The Miss Universe 2013 beauty pageant, as everybody is acutely aware, begins Saturday Nov. 9, at the Crocus City Hall at the Krasnogorsky District of Moscow, Russia. The momentous occasion is slated for broadcast at 9 p.m. EST on NBC, and will also be streamed by a number of online sites.
The run-up to the glamorous spectacle has gained considerable media attention, with an expectant public hedging their bets as to which contestant will be proclaimed this year’s Miss Universe. However, with the high-profile show being hosted in Russia, the contentious issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) rights has come to the fore, once more.
This time, the country has come under fire from US television host Thomas Roberts, who is set to co-host the Miss Universe final on NBC, alongside America’s Got Talent judge and former Spice Girl Melanie Brown.
Speaking to Agence France-Presse, the renowned French news agency, Roberts mulled over some of the difficulties that members of the LGBT community encounter in Russia:
“The Russian laws obviously are a dark time and a dark chapter in LGBT history here… They’re seeking a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist and meanwhile it causes new problems because it allows people to abuse and hurt and vilify the LGBT community under the guise of some propaganda law that’s just ridiculous.”
Roberts publicly announced his homosexuality at the annual convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, in Miami, Florida. He had originally informed a group of colleagues that he was gay, back in 1999, when living in Norfolk, Virginia.
During the interview, the host also described recent amendments to the law as the Russian government’s attempts to seek a solution to an issue that “doesn’t really exist.” He also expressed his belief that the new laws demonized the LGBT population and encouraged homophobia.
Roberts joins a long list of celebrities to have shown disapproval of the situation in Russia. Madonna, Lady Gaga, Wentworth Miller, Tilda Swinton and Steven Fry have all been staunch opponents of Russia’s anti-gay policies.
Roberts agreed to co-host the Miss Universe 2013 event when veteran co-host Andy Cohen, who is also gay, elected to abstain from the show’s proceedings. Cohen explained that he was no longer comfortable with travelling to Russia, as a consequence of the state of the legal system.
Russia and LGBT Rights
The Russian authorities decriminalized relations between individuals of the same-sex in 1993 and, a number of years later, homosexuality was declassified as a mental affliction. Inequality and discrimination against LGBT citizens still exists throughout much of Russia, however. Same-sex marriages and civil unions are strictly prohibited, whilst homosexual couples are not permitted to adopt children.
Russia has also been criticized by the international community for instituting a law that prohibits dissemination of “propaganda” that relates to non-traditional sexual relationships. The law was signed by President Vladimir Putin in June of this year, spurring calls from some Western activists for the 2014 Winter Olympics to be boycotted, as well as “vodka-dumping” practices to be enacted – a campaign where Russian vodka is boycotted from bars, restaurants and supermarkets.
A number of LGBT activists throughout the country are currently involved in coordinating public protests. Many remain concerned by the social and political implications of the new changes to Russian legislation. Speaking to CNN, LGBT activist Oleg Klyuenkov talked about how he perceived Moscow’s latest move:
“In practice, other social groups are permitted to express their problems but not LGBT people. And that is discrimination. They are not equal when it comes to their right to freedom of expression.”
Meanwhile, it appears the changes have sparked new cases of hate crime across the country. According to Huffington Post, the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance (SHRA) recently claimed that a Russian ultranationalist had launched a campaign to identify and report pedophiles. However, this movement is alleged to also involve luring male teenagers, who respond to same-sex love agency advertisements, into traps. They then begin setting about bullying and torturing the duped youngsters, with the incidents recorded and subsequently uploaded to the Internet.
The New York Times reports that 88 percent of Russians support the gay propaganda ban, following a recent poll conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Center. A similar survey, performed by the Levada Center, found that 35 percent of Russians considered homosexual orientation a disease, whilst 43 percent thought it to be a bad habit.
Russian authorities indicate that the criticism is unjustified and erroneous. Putin has also recently defended the new ruling:
“This is not about imposing any kind of sanctions against homosexuality. This is about protecting children… The law does not in any way infringe on the rights of sexual minorities. They are full-fledged members of our society and are not being discriminated against in any way.”
The Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko vehemently asserts that the controversy surrounding the anti-gay propaganda law is an issue that was merely “invented” by the Western media. He went on to explain that Russian society does not discriminate against any citizen and the changes were designed to protect vulnerable children:
“We want them to make their own decisions when they grow up.”
Meanwhile, Roberts defends his decision to attend the event, despite the ongoing controversies centering around Miss Universe 2013’s host country. Roberts states that he aims to send a positive message to gay people and offer his support to the LGBT community.
By James Fenner