Acting as an unofficial ambassador for the world’s LGBT community, Elton John has expressed serious interest in talking openly with Russian leader Vladimir Putin about the country’s anti-gay legislation and attitude. John used his recent concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg as platforms to condemn Russia’s laws. But John is doing more than speaking about the unfairness of Russia’s legislation: he is also dispelling cultural stereotypes by showing people that his homosexuality poses no threat to anyone.
Russia passed a law in 2013 that illegalizes equating gay marriages with straight ones and that also prohibits the distribution of gay rights materials. But as we have seen with the United States, where the debate about same-sex marriage has been long and tumultuous, cultural attitudes can change. A brief submitted to the Supreme Court by Ken Mehlman states that its amici curiae “do not believe there is a legitimate, fact-based justification for excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage.”
John understands that his mission to change Putin’s mind may be impossible, though he believes it is worth the risk of failure to try to communicate with Putin. “At least if I meet him and say, ‘Listen, come on, let’s have a cup of tea, let’s talk about this’, [Putin] might laugh behind my back and then he shuts the door and calls me an absolute idiot, but at least I can have a conscience and say I’d tried,” John said.
But John does more than speak out against unfair legislation. His presence, physical or via media, gives a real human face to what the Russian government only wishes it could outlaw. Research suggests that anti-gay attitudes improve when a person actually knows someone who is gay. Though the statistics from this Gallup poll are from 2009, those numbers have improved in the years since. Young people, who tend to be strongly in favor of same-sex marriage, have now reached voting age, shifting the numbers further in favor of LGBT rights.
A section from the aforementioned brief writes that the amici curiae found that “the arguments presented by proponents of such initiatives have been discredited by social science, rejected by courts, and contradicted by amici’s personal experience with same-sex couples, including those whose civil marriages have been legally performed and recognized in various States.”
Visibility of LGBT issues is necessary for changes to be instituted at the federal level—and change is always possible, even when it is slow in coming.
John has taken to Instagram and spoken with the BBC, expressing dismay and concern about Russia’s laws. He has also resisted a boycott of Russia, saying that he will continue to play concerts there so the nation’s LGBT people won’t feel alone or isolated. Russian media, and media in general, need more LGBT faces and voices to help dismantle anti-gay laws and agendas around the world.
The realization that gay people aren’t there but here will help promote positively-changing views, and even if Elton John never gets to speak to Putin, his work is already powerful.