Karen Ocamb reports that MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts has agreed to host next months’ Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, Russia.
Roberts is openly gay. His decision to host the pageant in a country that’s in the midst of a draconian crackdown on gay and trans people raised more than a few eyebrows. Especially since the other man that was reportedly going to host it, Bravo’s Andy Cohen – who is also gay – backed out because of Russia’s anti-gay pogrom.
Russia is not a terribly friendly place for gay people. And things have only gone downhill once Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies in the Russian legislature enacted legislation making it illegal to “promote” homosexuality in any way that could affect children, which basically means doing, or saying, anything perceived as pro-gay, outside of a very deep closet, can land you in jail. (In fact, the problem of homophobia the oppression of minorities goes far beyond Putin and his allies – the Russian Duma voted unanimously, 436-0, to pass the anti-gay “propaganda” ban this year.)
Even being openly-gay under the wrong circumstances could be considered a crime.
Things have gotten so bad that an international coalition of activists, including me, have launched a series of campaigns targeting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The activists are also targeting top Putin supporters as they travel the world.
It’s in that climate that MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts has accepted his invitation to Moscow.
Now, I’m not one who thinks that you can never make a powerful statement in person, and that the only way you can influence something, or someone, is through a boycott. No. You can make one hell of a statement in person, if you make the right statement.
The problem is that it’s not yet clear what statement Roberts plans on making.
Courage is contagious. I have felt that way since coming out publicly in 2006. I’ve never regretted it.
This November, I will co-host Miss Universe in Moscow partly because it is a huge, visible opportunity for LGBT people. Everywhere….
I am just like millions of LGBT people around the world. We are good, regular, hard-working people who come from solid families. So when I heard there was a chance at this assignment I aggressively went after it. Lo and behold, the Miss Universe team, NBC Entertainment and the Trump team agreed and offered it to me…
We do them no favors by turning away now. We must be visible, we must show up, and, as Harvey Milk said, we must “give them hope.”
I go to prove there’s hope.
Visibility is generally a good thing, especially for gay people. But there is such a thing as the wrong kind of visibility. Any gay person visiting Russia risks legitimizing their regime, and I fear, their official homophobia.
People are quite literally dying in that country as a result of the climate of hate that Vladimir Putin has harnessed and fed. Putin would like nothing better than to point to Roberts, and Elton John, who will be performing in Russia soon, in order to say “see, two gay guys welcomed in Russia, who says we’re homophobic?” All the while, Putin’s police continue to crack down on any semblance of gayness, including, recently, investigating concerns that the rainbow flag of Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region might violate Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law. (Kremlin “experts” recently determined that it does not.)
It’s not enough just to show up.
Clarence Thomas shows up.
So does Alan Keyes.
And Allen West.
Yet, the Republican party has not become any more concerned about African-Americans. The GOP does, however, have a few more token faces to wave at Independent voters to convince Indies of how welcoming the Republican party is to minorities.
One would also be at pains to argue that the presence of Ann Coulter, or Phyllis Schlafly, in the Republican party has done anything to temper the GOP’s war on women. If anything, they’ve made it worse.
That’s not to argue that Thomas Roberts is the gay equivalent of Clarence Thomas or Ann Coulter, he most thankfully is not. But bigots love an exception to a rule, and are perfectly capable of loving you as an anomaly, while continuing to hate your brethren. It’s why people fawned over Liberace half a decade ago, clueless – or careless – that the gayest man on the planet was queerer than a three dollar bill.
Any gay person who travels to Russia in an official capacity risks becoming homophobia’s beard.
If Thomas Roberts thinks he can give gay Russians “hope,” then I’d implore him to do far more while he’s there than simply host the Miss Universe pageant and assume that everyone knows he’s gay and married to a man. The benefits of such a trip are still unclear, the risks however are not.