Embracing Your Strength: A Chat with Dreya Weber

“Now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been overturned, it’s like…why was it ever in place? Why?…. Let’s make it the world we want to be in….”

- Dreya Weber

Make ‘Em Say “Wow:” On Heart-Opening Compassion In Art

Dreya Weber generously shared her time with me for an interview to promote her tour with Teatro ZinZanni and her upcoming feature film “Raven’s Touch.

The words “embracing your strength” continued to come to mind during this conversation, because the healing alchemy of honoring oneself is swirling all through this interview like glitter in the air.

When you first connect with Dreya Weber’s presence, you might find that you’re forever emboldened. Whether striding forward as a P90x fitness mentor or flying through the air with the greatest of ease along with Pink, Cirque du Soleil, Teatro ZinZanni and many A-list pop stars, Dreya calms the room with an inimitable combination of dreaminess, grace, gentility and earth core-centered strength. Still, her humanity shines through–she’s no unicorn–she’s seen struggle that’s refined her strengths.

Touching upon, even, her first reels in “A Marine Story” or “The Gymnast,” you’re teleported into other worlds. Immediately, you care for the characters Dreya portrays. Even as her characters endure immense struggle and change, there’s an immediate trust that Dreya automatically articulates on-camera and off. Implicitly, you trust that she’ll both have and find her way.

She’s s a multimedia Artist, Writer, Producer, Actress, Dancer/Choreographer, Singer, and muse…the list goes on. But labels don’t define Dreya Weber—they don’t restrict her by any means.

Still, for context, here are just a handful of things Dreya Weber’s worked on and is working on:

She’s a regular musical, theatrical, and dance performer—including her choreography for worldwide tours on her own and with other artists including Madonna, Pink, Cher and Britney Spears. This includes traditional dance and her world renowned specialty, aerial dance and choreography, which she presented to the world in her starring role in her hit movie, “The Gymnast.” She’s an event and movie producer. She’s worked and performed with the Moscow State Circus and performed in an Olympics ceremony. In fact, She’s an Olympian-level trained athlete in many disciplines including baseball and fitness enduring trainer, and you likely know her from the best-selling fitness program P90X.

Of course, there’s always more to multi-hyphenate artists like Dreya—and lucky for us, her story continues to unfold.

What she calls ‘flow’ feels more like the outflow from her damn near Amazonian work ethic, fueled by constant motion and loving everything she does. Dreya embodies an ageless grace with and an absolutely loveable spirit.

A few of the topics Dreya addresses in the interview are:

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Her proactive role in changing the way theater and pop/rock performing companies work

Working and planning with the cast and crew on “This Is It”

The spiritual core in all things creative

Overcoming grief and embracing healing

Her upcoming movie “Raven’s Touch” (Dreya is a featured actress in the film and also wrote the screenplay.)

The quest to encourage men in creative and technical fields see women as real-world peers

Teamwork, meeting in the middle, and living in a space where everyone is always valued.

Her opinion on Russia’s anti-gay policies and the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics

The overturning of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and how “A Marine Story’s” cast and crew made a present narrative choice about it before it was overturned

What it means to be a strong woman…and claiming that strength

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Before and as we chatted, the recording equipment hiccuped in fits and starts.

Between my fangirl’ed out squeals of delight (and a thousand heart-opening “Wow’s!”) you can hear echoes of Dreya Weber’s resonant voice as the meter of our conversation skips.

And about all the recording hiccups and echoes…true to character, Dreya simply said, “I’m grateful that the technology exists at all. Great to be able to chat with you.”

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You can listen to the audio interview with Dreya Weber here, and remember to check out Dreya’s new movie “Raven’s Touch:” opening this spring.

 

Despite Human Rights Issues, Prestigious Manifesta Art Foundation Will Not Boycott Russia

In 2012 the Manifesta Foundation selected the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation as host of Manifesta 10. Since announcing the State Hermitage Museum as host institution, the Russian parliament has adopted a federal law banning the ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships’ accessible by minors. The legislation has received extensive exposure around the world and subsequently there have been calls to boycott, cancel or relocate international cultural and social events planned within Russia. In response to those who have expressed deep concerns regarding the situation of LGBT people in Russia and any violations of their human rights, we share your concerns….

On principle Manifesta cannot and should not only perform in the ‘safe haven’ of the West or former West. This inevitably involves dialogue with those with whom we may disagree.”

                                                                                 – A statement of the International Foundation Manifesta

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The renowned Netherlands-based, Pan European international arts foundation Manifesta will not boycott Russia, nor will it change its biannual roving arts tour.

Though the foundation is well-versed in international events management and travel, they will not change their location or plans, no matter how much they’re pressured to do so. Scheduled to arrive in St. Petersburg in 2014, (the arts exhibition and program will take place from 28 June to 31 October), Manifesta refuses to choose another gay-friendly host city for its upcoming events in spite of Russia’s controversial anti-gay LGBTQ legislation and practices.

The Manifesta Foundation has released official statements to address the matter with feedback from its official leadership and stakeholders.

Proactively releasing a statement well over a month ago (“To withdraw Manifesta 10 would mean to ignore contemporary voices and emerging generations of Russia“), the official word from the arts collective voices more concern for pushing the creative field forward, and less for Russia’s suppression of freedom of expression and choice.

Select excerpts from the official statement can be found below.

Viktor Misiano, Chair of the Manifesta Foundation:

“Within Russia Manifesta 10 has been welcomed by many individuals who recognise that cancelling or postponing it will be a loss, not only for communities seeking change, but also for developing a progressive contemporary culture as a whole. We are conscious of the political climate and the significant conservative shift taking place in Russia, of which this issue is but one example. It is also helpful to know that the leading LGBT organizations in Russia do not support a boycott of the Olympics or other events. They know engagement is important.”

St Petersburg-based LGBT organization Coming Out:

“….We understand the call for a boycott of the Olympics. But we truly believe it is important to keep all channels open and enable all possible communications to challenge human rights violations at every opportunity, whether they are cultural or sporting events, business opportunities or political campaigns.”

Sjeng Scheijen, Artistic Director of Manifesta’s Russian/Dutch bi-lateral year:

“….Manifesta 10 is supported in Russia by a spirited forefront of independent, critical, internationally oriented artists and intellectuals. They have a great need for a platform for meeting and exchange, and seek international models for their own cultural events. They eagerly look forward to the arrival of Manifesta.”

Manifesta Founder and Director, Hedwig Fijen:

“Manifesta is an advocate of having mutual respect for any person regardless of their sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, disability, age or sexual orientation. Manifesta Foundation endorses the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention for Human Rights, Council of Europe Recommendations and other decrees by international organizations, of which Russia is a member….We do not believe isolating Russia is the right direction to take, especially as it deprives younger people of access to a broader scope of voices and points of view.”

Please visit this link to read the entire statement:

http://manifesta.org/2013/08/to-withdraw-manifesta-10-would-mean-to-ignore-contemporary-voices-and-emerging-generations-of-russia

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The closer we get to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the more formal statements and opinions make their way to the fore, and the more public figures and organizations are being forced to take a stand on these human rights violations. Meanwhile, Russia continues to obfuscate issues, courting both commercial engagement and revenue opportunities while ignoring the civil rights of its LGBTQ/allied population.

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When will Russia make formal, unwavering statements of its own—or can the Russian government really entertain the best of both worlds (hiding behind rhetoric while somehow monetizing both international travel and anti-gay sentiments)…?

 

Crowdsourcing #Sochi2014: Out, Gay Kiwi Speed Skater Blake Skjellerup Remains Undeterred.

Despite Russia’s new anti-gay laws, the calls to move the Winter Olympics from Sochi have fallen on deaf ears. The IOC has said waving of rainbow flags — or any pro-LGBT commentary — by Olympians could violate its rules. Seemingly every avenue to make a statement of LGBT-rights support at the Olympic Games is being cut off. But there’s one message they cannot stop: Openly gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup! The LGBT community and its allies have an opportunity to support this openly gay athlete and send him to the Olympic Games as our out, proud representative.”

- From Blake Skjellerup’s Indiegogo Campaign Page

 

#Sochi2014 |  Anticipation Station

When it comes to the upcoming Olympic games, all thoughts, social shares, pundit’s articles and interviews continue to lead us on and move us all toward more question marks, dollar signs, boycott threats and theories, overall frustration and a heaping dose of anticipation.

We won’t really know how enforcement of Russia’s anti-gay laws will or will not apply until all travelers arrive in Russia, folks choose to make statements or symbolic gestures, and all Olympics-related events get underway.

Though we know where Johnny Weir stands politically, he won’t be attending the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia as an athletic contender, at least—and we love you still Johnny, regardless of your politics.

Many queer athletes continue to move forward in pursuit of that Olympic Gold: like out, gay New Zealander, competitive speed skater and GT coverboy Blake Skjellerup.

Skjellerup is resolute and undetered. He wants to head to Sochi to win a speed skating medal for the Kiwis, and he wants your help to do it.

As of this writing already, Skjellerup has raised his initial goal of US $24,000 and counting in order to work on qualifying to compete in both the Winter Olympics and the Speed Skating World Cup, and he needs to raise at least US $33,000 total in order to realize the dream with complete, headache-free financial backing.

If Blake is able to fully qualify, he will be the first publicly out male athlete to compete in a Winter Olympics.

Information from his Indiegogo page, a video greeting from Blake himself and more information can be found below.

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From Indiegogo.com | Why Blake needs our support now

Despite what many may think, Olympic speed skaters do not live in posh apartments sipping champagne. When asked what it means financially to be an Olympic speed skater, Blake said, “bankruptcy.” He struggles just to cover living costs. What he needs help with now is the funds to access key coaching assistance for the World Cups and the Olympics.

For Blake to qualify for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, he will need to finish in the top 32 at the World Cups this autumn. These four key events are:

Sept. 26-29, Shanghai, China
Oct. 3-6, Seoul, South Korea
Nov. 7-10, Torino, Italy
Nov. 14-17, Kolomna, Russia

Blake needs at least $15k to compete at a high level in these four World Cup events and qualify for the Sochi Olympics. To get everything he needs to compete at his HIGHEST level possible, he will need at $33k. We’ve set the campaign goal at the MINIMUM he needs with the hope and expectation that we can get him EVERYTHING he needs. All donated funds go directly to Blake.

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Because of the beauty of his story and the precedent he’ll be setting—according to Blake’s Indiegogo page—many advocacy groups have already shown their support including: the You Can Play project, Outsports, GLAAD, the StandUp Foundation, Out magazine & The Advocate, Athlete Ally, and many members of the LGBT sports movement and larger community.

Click here to support Blake Skjellerup’s campaign, check out Blake’s #Sochi2014 YouTube video here, and send your Tweets of support and inquiry with Blake @BlakeSkjellerup.

 

 

 

 

A Good Mama Is A Great Ally: Russia Might Listen When Cher Tells Them “No.”

 

“You don’t know what your beliefs are until you’re tested and have to really stand behind them.”

                                                                                                                                                  – Cher

Remembering Your Spirit – Chaz Comes Out, Part 1

“I wanted [my then-daughter] to grow up, get married, have a child, get divorced and live happily ever after.”

-Cher (to Oprah’s audience, half-jokingly)

Cher has had a Top 10 Hit every decade for the past 40 years. She could phone in whatever she wants to at this point—from her recordings to her performances, to her chat show guest spots. But she refuses to: she shows up and she remains present.

Aside from the fact that Cher is your Gay Icon’s favorite Icon and your Diva’s favorite Diva, queer fans who’ve loved Cher over time have realized that loving Cher is a full-time job.

If you’ve loved her during any era of her megawatt super-stardom, you’ve got to give it to her, she’s an incredible talent. If you’ve discovered her or followed her family’s story since the mid 90s, you’ve realized that you’ve had to give her some space while she caught up with all the parts of being an ally. You’ve had to watch and wait for her to continue to catch up as she enlightens herself all along her LGBT ally’s path. All the while, she’d lost the love of her life (though long since divorced, Cher’s love for the late Sonny Bono was complicated and made very public).

Loving and learning from Cher and her journey is an interesting study in what it means to be an ally, and ways in which we can even support our allies (should we choose to).

Though Cher was one of the first people to introduce drag artists to mainstream culture at the level we see today (professional, showgirls, on television), gender expression and LGBTQ culture was still something of abstraction to her—not related to her own immediate family, per se.

When Chaz Bono first came out to Cher as a “lesbian,” well before Chaz himself was aware of being trans* (by his own account), Cher had an exceedingly hard time accepting the fact that Chaz was (at that time self-identified as) a woman who loved women. In a joint interview with Oprah (video here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CupvzhC8_4), Chaz and Cher confirmed that Cher really saw Chaz her the only child. A child made and raised in her own image (dressing alike with the same andro/tomboy vibe that Cher rocked, someday growing up to meet and marry a man). Cher said she “always knew, way before [Chaz] did,” that Chaz was [at that time] a lesbian.

Holding on to the dream of “living in your parents’ image was an idea that took so long for Cher to let go of, while Chaz’s dad Sonny warmed up to the fact that Chaz is a trans* man much more quickly.

Cher, in her own words, went “ballistic” when she realized what she “always knew” Chaz was not going to change.

Meanwhile, Chaz wanted to grow up to be just like his dad, Sonny.

And God/dess bless both Chaz and Cher for outing Chaz’s many realizations with Oprah, many other journalists and the world not once, but twice.

Cher, as we know, did eventually came around (though she still made little jokes from the side of her mouth about having a gay child, reliving that frustration repeatedly).

The fact that Cher has so embraced the LGBTQ community as a whole (rather than just gay folks in her fan base), includes her own child in her appreciation and does so publicly is to be commended. She and Chaz both saw Chaz’s truth an “elephant in the room,” yet they continued to work through things together (enlisting the assistance of gay-affirming therapists also helped), leading by example to all onlookers.

Chaz, composed, articulate and helpful with the press and his mom all along the way, cited statistics about queer youth who need help alongside his own personal story. Such selflessness…it’s why we love Chaz all the more.

 

Remembering Your Spirit – Chaz Comes Out: Part 2

“How can we persecute people for being who they are?”

- Cher

Around mid-2008, Chaz Bono began to make his gender transition, and has made so much progress all along the way in terms of the peace of mind he says he feels and in terms of his relationship with his mother.

While Cher admits she still has problems using the appropriate pronoun to this day, at least she’s trying. She knows that each time she uses the wrong pronoun, she’s more the butt of the joke than anyone else. It seems like she does so to cope, and then quickly corrects herself. In a way, she’s modeling the process for parents with each new mistake she makes (oops, fumble, quick sincere correction). And as Cher stumbles along through her journey to continued enlightenment (as we all do), there’s a grace in the fumbling for truth and comfort. It’s a pleasure to see the both of them working together amicably for LGBTQ advocacy when Chaz had once been—however temporarily—kicked out of the house for revealing his truth to his mom.

Remembering your Spirit – You’ve Come A Long Way, Mommy.

“Your job as a parent is to support your children.”

- Cher (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CupvzhC8_4)

Cher went from Mama Scared to Mama Bear, as she’s come to call out Chaz’s opponents, haters and trolls on Twitter and in the media without hesitation.

The evolution of Cher’s journey continues as the word “No” falls from her lips most effortlessly when Russian Olympic officials ask her to perform in Sochi, Russia for the upcoming Olympic Games. There’s no way that will happen until Russia’s anti-gay legislation and environment changes. As Russia’s embroiled in the debate regarding the IOC’s degrees of homophobia and Russia’s governmental clarity around the issue, Cher doesn’t care about the so-called degrees and semantics involved.

Cher recently told Maclean’s:

I can’t name names but my friend called who is a big oligarch over there, and asked me if I’d like to be an ambassador for the Olympics and open the show. I immediately said no. I want to know why all of this gay hate just exploded over there. He said the Russian people don’t feel the way the government does….

[But] people hated Sonny and I in the early days because we looked and acted so different. Sonny was always getting into fights—people would called him ‘fag’ and he’d get his nose broken—only because we were dressing different. And these were our street clothes! You can’t forget that.”

Coming out isn’t always safe (family-wise, financially, etc.,) and some of us don’t have parents, families or friends who will take us back and come to understand us. However, when we can and as we can come out and share our experiences, we need substantive support. When people can’t admit their shortcomings or lack of understanding, that’s one thing. But when they lash out violently or destructively in light of their confusion or lack of understanding, everything escalates, and everything’s dangerous.

Kudos to Cher for realizing how dire the situation in Russia is and for boycotting the Olympics and being a “heart-core” ally, in theory, in practice and in love.

 

Related Links and Resources

Websites

Chaz Bono Official Homepage: http://chazbono.net

PFLAG: Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays: http://www.pflag.org/‎

 

Books

Family Outing: A Guide to the Coming-Out Process for Gays, Lesbians, & Their Families – by Chaz Bono http://www.amazon.com/Family-Outing-Coming-Out-Lesbians-Families/dp/0316115967

Transition: Becoming Who I Was Always Meant to Be – by Chaz Bono http://www.amazon.com/Transition-Becoming-Always-Meant/dp/B004XFYIBU

 

Film

Becoming Chaz Documentary: http://chazbono.net/becomingchaz.html

 

It’s In our Hands: On #Russia4Love, Lesbiru.com and Our LGBTQIA Activist Family In Russia

 

Use Your Words: On Activists Inside Russia

“It’s also no surprise that Russian deputies continue to reintroduce the question of recriminalizing LGBT people, since society still widely regards homosexuals as mentally ill, perverted pedophiles. Any homophobe trying to isolate them can always count on the support of the Russian people. Even the legislation that outlaws the stirring of national or religious hatreds is silent about us. The young generation will need a lot of time to begin speaking openly about their rights and finding the courage to come out.”

- Vdova, Co-Founder of Lesbiru.com

Founded in 2001, Lesbiru.com is a lifeline for lesbians and LGBTQIA folks in Russia and worldwide, advocating for human rights from within Russia and speaking for lesbians in-country. They also create content for–and host a myriad of–sister sites and social media pages. On perusing its latest English language updates, you can’t help but to reflect on the perilous fate of Russian activists at this time.

As Vdova’s words indicate above, LGBTQIA persons of experience in Post-Perestroika Russia were at least somewhat tolerated. Now, with Putin’s anti-gay about face instituted by the government, the fate of LGBTQIA activists and allies in Russia is under serious question. Many activists are being fined, jailed (see Pussy Riot and others), pressured to disassociate from the community and work for the government, and otherwise penalized. This is taking place in addition to the festering climate advocating anti-LGBTQ bullying and violence.

We’ve recently lost Nikolay Alexeyev from our ranks, a prominent Russian gay activist, journalist and filmmaker, as Russian authorities raided his home and confiscated his effects. Shortly thereafter, he publicly denounced the LGBTQIA civil rights movement. It isn’t hard to guess why he too has had to make a sudden about face and “change” his philosophies and decades-long solid track record of human rights activism in a matter of days.

The hobbling of Pussy Riot and other Russian queer activists, celebrities, journalists, people and groups in addition to the Sochi controversy makes the fate of in-country activists seemingly uncertain. However, the endgame, according to Russian officials, is certain. The aim is to silence anything or anyone LGBTQ or affiliated—this includes people or organizations who seem queer or who advocate LGBTQ persons, period.

 

Use Your Outside Voice: How We Can Help

These laws aim to force LGBT people into lives of secrecy. They will especially have a devastating impact on young LGBT people who will be left unable to be open about themselves and unable to access relevant services, with all the potential physical and mental health issues which may arise from this. In addition, it sends a green light to extremists that LGBT people are legitimate targets. This is reflected in the rising violence against LGBT people in recent times in Russia. These new laws represent a serious attack on human rights in Europe. They send out the clear message from the Russian government and parliament that intolerance of others is acceptable and that human rights are not inviolable but rather are political notions which can be rowed back when it is politically advantageous to do so.”

- GLEN

With its official event launch on Red Tuesday (9/3/13), The Speak Out for Russia campaign includes performances, artistic and activist projects, and public speaking and forums all around the globe, expressing solidarity with the Russian LGBTQ community. We’re still speaking out.

We can help our Russian allies by joining this campaign or starting our own. Too, the GLEN recently published a few suggestions of ways you can help:

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What Can People Do As Individuals?

Let the LGBT communities in Russia know you are standing in solidarity.

Use the Internet and social media to let them know that they are not alone. Ireland is an amazing example of a country which has come a long way in quite a short period of time. The Irish story is a profound message of hope and of what is possible, even at times when it appears progress is impossible.

Be a political/ethical consumer. Buy products from companies that have come out in support of LGBT equality, regardless of what country they are made in.

If you plan to travel to Russia then make sure you check with [your] Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for safety updates.

Finally and most importantly, be committed for the long haul. The sad truth is that these laws will probably not be rescinded in the short term. This is the beginning of a long campaign to change laws, hearts and minds.

Source

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Real-Time Support, Moving Forward

The more we make our quest for human rights known, the more the world responds. Don’t believe it? You can believe it: per the prodding of GLEN, their sister organizations in Ireland and many activists worldwide, the Irish government has now publicly condemned the anti-gay actions of the Russian government. Governments are imperfect to be sure–but when they set precedents like this, it indicts them to advocate for its own citizens’ human rights that much more, and to advocate for human rights worldwide that much more.

We simply must keep hope alive.

There’s so much more that you can do: support independent thinkers and bloggers around the world. Make your voice heard. Perform at, attend or donate money to benefits supporting LGBTQ culture and causes.

Follow the #Russia4Love hashtag on Twitter or visit AllOut to find events near you, and please connect with us or comment to share more ideas and support.

Peacefully,

Gay Agenda

 

Taking Children From Their Homes: Russia Introduces Bill To Remove Gay Parenting Rights

“Waves of protests surrounded Vladimir Putin’s return to power as Russia’s President in March 2012. Since then, parliament has passed so many new laws restricting civil liberties that some people now call it the ‘mad printer.’”

- Amnesty International Wire (Amnesty.org)

Russia’s Civil Liberties Record: Getting Worse and Worse In Word & Deed

“Everything you add to the truth subtracts from the truth.”

                                                                          – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

According to the Associated Press, Russian State Duma Deputy Zhuravlev (Putin’s United Russia Party/parliamentary caucus) is introducing a law making “nontraditional sexual orientation” viable grounds to remove child custody for LGBTQ parents.

In the draft bill for this proposed new law, Zhuravlev wrote:

“Following the letter of the law that forbids propaganda of non-traditional sex to minors we must restrict such propaganda not only in mass media but also the family… if one of the child’s parents indulges in sexual contact with persons of the same sex, the damage to the child’s psyche is immense as a mother or father serves as an example for their offspring.”

Additional grounds for denial or revocation of parental custody include alcoholism, drug abuse or any amount or type of drug use deemed inappropriate, which has nothing at all to do with gender, sexual orientation or law-abiding families established in-place, having committed none of these substance-related offenses.

Here we see yet another instance of punishing allies in addition to homosexual persons, as once passed, this bill would affect families and children who aren’t even LGBTQ-identified. Custodial rights could then be revoked if both or either parent were gay (out or not), so if two parents happen to have an understanding in their relationship, share post-divorce custody, etcetera, the parent who happens to be gay can be penalized, or a child can be taken away from one or both parents for any so-called ‘homosexual-affiliated’ reason(s).

As it is already illegal to mention homosexuality around children or to advise or counsel LGBTQ or questioning youth. This recent unfortunate move is thought to be the next step in Russia’s plans to eradicate gay tolerance, inclusiveness or protections altogether for LGBTQ persons, friends, allies or families.

At this point, though the bill is to be debated before it is formally passed, it seems such motions are little more than a formality. Russian lawmakers keep clinging to the through line that their anti-gay motions and laws are being instituted to protect the children, rather than being anti-gay.

Putin has already banned LGBTQ people residing in other countries from adopting Russian children, and as of this writing, the Russian government is also considering reinstating a gay blood donor ban.

Though boycotts and protests are occurring worldwide, even Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is throwing his hands up in the air, saying Russia will not change their minds or policies in terms of its anti-gay legislation, and Rogge’s sharing little more on the matter.

Rogge told the press, “…one should not forget that we are staging the games in a sovereign state, and the IOC cannot be expected to have an influence on the sovereign affairs of a country.”

Activists, lawmakers, PR representatives, athletes, spokespeople and officials can make all the claims they want leading up to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, but we won’t know who’ll be arrested or how LGBT people or allies will be treated (both on arrival, during the events and while attempting to leave Russia) until it’s too late.

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Many LGBTQ folks (like Johnny Weir) are Russophiles and/or have Russian spouses or partners. Have you been to Russia? Did you love it? If so, how do you feel now that Russian policymakers are passing all of these awful anti-LGBT laws?

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“Moscow Is Not Sodom:” Valeriya, Russia’s Madonna, Worries About Gay Propaganda

| “ RT @BBCNewsnight: Russian Singer Valeriya Perfilova says she worries about..influence of ‘gay propaganda’ on her children #newsnight ” |

Don’t Tell Me.” I Won’t Ask You.

Gay? Out? Don’t tell Valeriya about it. The living, thriving spirit of Pussy Riot continues to push the dialogue forward and keep LGBTQIA rights, allies’ rights and progressive activism in the planet’s consciousness.

In what’s being called a new gay holocaust, Russia’s resurgence of anti-gay sentiment (including myriad anti-gay/anti-ally/anti-activism laws) continues to change hands and to be bandied about by various talking heads. The revolving door of anti-gay rhetoric moves from the streets to the legislature to celebrity mouthpieces and back again.

One of the more prominent voices fearful of “gay propaganda” is Valeriya Perfilova, considered by many to be Russia’s version of Madonna. The singer directly benefits from (but does not publicly acknowledge) the love of her LGBTQ fans.

 

Using the Word “Propaganda” As Propaganda

Having sold over 100 million records worldwide, Perfilova is mainly known by her one-name moniker (see: Cher, Madonna) Valeriya. In her press materials, she appropriates much of Madonna’s heat, style and vibe—but somehow, she manages to kick the gay-friendly part of Madonnaisms to the curb. This is particularly unfortunate, as the singer’s a domestic abuse survivor and her body of work does much to buoy the spirits of female abuse survivors (all the while redirecting abusive behaviors toward another culture).

In a June 2013 broadcast with BBC Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman and Russian gay activist Anton Krasovsky, Valeriya championed a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell-esque” viewpoint, towing the party line that LGBTQ persons should not be seen or heard as such.

Regarding Russia’s anti-gay legislation, Valeriya began:

“It was funny to me, because it’s nothing to do with politics. Being the mother of three children, I approve this [anti-gay] bill… I don’t want to meddle with other people’s lives. I don’t care what they do behind their doors. But I do care about my children’s bringing up [i.e. upbringing]…. The vast majority of people in Russia, 88 percent of people, support the ban of homosexuality propaganda. That’s a fact. And this bill responds to people’s demand. That’s all.”

 

L.W.Q: Living While Queer & Beingness As Illegal

Here’s a bit of a backgrounder: in January of this year, former Russian TV journalist and presenter Anton Krasovsky came out on Russian television and was fired immediately thereafter.

Now, back to Newsnight—during the BBC television broadcast, Krasovsky brought forth the idea—and his lived experience—that essentially now in Russia, it’s illegal to be gay.

Holding back uncomfortable laughter, Krasovsky couldn’t hold back the irony of the situation:

“I’m glad that that situation is funny for Valeriya,” he responded. “But it’s not fun for me. I think it’s against me. Against my family. Against all gay people in Russia…. From today, I cannot say that I’m gay and I’m the same human being…like all of you. From today, I’ll have to pay for this. From a hundred to two-thousand pounds. Because these words could be taken as propaganda.”

The beingness of gay life, being LGBTQ, being a questioning soul, being LGBTQ and out, or even advocating for those who are—in Krasovsky’s experience and in his own words, now this is a crime in and of itself, no matter what one does or does not do. It’s about the beingness now. Beyond being a thought-crime, this is L.W.Q. “living while queer.”

Illegal.

 

Some of My Best Friends Are Gay…

Ironies continue to prevail. In 2008, Valeriya became a goodwill envoy for the Russian Federation on behalf of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an agency to combat human trafficking. She’s been bequeathed with honors and endorsement deals from Avon, from a custom perfumier, from MuzTV and MTV Russia. She was awarded the title of “Honoured Artiste of Russia” by Putin, and has been cited by Forbes magazine as one of the 50 most highly-paid people in movie, sport, literature and music.

All this to say her platform and audience is immense, and the Russian government is using her star power to their full advantage.

During Newsnight Valeriya continued, “I have a lot of friends who belong to gay society, and they do not support their unisexual marriages. They would never take part in gay parades. They’re just normal people. They do their business…. are still working on TV, the media. I don’t know why it happened to you [Anton].”

But of course, the “friends” are not out—or as Anton Krasovsky put it, they are not “open gays.”

To watch the full video, visit the YouTube link below.

BBC News – What gay ‘propaganda’ vote tells us about Russia Today:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-KfROu8AaU

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Connect with Anton Krasovsky at @krasovkin and share your thoughts with BBC Newsnight @BBCNewsnight.

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Protests Against Russian and Its Olympics Opening Dialogues About Its LGBT Community

After many years of protesting by the small but active lgbtq activist community, the international community is finally taking notice of human rights abuses and homophobic laws and prejudices rampant in the chilly country. A lot of it has to do with momentum around the Olympics, and the potential effects (or not) that protests will have.

A Kremlin-supported law passed Russia’s parliament, and was then signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, back in June that placed a ban on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” with jail time and harsh fines. In the view of the Orthodox Church, this is meant to promote traditional family structures and spur “Western European” advances into Russia, but to many others it seems intended to continue fostering a hostile atmosphere for lgbt people within the country. While police—not to mention the native population—already target queer individuals, this is another way for government forces to overcome its dissenters with swift police action.

Recognizing this public injustice, what started out as a small demonstration of protest has sparked nation-wide activity here in the United States and abroad to the United Kingdom boycotting one of the few Russian exports: Vodka.

It started when activist and author Dan Savage called for gay bars and supporters to boycott Russian vodkas, specifically the most prominently known Stolichnaya, or Stoli, Vodka. Since then, bars in West Hollywood, Chicago, NYC, and elsewhere have pulled Stoli from their shelves, dumped it into the streets, and are refusing to sell any more until the political situation changes abroad.

A statement was issued by the CEO of Stoli, Val Mendeleev, who reiterates that the company “has always been, and continues to be a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community”  and cites initiatives and projects that partner with the queer community, like being the official vodka of Miami Pride and it’s “Be Real: Stories from Queer America” documentary series. Further, Mendeleev cites that the vodka sold in the U.S. is owned by SPI Group, based in Luxembourg, and while it does use some Russian ingredients, it also has distilleries in Latvia, and has been in disputes with the Russian government over brand ownership for years.

Another who argues against the protest is foremost Russian lgbt activist Nikolai Alekseev, who asks “what is the aim of this boycott?” “To be honest, I don’t see the point in boycotting the Russian vodka,” Aleksev continues. “It will [not] impact anyone except the companies involved a little bit. The effect will die out very fast, it will not last forever.” Rather than this economic protest, Alekseev sees a more useful pressure placed on lawmakers and political leadership who supports anti-lgbt measures.

Vodka may not be your drink of choice, so a better protest for you might be the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Controversy began after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was reviewing allegations that queer athletes and tourists in the country for the games would be targeted because of the new law. After receiving assurances from the government that this would not be true, the response from the Russian government apparently flip-flopped, announcing that foreigners would be under the same scrutiny while in the country. Human Rights Campaign Vice President for Communications Fred Sainz said in response that “until there is formal action to repeal the law, it applies to everyone within Russian borders. It ought to be clear to the IOC that verbal assurance from nameless Russian officials will do nothing to protect LBGT Olympians, visitors, and personnel during the Sochi games.”

So another round of protests was announced, this one calling on athletes and governments to protest the event. U.S. groups have asked the country to not participate, and for athletes to not go in order to make a statement to the country.

However, several individuals and groups have spoken out against these methods, citing more effectiveness at dealing with issues at the Olympics than simply protesting.

The Russian LGBT Network, on their Facebook page tells lgbt supporters, “Do not boycott the Olympics—boycott homophobia!” by exercising their freedoms of expression and to not censor beliefs or actions just because of the actions of the government. To openly disagree with Russian policies would send a stronger message activists said. They point to the 1968 Olympic games where although many boycotted the event, all that is remembered is Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’ “human rights salute” on the podium to stand in solidarity for those fighting for equality and human rights.

Greg Louganis, one of the world’s greatest divers who also happens to be a gay man, spoke out against what a boycott would mean for Olympic athletes. “Boycotts hurt the wrong people, [the athletes.” He argues that it would be selfish of the queer community to disrupt such an important event for world athletics.

Doing his part in the activism, a gay speed skater from New Zealand, Blake Skjellerup, reports that he will be wearing a rainbow pin in the Sochi Games, and calls on others to do the same. “I have no interest in going back in the closet in Sochi… This is not about defiance, this is me standing up for what I believe in.” He agrees with Louganis, saying that “I think visibility is the best possible solution, as opposed to hiding away and not attending.”

Sochi 2014 Olympics Boycott? Greg Louganis: “Nyet!” Stephen Fry: “Da!”

The mounting controversy surrounding Russia’s widespread legal war against LGBTQ persons and allies continues to inspire people to speak out, worldwide. The loudest of these voices are LGBTQ people themselves.

Two notable and diametrically opposed viewpoints have emerged from the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively. Olympian athlete Greg Louganis and world renowned entertainer Stephen Fry, both two out gay men, are speaking up for themselves, in their own words, and taking a stand against anti-gay legislation in their own distinct ways.

Both men took to writing blog posts (Louganis writing exclusively for PolicyMic while Fry posted an open letter on his own blog), voicing their concerns and advocating for the rights of all LGBTQ people affected by the increasing strict, punitive climate in Russia.

Louganis’ post, “I’m An Openly Gay Gold Medalist and I Reject the Sochi Olympics Boycott,” (http://www.policymic.com/articles/58481/i-m-an-openly-gay-gold-medalist-and-i-reject-the-sochi-olympics-boycott) speaks from experience to Louganis’ concern for all the LGBTQ athletes, supporters, families, teammates, coaches and peers who went to great efforts in preparation for the 2014 games.

Though Putin and the Russian government has assured the public those traveling to Russia will not be penalized under the anti-gay laws, none of this is guaranteed. Still, many athletes such as Johnny Weir and Louganis plan to move forward in courage and support and attend the upcoming events.

Louganis’ blog post began, “As an openly gay Olympic four-time gold medalist, you might expect that I would be in favor of joining prominent LGBT activists in calling for America to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia. After all, Russia’s recently passed laws cracking down on gays and lesbians violate everything I’ve spent my career fighting for; namely, love and respect for all people.”

However, he continued, “Boycotting sends the wrong message and will only harm the hard-working athletes set to compete in the 2014 Olympics, not the Russian government itself. I know from personal experience. My first Olympics I won Silver at age 16, and then in 1980, at the height of my diving career, President Jimmy Carter opted to boycott the 1980 Olympics in Moscow as a method of protesting the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. The toll on fellow athletes and me was devastating. We had trained our entire lives for that one moment.”

To mirror his message of support, he encouraged readers to stand behind gay in-community role models and  athletes, and encouraged people to sign the All Out and Athlete Ally petition against Russia’s recent actions (http://gayagenda.com/lgbt-empowered-shaun-t-partners-up-with-athlete-ally).

Stephen Fry’s words were just as impassioned, his sentiments just as vehement:

In his post, “An Open Letter to David Cameron and the IOC,”  (http://www.stephenfry.com/2013/08/07/an-open-letter-to-david-cameron-and-the-ioc/single-page), Stephen Fry drove his points home by writing, “An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.”

As he too spoke from his own experience, Stephen Fry continued, “I am gay. I am a Jew. My mother lost over a dozen of her family to Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Every time in Russia (and it is constantly) a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian ‘correctively’ raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at seeing history repeat itself.“

Fry then ended his article by citing the IOC’s own rules, re-purposing them inclusively, in defense of LGBTQ rights. He ended his letter as follows:

“I especially appeal to you, Prime Minister, a man for whom I have the utmost respect. As the leader of a party I have for almost all of my life opposed and instinctively disliked, you showed a determined, passionate and clearly honest commitment to LGBT rights and helped push gay marriage through both houses of our parliament in the teeth of vehement opposition from so many of your own side. For that I will always admire you, whatever other differences may lie between us. In the end I believe you know when a thing is wrong or right. Please act on that instinct now.”

Additionally, entertainers such as actor Harvey Fierstein, George Takei, Dan Savage (http://gayagenda.com/dumpstoli-russias-anti-gay-bill-sparks-creative-boycott) and a growing number of public figures are making themselves heard. While everyone who’s come forth is voicing opposition to the anti-gay legislation in Russia, it seems like opinions run neck and neck: those who feel a boycott is futile or unfair for the Olympians seem to equal those who feel it is unconscionable to hold the event in Russia at all.

Have your say!

Click the following link to sign All Out / Athlete Ally’s petition speaking out against Russia’s anti-gay legislation https://www.allout.org/en/actions/russia-attacks or leave your comments below.