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Elton John Defends Russia Visit, Speaking for LGBT Rights

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Wednesday Dec 11, 2013

Elton John came under fire initially when he announced that he would perform in Russia, just a few months before the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The pop star, who spoke out for LGBT rights during his show, further explained why he went to Russia in a statement posted to the Elton John Foundation website on Wednesday.

"There was a lot of speculation about whether I would go to Russia this year. Many people outside the country thought I should boycott Russia because of its new homophobic legislation," the statement reads. "Others said I must go to challenge the government. I decided in the end to be guided by what the Russian people wanted me to do.

"The message, from even the most marginalised Russian groups we work with at the Elton John AIDS Foundation, was 'please come,'" he continued. "If you don't come, AIDS workers and LGBT activists told us, we will feel isolated. We will miss having your voice in our debate. It might be interpreted that you don't care. Or we may be blamed for keeping you away."

"In Moscow I spent hours with gay activists, Federal doctors, human rights lawyers and people living with HIV," John said. "They told me that since the new legislation has been adopted it's getting harder and harder to deliver basic HIV information or healthcare to gay men for fear of seeming to 'promote' homosexuality, which is against the law. Gay people lie even to their children about their sexuality, in case it jeopardises their families."

The singer went on to explain that he made a statement to concertgoers during his show in Russia, saying he was "sad" and shocked about the country's highly controversial "homosexual propaganda" law.

"A young woman with a rainbow banner cheered," John continued. "I realised then, with thousands of Russians cheering for a man they knew to be gay, that I had made the right decision. I believe the Russian people are decent and will be persuaded - but they need to hear us, and see we are human. They can't do that from a distance of two thousand miles."

The singer mentioned how several singers refused to go to Russia, including Cher, but said, "But I say to my friends - we all owe our freedoms to people who took risks with their safety for us, and faced far greater dangers than those confronting a Western artist in Russia. Freedom is worth taking a risk for. Saving people from HIV is worth taking a risk for, and there is nothing that fuels the AIDS epidemic more effectively than stigma and isolation."

The singer also urged fans and others not to boycott the Winter Olympics, which will take place in Sochi in February.

"As the Winter Olympics approaches, I know lots of sportsmen and artists are facing the same choice that I faced," he said. "I realise not everyone will share my view. But personally I hope and pray that prominent people will go to Russia and challenge the wrong thinking of this law. It breeds isolation, mistrust and hate, and cannot be how Russia wants to be known by the world."

When John performed in Moscow on Dec. 6, the singer condemned the country's anti-gay law, which put him at risk for fines under the same law he was speaking against. He also dedicated the show to Vladislav Tornovoi, a 23-year-old man who was brutally raped and murdered by acquaintances for being gay.

"I have something to say," he said during his show. "I have always loved coming here, coming to this country, ever since I first played here in 1979. I love Russia - I love its art and its culture. But most of all, I love you, the people. You took me to your hearts all those years ago, and you have always welcomed me with warmth and open arms every time I have visited. You have always embraced me, and you have never judged me.

"So I am deeply saddened and shocked over the current legislation that is now in place against the LGBT community here in Russia. In my opinion, it is inhumane and it is isolating."


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