Johnny Weir: ‘I’ve never had someone call me a fag in Russia’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Retired Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir is facing criticism from some LGBT campaigners in the US who have accused him of turning a blind eye to LGBT persecution in Russia.

A handful of activists from the group Queer Nation held a demonstration outside Barnard College in New York City on Monday evening where the 29-year-old was giving a speech.

Weir, who is gay and announced his retirement from skating in October, will be a commentator for NBC as part of its coverage of February’s Winter Olympics.

They are being held in the Russian city of Sochi.

“NBC has had the openly gay Johnny Weir, a former figure skater, and Thomas Roberts, the openly gay MSNBC anchor, make public comments that suggest that Russia’s anti-gay laws are not harming LGBT Russians,” said Duncan Osborne, a member of Queer Nation.

Weir reiterated his argument against boycotting the Winter Olympics and he dismissed this summer’s gay bar vodka boycotts as an example of “dumping vodka that’s made in Lithuania”. Aware of the protest to his speech, Weir branded the participants “idiots”.

“I support the athletes that are going to Sochi. I support the Olympics,” he said. “If I had to watch the US cave to idiots dumping vodka on the street…there are athletes who have given up years of their lives and thousands of dollars [to attend the games]. The minute I even heard the word boycott, I was almost anti-American in response to having to be so anti-Russian.”

“Just to piss Putin off isn’t enough reason for me not to send a team,” Weir said. “I firmly believe that our presence is helpful, whether that’s naive or not.”

President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill targeting “non-traditional” relationships earlier this year. 

It prescribes fines for providing information about homosexuality to people under the age of 18 – ranging from 4,000 roubles (£78) for an individual to 1m roubles (£19,620) for organisations.

Campaigners note that there has been an increase in violence and state persecution against LGBT people in Russia following the passing of the laws.

In an interview to Vocativ, Weir apologised for describing the legislation as merely a “no-anal-sex-in-front-of-children’s-libraries situation.”

Realising that his remarks appeared glib, Weir said: “I apologize, I misspeak, if I’ve offended anyone in this room, sometimes I make bad comparisons, so thanks for pointing that out,” he said.

“I never had a bad experience in Russia. I’ve never had someone call me a fag, or queer, or try to beat me up,” he said. “I’m very lucky that I’ve only seen the rosy side. I’ve only seen the golden side of Russian reality. I choose to see Russia in a very arrogant and selfish way, and only see the beautiful side of it.”