Monday, July 29, 2013

Of Boycotts and Birthdays

Johnny and Victor at their Great Gatsby-themed 
birthday celebration in New York Saturday night. 
Photo via Getty
Apparently a very good time was had by all...

UPDATE: Nearly 400 photos of the party now available 
on this Flickr gallery by Next Edition Studios!
Also on Facebook here.

So before we get to some brief birthday picspam (or not. Please feel free to skip ahead to the eye candy and then return here once sated), let’s talk about how Johnny’s impassioned plea against boycotting the Sochi Olympics has garnered a lot of ... attention.

UPDATE: In the time since this post was first written, the always-controversial Nikolai Alexeyev has continued to fight for LGBT rights in Russia in the ways that he believes are best. However, troubling comments have been made by him recently that are highly objectionable to many people, including myself, and have raised concerns. This post has been edited accordingly. Please feel free to do your own research on the Russia LGBT crisis and to draw your own conclusions. In addition to objective news reports, thoughtful, broad-perspective resources, in my opinion, include bloggers Scott Long, Richard Smith, and Nelson Garcia

(Standard disclaimer: The following thoughts are entirely my own, based on all the fact-gathering and conversations I could manage within the last four days; your mileage may vary; void where prohibited—likely in Russia; should you experience uncontrollable outrage over “gay propaganda” laws that lasts longer than six hours, congratulations, you have a soul; tl;dr summary: skip to the picspam and please go sign this petition.)

I’m feeling a tad frustrated over all the harshly negative responses to Johnny’s column, which are often based on misinformation. Also wondering why Blake Skjellerup isn’t getting nearly the heat Johnny is for saying the same thing, as quoted in HuffPo’s coverage of Johnny’s essay. In fact, in the recent interview linked to by HuffPo, Blake says:

I’m not in favour of a boycott at all. I think visibility is the best possible solution, as opposed to hiding away and not attending.

He got eight comments, several of which disagreed with him. Of course the interview was on a Canadian site, so the discourse was much more polite than the shrieking hit-and-run insults favored by anonymous American Internet users.

(Side note: Also, as asked here, where’s all the criticism of the US track and field athletes attending the IAAF championships IN MOSCOW next week...?)

Most of Johnny’s US critics seem to be focused on hurling baseless accusations that Johnny’s opinion is fueled by pure selfishness and misplaced priorities; that he values medals over human rights and human lives; that all he cares about is his sponsorship money (note: he has no sponsors); that the only thing that can help the Russian LGBT community is a boycott of the Games and any other view is completely invalid because of course Americans know best how to tackle complex internal problems of other countries (see: Iraq. Also, see: US. We don’t even know how to fix our own internal problems, though the mind-bendingly paradoxical “Guns for Everyone! Stop the Shootings!” seems to be the prevailing solution); and that Johnny is obviously completely ignorant and uninformed when it comes to Russia.

Yes, America’s number-one Russophile has no clue about what’s going on in Russia.

There is one thing the critics keep saying with which I passionately agree: people’s lives ARE at stake here.

And no one knows that more keenly than the Russian LGBT activists who are actually on the front lines IN Russia, people who have been beaten, arrested, jailed, and persecuted in every way imaginable, and who continue to fight on with tremendous courage.

To those who are likening Putin to Hitler: Yes. And to those who go on to warn that we must learn from the history of the Nazi era or otherwise we will be doomed to repeat it, at another staggering cost of lives: Yes. This.

But what should we do?

I understand the cries to boycott the Games. It’s partly a very American thing—though some people in other countries have echoed the idea—and a very capitalist thing. In America, money talks. And we use boycotts—sometimes effectively—to withdraw financial support from companies and thereby force change, because the bottom line in America is: the bottom line.

But this is Russia. And Americans who are screaming that a boycott is the ONLY right response to the anti-LGBT horrors being perpetrated by Putin are showing how much they don’t understand Russia.

The theory seems to be that if Russia loses money on the Games, this will somehow get their politicians to warmly embrace LGBT people. They’ll hug and cry and learn and grow, and everyone will start wearing rainbow pins, and no one will see any more images like these.

Here’s the thing: These aren’t Russia’s Games, really. These are Putin’s Games. He’s already spent nearly $50 billion of his country’s money preparing them to be his showcase, making them the most expensive Olympics in history.

There’s no way he’ll ever make that money back. And he doesn’t care. It’s not about that for Putin. It’s not his own personal money, after all. And profits have already been made, deals struck, payoffs exchanged. Russia has its own way of doing things, and American tactics don’t make sense in a Russian context.

And, if anything happens to mess with Putin’s showcase moment—say, for example, most of the world doesn’t show up—that will only infuriate him. Casting about for someone to blame, his eyes will immediately fall on his favorite scapegoat: 

The Russian LGBT community. 

Hard to imagine things could get even worse for our Russian LGBT brothers and sisters, but I wouldn’t want to test that theory.  

Others say boycott pressure should be applied to the sponsors of the Sochi Olympics, companies like Coca-Cola and McDonalds. But, as other commenters have pointed out, most sponsors have multi-Olympic contracts—they’re not just sponsoring Sochi 2014, they’re sponsoring Rio 2016 and beyond. They can’t—and won’t—just opt out.

On a smaller scale, Dan Savage’s vodka boycott is having an effect in that it is helping to spread the word of the problems in Russia. Russian activists say it won’t make a dent, profit-wise or otherwise, but commenters suggest it’s been strongly helpful in raising awareness.

But if boycotts aren’t the answer, what is?

The answer is to ask those who are suffering to tell us how best we can help them. They know what will be most effective; we outside Russia do not.

Russian LGBT activist Nikolai Alexeyev, 
from his Facebook page.

Nikolai Alexeyev (on Twitter here and Facebook here; read more about him here) is the Russian LGBT activist quoted in the vodka article, and the one being punched in the face in Buzzfeed’s slideshow (slide #15, from May in Moscow). He is a lawyer, the founder of Gay Russia, and the leader of Moscow Pride. He is one of the most well-known and visible frontline soldiers in this fight, and he understands what works and what doesn’t in effecting change in his country. He also is able to take the long view, because ultimately what LGBT Russians want goes far beyond the Sochi Olympics: they want a repeal of the draconian laws under which they are being persecuted. 

The Olympics are just one weapon they might be able to use to get there.

And so Nikolai very much agrees with Johnny: NO BOYCOTT.

Over the weekend, Nikolai made this announcement across his social media:

He’s already begun preparations for a huge Gay Pride Parade to coincide with the Opening Ceremonies.

He also started a White House petition that immediately got the attention of the Russian government before it even reached 1,000 signatures, and he is begging us to sign it.

It’s not a flashy, feel-good petition, not as catchy or immediately accessible to the American psyche as calling for boycotts of vodka or the Games. It’s a dry-as-bones political petition that asks US Secretary of State John Kerry to use his authority to place two of the evil Russian politicians behind the “gay propaganda” laws—Elena Mizulina and Vitaly Milonov—on a visa ban list, which would severely impact their ability to travel.

Nikolai says THIS is one action that WILL work. Because the Russian politicians fear it.

And it’s already having an effect: As soon as she got wind of the petition, Mizulina immediately sought retaliation against Nikolai, demanding that the government formally prosecute him for ... his tweets.

For his part, Milonov claims with great scorn that he is not afraid of the petition.

The very fact that he issued a statement means that he is.

Nikolai writes

Milonov said he is not scared to be in Magnitsky List banning him access to the US cause he hates America. But he is very nervous despite what he says! Sign it! It is already everywhere in Russian media.

But why does Nikolai think the world should NOT boycott the Games? Wouldn’t staying home and refusing to participate be the strongest condemnation of Russia’s hideous treatment of its LGBT community?

And why in the world would Johnny want to be there? Is it just about medals for him?

Of course not. 

In his previous week’s column—which Johnny linked to for context, but alas, apparently that extra click was just too much effort for many of his critics—he wrote about his love for Russia and why he wants to be in Sochi:

I will fight to show the government how strong my community is. I will proudly go to Russia – God willing I slip through the cracks and get a visa – and hold my head high. Should I get arrested, I will be arrested with the pride that I am myself, never flinching, and I will be strong for the oppressed community of beautiful people who I can call brothers. I will be strong for the country, not for the government.

Johnny wants to go to stand WITH the LGBT people of Russia, and to show the haters: THIS is what it means to be gay. I am strong. I am an athlete. I am an artist. I have worked my entire life to achieve something that very few ever do. I stand here, proud to be gay, proud to represent my community, proud to say to my Russian brothers: I am one of you. And I am willing to be beaten and arrested for standing with you.

Of course, the IOC claimed over the weekend that it had received assurances from “the highest level” of the Russian government that athletes and visitors would be exempt from the gay propaganda laws during the Olympics.

But Nikolai warns on his Twitter here and here

Neither Putin, nor his Government of PM Medvedev has legal right to suspend gay propaganda law during Olympics in Sochi. IOC was cheated. Only Russian parliament has the right to suspend the law which will not happen. Russians give empty promises to IOC to mislead the sheep.

UPDATE: A new BBC article today reports that Vitaly Milonov actually agrees with Nikolai that the IOC assurances carry no weight, and that the gay propaganda laws (which Milonov co-wrote) cannot be selectively suspended during the Olympics.

UPDATE: Article on Gay Star News confirms that Milonov says the law cannot be selectively applied. He also claims that American and German politicians agree with his stance on these laws.

So the danger remains very real.

And to further muddy the waters, stories are now circulating that there is division among the LGBT activists in Russia over whether or not to urge other nations to boycott the Games, because of this news, here reported on Towle Road:

Queer Nation today issued a press release which claims gay and lesbian activists in Russia support the recent dumping of Russian vodka. According to a statement included in the group’s release, those activists also support taking things a step further: boycott all Russian products - including the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

The first signatory on the press release is activist Masha Gessen. Nikolai responded to the news in a thread on Johnny’s Facebook page:

There is no divide! Its Queer Nation which wants to create it [the boycott]. There will shortly be a letter with many signatures of Russian LGBT against boycott of Sochi Pride [he means “Sochi Games”] and in favor of Pride there. The list headed by Masha Gessen is not representative at all. She decided to leave everyone in Russia and relocate to the US. It is her right but she will not be able to dictate Russian LGBTs what to do. Queer Nation made a wrong bet, unfortunately. Some people on their list already said they will denounce their signature.

This Moscow Times article supports what Nikolai says, that the group putting out the press release is made up of Russian LGBT activists now living in the US, not Russia. Nikolai and his co-combatants remain the most prominent LGBT force in Russia.

UPDATE: Sports Illustrated reports that LGBT rights groups All Out and Athlete Ally also oppose a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, encouraging athletes to “speak out, not sit out.” 

But then why can’t the two actions complement each other, as many have suggested: why not seek to have all the nations boycott the Games while Russian LGBT activists simultaneously hold their Gay Pride events in Sochi?

Because the battered Russian LGBT community is counting on the world to be there.

As witnesses.

Like Hitler’s Holocaust, Putin’s increasingly deranged initiatives require darkness and secrecy to be sustained.

LGBT activists in Russia are pouring heart and soul into the belief that shining the spotlight of the world’s media, as they gather in Sochi to cover the Games, on what is happening in Russia is an unparalleled weapon against Putin and his government—especially given the unprecedented immediacy and viral power of today’s social media.

But if the world boycotts the Games, there will be no international media presence.

There will be no witnesses.

And Putin wins.

Please read more:

How Do We Stop a Modern-Day Adolf Hitler?

Let’s Take the Gay to Sochi for the Winter Olympics

Wrap Putin in a Pride Flag (with bonus Johnny quote)

The Sochi Olympics, Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws and Using a Platform With Purpose

Comment on Johnny Weir: Gay Athletes Should ‘Fight For A Chance’ At 2014 Olympics

LGBT Olympians And Allies Should Show Up In Russia

U.S. Should Not Boycott Russian Olympic Games Over LGBT Rights

An Olympic Legend on Boycotts and Bigotry: Diving champion Greg Louganis advocates against a Sochi boycott (note: Greg is partnering with Athlete Ally to help oppose a Sochi boycott and promote the “speak out, not sit out” campaign)

Bonus Round:
Great Gatsby Birthday Bash!

Red carpet, dancing, skating (yes! skating!), and the incredible Edvin Marton serenading the guests on his Stradivarius: it was an unforgettable way to celebrate the husbands’ July birthdays. Here’s a quick look.

All photos via the gallery on Getty.

The husbands on the red carpet...

Absolutely love their shoes.

With model Gavin Eastlack.

Gorgeous Nina Petrenko with Edvin Marton.

Shannon Leigh Lenihan and celeb photographer 
Andrew Werner. Shannon’s company, SL2 Events & Relations
produced the party and drew rave reviews, 
including heartfelt thanks from Johnny
“Thank you @SL2Events and @ShannonSk8s 
for the most amazing evening of fabulocity. 
We could never have done this without you. Love you” 
and Victor: “Special thanks to @ShannonSk8s 
& @SL2Events for organizing the best party ever.  
Becoming the best in the biz!”

Jackie Voronov Curko, Christa Goulakos, 
Lara Costa and Elisa Guano Polis.

At some point the husbands returned to the red carpet 
with Edvin but without Johnny’s shirt.

And one more. Gorgeous. 
And so very happy.

Bonus videos!! From SenaNYC’s Instagram
and featuring a bit of Edvin’s live music.
Video link.

Aaaaand the party’s over....
Tweeted by Johnny: 
“The night after...Starring @vweirvoronov 
@xstagee and #тёма
Video link.

For more photos, please see Johnny’s Instagram
Victor’s Twitter, Victor’s Instagram
and Jackie’s Instagram!

as one of the very first inductees into the National Gay 
and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame this FRIDAY, Aug. 2, 
in Chicago! No word yet on whether he’ll be attending, 
but just in case, ticket info is in this article
and tickets are available here!

Quiet photo essay of exclusive black-and-white pics 
paired with Johnny’s quotes from his 
Exclusive photo © David Ingogly.

Exclusive photo © David Ingogly.

IT’S NOT TOO LATE!! Please join us in our month-long birthday fan project: Fans are contributing to the newly established Johnny & Victor Weir-Voronov Scholarship Fund for LGBTQ Youth, administered by the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, throughout the month of July! The DVLF is the nonprofit organization who recently honored Johnny as their 2013 National Hero.

The Facebook fan group, Show Johnny Weir the Love, has also announced that for the month of July only, all proceeds from the Team Weir-Voronov fan store will be donated to the scholarship fund. So please treat yourself to some Team Weir-Voronov goodies and support Johnny and Victor in helping young people achieve their dreams!

You also can leave a happy birthday message for the husbands throughout the month here!

Johnny’s latest column for the 
Falls Church News-Press.
His columns are published every Thursday 
in the “National Commentary“ 
section—don’t miss a single one! 

updated calendars, in case you missed out on buying yours 
in January! The new 12-month version runs from 
July 2013 to June 2014, while the 18-month version takes you 
from July 2013 all the way to December 2014.

A number of Johnny’s auction items have been relisted
which means if you missed out the first time around, 
you’re in luck: It’s not too late to own a piece of Weir Gear! 
Go check it out and see what treasures you could take home!

Patti has posted a message 
on Johnny’s Comeback Gift Fund website, 
with her thoughts on 2013 Nationals 
and what lies ahead for next season. 
Please go read it now!

Please alert absolutely everyone you’ve ever met 
to “like” and follow the new 
on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr
Because he should be on all the things. 
With or without ice. 
But definitely with Viacheslav.

Landing quads and kicking ass!
Read his comeback statement 
and the update on his website!

Please click to vote for Johnny 
once a day as “Best Sportsman”
Because he retweeted Luisa Lotka 
to tell us he wants us to! 

Need to see Seasons 1 and 2 all over again? 
Watch episodes online anytime on Logo!
Please be sure to check in with GetGlue
anytime you’re watching the show... 
or thinking about watching the show.... 
or wishing you were watching the show....

At last: Pop Star On Ice is now available on DVD!
Order yours today from the Pop Star On Ice website!

Johnny tweeted:
“Buy my single,’Dirty Love’ via iTunes.
Tell all your friends to as well. The more copies sold
takes me one step closer to making a video! №1!”

You know what to do.
Please buy the song from Johnny’s website,
or just click the “Buy” button on the player
at the top of the blog!

Hey, Welcome to My World also is available
as an eBook! More info on Johnny’s website!

copyright 2013 / Binky and the Misfit Mimes / Lynn V. Ingogly / all rights reserved


Atomic Wife said...

Excellent post MM!! You are doing an incredible job of covering this story from all sides and coalescing it for all of us to understand and how best to support the LGBT community in Russia.
Thank you!!

Anastasia said...

Thank you for the post, MM! You inspired me to leave a very long comment on Johnny's column precisely because so many people appear to care about the same cause, yet unable to speak about the issues with empathy, humility and respect. You do an AMAZING job of bringing people and issues together.