that children under 18 should not be exposed to anything which might encourage them to become gay or lesbian. Offenders can be hit with a big fine and 15 days imprisonment.

Because of the new laws, many celebrities have been advocating a boycott of the Winter Olympic Games to be held in the Black Sea resort of Sochi commencing on February 7th and running until February 23rd.

Only last Saturday the actor Hugh Laurie, best know for his role as House on TV, advocated on Twitter boycotting Russian Vodka. “From now on it will be Polish,” he said.

Celebrities in favor of boycotting the games include Madonna, Cher, Stephen Fry, George Takei, Jonah Hill, Kristen Bell, Kerry Washington, Lady Gaga, Sophia Bush and Sir Ian McKellen. Here are some of the things they said about President Putin and his new law.

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10 Madonna 

Madonna was actually sued by Russian anti-gay groups following a performance in St Petersburg last August. The plaintiffs complained that she had broken the law relating to promotion of homosexuality to minors.

Prior to her tour she had promised to speak out against the law. During a break in the concert she said: “I’m here to say that the gay community, and gay people, here and all around the world, have the same rights. The same rights to be treated with dignity, with respect, with tolerance, with compassion, with love.”

She had earlier stripped down to lacy black underwear showing the words ‘No Fear’ on her back. However, she had not deliberately broken any laws since tickets for her concert were only sold to those aged over eighteen.

Anti-gay groups suing her had sought damages of $10.7 million.

Judge Vitaly Barkovsky threw out the case after questioning the plaintiffs about its arbitrary nature, considering how much popular entertainment promoted the gay lifestyle in a good light.

Up until 1993 in Russia it was actually illegal to be gay, and up until 1999 it was still classed as a mental disorder.

Although Madonna’s spokeswoman has made no comment, the star herself has given support to the Human Rights Campaign’s ‘Love Conquers Hate’ campaign by writing an open letter.

In it she said: "Right now in Russia, LGBT people... are being targeted by hateful new laws that outlaw support for LGBT equality. Even with the 2014 Sochi Olympics just a few months away, fair-minded Russians are facing fines, harassment, and violence at the hands of thugs. The goal of these hateful laws is to leave LGBT Russians feeling isolated. Worthless. Completely alone. Together, we can send a message to LGBT Russians that the world is on their side, and that those who seek to support them aren't alone in this fundamental fight for fairness. It's time for love to conquer hate everywhere, for everyone. I hope you'll stand with me in this fight."

9  9. Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga tweeted “Sending bravery to LGBTs in Russia. The rise in government abuse is archaic. Hosing teenagers with pepper spray? Beatings? Mother Russia?” then followed that up with “The Russian government is criminal. Oppression will be met with revolution. Russian LGBTs you are not alone. We will fight for your freedom.”

Finally she said “Why didn't you arrest me when you had the chance, Russia? Because you didn't want to answer to the world?”

8  8. Cher

Legendary singer and actress Cher revealed that she had turned down an offer to perform at the Olympics because of the law. She said that she could not “name names” but that she has a friend who is a “big oligarch” and he asked her if she would open the event. She said that she instantly refused because of the new law.

7 George Takei

Writing in a blog post George Takei – Mr Sulu from Star Trek - called the law draconian and anti-gay. Since Russia intended to enforce the law against LGBT athletes, trainers and fans it meant that anyone waving a rainbow flag or wearing a rainbow pin could be flung into prison for two weeks, fined and then deported.

He had earlier encouraged fans to support a Change.org petition to the International Olympic Committee to have the games moved to Vancouver where they were held in 2010 and where it would be relatively simple to set them up again. He realized that boycotting the games would punish athletes who had worked for years to get themselves to peak performance for the event.

6 Sophia Bush

Actress Sophia Bush, who starred in Partners, recently tweeted to the International Olympic Committee “IOC: all Olympians are equal, all love is equal - even as #Russia cracks down on #LGBT rights.”

5 Kerry Washington

4 Jonah Hill

The photo above was taken on Aug. 13, 2013, showing actor Jonah Hill at the Hollywood Foreign Press Luncheon to show his support for gays in Russia and his opposition for the anti-gay laws.

Hill has posted pictures of himself on his social media accounts wearing a tee shirt with the slogan “Love Conquers Hate” in Russian which was supplied by the Human Rights Council. Hill wrote “Help us show Russia and the world that Love Conquers Hate” and gave links to HRC and another organization urging his fans to see how they could help. Hill said that he has a very simple reason for supporting the campaign. He has loads of gay friends and also gay family members. He is quoted as commenting “It’s like saying: why do you think people should breathe?” "I support anybody doing whatever they want to do to be who they are."

3 Kristen Bell

Meanwhile Kristen Bell also posted a photograph of herself wearing a Human Rights Council tee shirt and wrote “Tell Russia and the world that Love Conquers Hate.”

Bell has been vociferous in her promotion of gay marriage and says that she doesn't feel it right that she can marry the person she loves while her gay friends are not accorded the same privilege.

Earlier in January Bell said that she and fiance Dax Shepard would hold off tying the knot until until same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States. "The reason we're not rushing to get married is because I don't feel appropriate taking advantage of a right that's denied to my best friends," said Bell, who names openly gay "Star Trek" actor Zachary Quinto as a confidante. "Dax and I have talked about it a lot, and this issue is very important to both of us. We're just standing up for what we believe in."

2 Sir Ian McKellen

Sir Ian McKellen joined in with no fewer than 27 Nobel Prize laureates to write an open letter to President Putin deploring the Russian governments stance. He had earlier stated on his Facebook page that the Sochi Olympics would continue as they were planned despite gay athletes “only being welcome if they brought their closets with them.”

Sir Ian, who starred as Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings, together with his friend Sir Harry Kroto, who won the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1996, persuaded fellow intellectuals to add their names to the letter which was published in The Independent newspaper in London. The purpose of the letter was "to indicate that many senior members of the international scientific community show solidarity with politicians, artists, sports people and many others who have already expressed their abhorrence for the Russian Government's actions against its gay citizens."

Sir Ian stated the he had been advised by the UK Foreign Office that he could not speak openly in Russia about his sexual preferences if his comments could be heard by anyone under the age of eighteen. This meant that he could not talk on the radio or TV about it and he had decided that he would not accept any future invitations to attend Russian film festivals.

For his part, Sir Harry Kroto said that he had long ago accepted an invitation to visit Russia in 2014, but that after he has fulfilled that obligation he will not consider going again unless or until the law is repealed – or steps are taken to repeal it – and the Russian government “makes a serious effort to protect its LGBT citizens.”

1 Stephen Fry

Writing in his blog an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron and the international Olympic Committee, Stephen Fry draws comparison with the Olympic Games of 1936 in Berlin. He points out that Hitler, only two years beforehand, had passed a law banning Jews from academic tenure or holding public office. He banned and burned books written by them. He took no notice of beatings, theft or other humiliation that they might suffer.

He claimed that they were a threat to the state, accused them of communism and at the same time of controlling the banks.

Fry continues that the Olympic movement of the time took no notice and the games proceeded, providing Hitler with a world stage and giving him confidence. He states that all historians are agreed on that point and that everyone knows what he did with that confidence.

Now, says Fry, Putin is doing the same thing, only on this occasion it is the Russian LGBT community that is suffering. Any sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law. He argues that, for example, to say Tchaikovsky was gay and to imply that his art and life reflects this and is an inspiration to other gay artists would be contravening the law and punishable by imprisonment.

He says that the Olympics must be removed from Russia and that Putin cannot “be seen to have the approval of the civilized world.”

Both David Cameron and President Obama are on record as objecting to any boycott. On Friday Obama said that he was looking forward to gay or lesbian athletes bringing home a gold or silver medal which he thought would go a long way to rejecting the kinds of attitudes that are being seen here.

Cameron agreed, saying that he believes that prejudice can be better challenged by attending, rather than boycotting the Olympics which would penalize athletes who have trained for years.

President Putin defended his new law saying that it only aims to protect children and does not discriminate against anyone. He also indicated in an interview on Saturday that athletes and fans who are gay will not be prosecuted during the Olympics. He said that he could not care less about their sexual orientation, that he welcomed all athletes and visitors, and that “none of our guests will have any problems.”

Other celebrities who have also made their feelings known include Kelly Osbourne, Tim Gunn, Jamie Lee Curtis, Fergie, Kevin Bacon, Ricky Martin among many others.

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