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On the Controversy Concerning Russian Gay Leader's U.S. Tour

GLN permalink 3-3-2011

On March 1st at Columbia University in New York, Nikolai Alekseev, Russia's foremost LGBT leader, finally directly addressed the controversy over the translated remarks he made on his blog in January (deleted a few weeks ago) that could understandably be interpreted as anti-Semitic, though he said that was not the intention of his original Russian language message.

The Gay Liberation Network does not tolerate hatred and discrimination against any group of people. For obvious reasons, it would be self-defeating for an organization like ours which focuses on winning LGBT rights to do so, especially since a key tenet of our direct action philosophy is solidarity politics: How can we expect to get the support of others if we don't lend others our support? Therefore we support the fight against oppression whether it comes packaged as anti-Palestinian racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, or a host of other social evils.

News of Alekseev's January remarks was released just before his U.S. tour began. This was no accident. A bitter, long-time opponent of Nikolai's, Scott Long, apparently waited until the news could do maximum damage, detract from the plight of Russian gays, and undermine Nikolai's credibility. When the controversy exploded, GLN organizers and others repeatedly urged Alekseev to directly address the remarks on his blog. But Nikolai, in a country not his own, uneasy and feeling himself smeared and besieged by angry demands for a retraction, at first stubbornly resisted, and so the controversy understandably escalated. By the time he offered a clarification of his remarks and an attempt at an apology, it was too late. The West Coast sponsors and organizers of Nikolai's tour, outraged almost as much at Nikolai's belligerent responses to them as his initial unwillingness to offer a statement and probably convinced he is a disguised anti-Semite, washed their hands of him and cancelled the West Coast portion of his tour.

Although we understand why these West Coast sponsors were disappointed in Nikolai, in a conference call we found that some of these same sponsors were themselves extremely belligerent and oblivious to the human rights crimes shown in their tacit support for Israel's support for the brutal, now-fallen dictatorship of Egypt's Hosni Mubarek, which was the issue that prompted Nikolai's original comment.

Who would win if Nikolai's tour was shut down? Would the beleaguered LGBTs across Russia win? Would the LGBT activists in Moscow, who will risk life and limb to exercise the basic right to assemble---would they win?

Nikolai Alekseev has now made several clarifying statements directly addressing the issue of anti-Semitism. Were they as timely as we would like? No. Did they contain everything we might have wished? No. The man is no saint, nor are any of us. He has made mistakes and he has compounded them with intransigence.

But his efforts in Russia to bring relief to his people have been heroic. Who among us in the United States would have been so courageous and resilient and, yes, stubborn, as to stand up to beatings by fascist thugs, police intimidation, harassment, and even kidnapping and come back for more of the same year after year?

GLN therefore elects to continue Nikolai Alekseev's tour in the United States.

Gay Liberation Network


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