Madonna pledges to defy St Petersburg anti-gay law

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With only two days to go before the St Petersburg anti-gay law comes into effect, Madonna has vowed to defy the law during her Russian tour later this year.

Writing on her Facebook page yesterday, the queen of pop promised “to support the gay community and to give strength and inspiration to any one who is or feels oppressed.” Describing herself as a “freedom fighter,” she said she will “speak during (her) show about this ridiculous atrocity.”

Just two days earlier, the Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen had, in her blog for the New York Times, called for a boycott of St Petersburg, in response to the anti-gay measure legislated earlier this month. The writer had addressed Madonna by name, together with Mercedes-Benz and PepsiCo, the two companies that have signed up to be partners of the city’s economic forum.

Homosexuality was illegal in the Soviet Union, and while it was decriminalised in 1993, it was officially declassified as a mental disorder only six years later. Homophobic attitudes are widespread in Russia, especially in the United Russia to which Vladimir Putin belongs.

The new law, against which Madonna and Ms Gessen have spoken out, makes it an offence to engage in “the propaganda of male homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors,” the propaganda being defined as the “intentional and unregulated distribution in a publicly accessible manner of information that can harm the health or the process of moral and spiritual development of minors, including forming among them the false perception that traditional and non-traditional relationships are socially equal.” It also imposes heavy fines for any individuals or collectives that break the law, which comes into effect on March 24.

St Petersburg, the home town of Mr Putin, is not the first Russian city to enact such a legislation. Similar laws have already been established in Ryazan, Arkhangelsk and Kostroma regions. The mayor of St. Petersburg, Georgy Poltavchenko, and the author of the law, Vitaly Milonov, are both allies of Mr Putin, and have repeatedly banned gay rights marches from being held in the city. Mr Milonov has called homosexuals “perverts” and has suggested that they “target children” with their “propaganda.”

Nor is Madonna the first celebrity to speak out against the law. The actor and comedian, Stephen Fry, had expressed his outrage over the matter, describing the authors of the legislation in his tweet as “fantastical monsters.” Meanwhile, there have been growing calls in the US, Australia and Germany to ban both Messers Poltavchenko and Milonov from entering their countries. The European Parliament had further, in February, adopted a resolution denouncing the measure.

Gay rights activists in Russia itself do not seem to be on Madonna’s side. They have announced plans to protest during the singer’s concerts in Moscow and St Petersburg in August, against what they see as hypocrisy in her attitudes to gay rights. Madonna opened a high-end fitness centre in Moscow last year, called “Hard Candy”, which is 35,000 sq. feet in area and less than 600 metres from the Kremlin. She plans to open a third in St. Petersburg soon, her other gym, also the largest, being in Mexico City.

Speaking to the AFP, Yuri Gavrikov, head of St Petersburg branch of Gay Russia organisation, said: “In Russia, (pop-stars like Madonna) have fantastic earnings, and this allows them to forget about the problems of human rights.” He added that Madonna should boycott St Petersburg for her concert, in order for it to have any effect, for mere declarations of support alone at otherwise lucrative concerts meant nothing towards the advancement of gay rights.