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Elton John. Photograph by David Shankbone.
On December 6, 2013, in a sold-out concert hall in Moscow, Elton John defied the Russian law prohibiting "gay propaganda." He denounced the legislation itself, calling it inhumane and isolating, and dedicated the concert to Vladislav Tornovoi, a 23-year-old gay man who was murdered earlier this year in Volgograd, one of many victims of the anti-gay pogrom currently underway in Russia.
John told the audience, "You took me to your hearts all these years ago and you've always welcomed me with warmth and open arms any time I've 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. People have demanded that because of this legislation, I must not come here to Russia. But many, many more people asked me to come and I listened to them. I love coming here."
He added, "I want to show them and the world that I care and that I don't believe in isolating people. Music is a very powerful thing. It brings people together irrespective of their age, their race, their sexuality, or their religion. It does not discriminate. Look around you tonight. You see men, women, young and old, gay and straight. Thousands of Russian people enjoying the music. We're all here together in harmony and harmony is what makes a happy family and a strong society."
He concluded, "The spirit we share tonight is what builds a future of equality, love and compassion for my children and for your children. Please don't leave it behind when you leave tonight. Each and every one of you please, keep this spirit in your life and in your heart. I wish you love and peace and health and happiness. And this show is dedicated to the memory of Vladislav Tornovoi." (Thanks to Joe Jervis of Joe.My.God blog for the transcription.)
Although John had been advised not to perform in Russia because of fears that he might be arrested for violating the "propaganda" law, he told the Guardian in September that he felt an obligation to perform in Russia.
"There's two avenues of thought: do you stop everyone going, ban all the artists coming in from Russia? But then you're really leaving the men and women who are gay and suffering under the anti-gay laws in an isolated situation. As a gay man, I can't leave those people on their own without going over there and supporting them. I don't know what's going to happen, but I've got to go."
As PinkNews reported in September, several Russian homophobic groups called upon the authorities to ban John's concert, saying that allowing the pop icon to perform would make a "mockery" of the country's anti-gay laws.
For example, Yuri Ageshchev, the leader of a religious fundamentalist group, said, "The statement by this gay guy--Elton John--about his support for gays and other perverts during the upcoming concert in Moscow is an insult to all Russian citizens."
"It also makes a mockery of our recently enacted law against the public propaganda of gay ideas," he said.
A separate group of conservative activists, the Ural Parents Committee, directly petitioned President Vladimir Putin to ban the concerts.
Moreover,in a recent poll of Russians, 52% said that John's concert should be cancelled because it would be a violation of the "propaganda" law.
Despite these calls to cancel the concerts, they quickly sold out. John has a large number of fans in the country.
Opposition politician Ilya Yashin told the Guardian that the mixed reception John is likely to receive is symbolic of a cultural confusion in Russia.
"Once again we'll feel ashamed of wild ultra-Orthodox activists protesting against his visit, but I hope Sir Elton John won't notice their homophobic hysterics," Yashin said. "It's a kind of national schizophrenia: on the one hand Russia is trying to create a sort of Orthodox Iran here, but at the same time we feel eager to fill up stadiums with Madonna or Elton John fans."
Some gay activists also expressed doubt about the wisdom of John performing in Russia, especially when he said at one point that he would not discuss the anti-gay legislation specifically.
However, the fact that he denounced the law so directly and has allied himself so publicly with Russia's beleaguered glbtq community has undoubtedly defused any criticism from activists.
Below is a video of John delivering his statement at the concert.