In an attempt to deflect criticism from his “anti-gay” laws, Russian president Vladimir Putin has in the past week revealed himself to be a fan of Sir Elton John, describing the singer as “an outstanding person and outstanding musician” loved throughout the country, “despite his orientation”.
Now Sir Elton, who came out as gay in 1988, is using this as a springboard to try to lobby on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Russia.
In a statement on his website, Sir Elton makes reference to the country’s recent passing of a law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” or any suggestion that homosexual and heterosexual relationships are equivalent, and writes: “Vicious homophobia has been legitimised by this legislation and given extremists the cover to abuse people’s basic human rights.”
He shares stories from gay fans about the physical and verbal abuse they have received, and adds that the new law has had an adverse effect on efforts to improve information-sharing, as “some of the vital work providing HIV prevention information to the gay community has been labelled ‘homosexual propaganda’ and shut down”.
The legislation has come under scrutiny from the international community not just for its effect on Russia’s LGBT community but because of fears that it could affect competitors and spectators taking part in this year’s Winter Olympics, which are due to be held next month in the city of Sochi.
Speaking to TES this week, Dmitry Livanov, minister of education and science, defended the new law, claiming that it was aimed at preserving Russian “tradition”.
“We...think that every society has a certain set of traditions and restrictions, and everyone should understand those traditions and should respect not only the history of the society they live and work in but also the restrictions that society imposes,” Mr Livanov said.
However, Sir Elton laments the new law’s promotion of “misunderstanding and ignorance”.
“In particular,” he writes, “it is very disappointing that the law explicitly links homosexuality with child sex abuse, which countless studies have shown to be conclusively wrong.”
Sir Elton concludes with an offer to introduce Mr Putin to members of Russia’s LGBT community in order to try to change his mind about the “deeply divisive” legislation.
“[Those in Russia’s LGBT community] deserve to be treated in their own country with the same respect and warm welcome that I received on my last visit,” the singer says.
Questions for debate and discussion
- What is homophobia? Why is it harmful?
- In your opinion, is Elton John’s effort to combat homophobia in Russia going to be a success? Explain your reasoning.
- What is the relationship between Russia’s anti-gay laws and the Winter Olympics?
- What steps can we take against homophobia in our school environment?
This Stonewall Education guide is designed to help teachers to combat homophobic bullying in schools, but could be used in the classroom when discussing homophobia.
Discuss diversity in sports, the media and everyday life with this extensive scheme of work about difference and diversity.
All kinds of people, all kinds of sex
Open up a frank and honest discussion with your class about sexual orientation and sexual activity with this resource.
This assembly resource introduces the consequences of homophobic bullying to students and gets them thinking.