And here's what Gessen had to say a town hall meeting in New York City the night before:
Roughly 100 people, including many Russian and Eastern European emigres, gathered at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center to hear author and journalist Masha Gessen, who described the dire circumstances for LGBT Russians in Russia.
“We’re kind of past the point where silence can ever protect,” Gessen told the crowd during the August 21 meeting. “At this point, the more Russians know and the Kremlin knows that the world is watching, the safer we feel on the ground.”
And Russians and the Kremlin are watching and listening to the response that has swept around the globe since Russia enacted its anti-gay propaganda law in June. The law bans any pro-LGBT statement in public or private and on the Internet. With the law, Russia has effectively criminalized being out of the closet or supporting the LGBT community.
“One of the best moments of my time was when I was in my car 10 days ago in Moscow and I turned on the radio and they were talking about the vodka boycott on every radio station,” Gessen said. “That is getting media attention. It was really, really amazing, Suddenly we’d been granted visibility that we hadn’t had in years.”
In other developments: the day after declaring that Olympic athletes and visitors would face arrest for violating Russia's laws against "gay propaganda"—and that there was nothing discriminatory about these laws because gays and straights would arrested equally—today Vladamir Putin issued a "terror decree" banning public meetings, marches, rallies and protests during the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Says John at Americablog:
And there’s an even greater headache now for the International Olympic Committee: Any violation of Russia’s draconian anti-gay “propaganda” law during the Sochi Olympics is now a violation of a Russian anti-terrorism decree. That would seem to raise the crime of being openly gay to an entirely new and dangerous level: An act of terrorism. And what exactly is the price one pays for violating anti-terror decrees in Russia? Our Olympians may soon find out.
This double standard, whereby the IAAF or the IOC awards major sporting events to nations with gross human rights violations in defiance of their own charters, and then mandates that athletes to shut up and behave like nothing's happening—so long as they don't see any LGBT people being beaten bloody, arrested, or tortured within the stadium walls—has begun to wear thin. There are simply too many athletes challenging it, too many public figures opposing it, and too many corporate sponsors and world leaders becoming increasingly anxious about the possibility of winding up on the wrong side of history.
People of good conscience have already begun turning down invitations to visit Russia. Earlier this week, Wentworth Miller, the star of Prison Break, came out while declining an invitation to the St Petersburg international film festival, saying he could not "participate in a celebratory occasion hosted by a country where people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly." The Miss Universe Pageant may be trying to pull an NBC and have it both ways—saying that they object to the laws, yet refusing to change their venue—but their equivocating is lost in the dust of co-host Andy Cohen's brave refusal to play the game. Cohen released a statement that he "didn't feel right stepping foot into Russia as a gay man."