Discovery is the best part of travel, and when every corner yields a new hidden oasis, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. Join Bob Devin Jones as he shows us why St. Petersburg, Florida is a haven for artists, foodies, and explorers alike.
The Human Rights Campaign is donating an additional $40,000 to Russia Freedom Fund after an initial donation of $100,000 the organization made in December. The donation is the sum of all donations made to the “Love Conquers Hate” campaign that worked to raise awareness about the Russian government’s discriminatory anti-gay propaganda law. “The Russian government’s hateful campaign against its own people has been exposed and the world is watching,” said Ty Cobb, director of HRC’s Global Engagement Program. “The Sochi Olympic Games shined the spotlight on Russia’s horrific and dangerous anti-LGBT law, but with the Olympics over, we can’t leave LGBT Russians behind.”
With the Olympics a little over a month away, the Human Rights Campaign has pledged a sizeable donation hoping to support and inspire the LGBT community in Russia during the holiday season and into the New Year. The $100,000 announcement is featured in a video holiday card to the Russian LGBT community, compiling support and solidarity for their cause across social media. The video is set to singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson’s song “Blood Brothers.” The impressive donation is the result of hundreds of individual donations from the “Love Conquers Hate” campaign and will go to Freedom Fund. The campaign has been bolstered by participation from a diverse group of prominent celebrities, athletes and politicians with Matt Damon, Robin Thicke and Sarah Silverman joining the campaign this week.
“With less than two months until the Sochi Olympic Games, it’s time to harness the tidal wave of support for Russia’s LGBT community emerging around the world,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Now more than ever, we must expose the Russian government’s hateful campaign against its own people and support LGBT Russians enduring oppression and violence every day.”
Russia’s highest court ruled that the law banning gay propaganda throughout the country does not violate Russia’s constitution. The law was challenged by Nikolai Alexeyev, a gay-rights activist, who demanded that the St. Petersburg City Council be held accountable for acting unconstitutionally when they passed their anti-gay propaganda law. According to IndRus: “Alexeyev had asked the court to rule that the law was based on prejudice and permitted discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation. But the judges concluded that the Constitution obliged the State to protect motherhood, childhood and family.” Legislators therefore acted within their means to “take measures to protect children from information, propaganda and campaigns that can harm their health and moral and spiritual development”.
Several people sought medical attention this weekend after vigilantes allegedly used poisonous gas against a crowd at a popular gay club in Moscow, Russia. On Saturday night, attackers unleashed poisonous gas against the 500 revelers who were quickly escorted outside of the popular club Central Station while smoke removal machines cleared the air. The club’s general director, Andrey Leschinsky, told LifeNews that the attackers “are trying to express their extremist views against the LGBT community, which likes to visit our club.” So far there are no suspects in the crime. “Today is the fourth provocation against the club arranged by unknown persons. We believe that they are connected with the building owner,” says Leschinsky. Last week, a gunman opened fire, thankfully no one was killed. [GSN]
Atlantis Cruises’ scenic 7-day Baltic European cruise, a favorite among veteran gay cruisers, will return next summer, setting sail from Copenhagen on July 20. The luxurious ship will stop in several of northern Europe’s most captivating cities along the way, but there’s one country the it won’t be returning to—Russia.
The hostile homophobia and anti-gay legislation of the current Putin regime has driven the cruise line to avoid the culturally rich city of St. Petersburg, a formerly popular port-of-call on the Baltic cruise’s itinerary. CEO Richard Campbell announced the boycott at a VIP alumni reception, Jim Windsor reports. In his announcement, Campell explained that while the residents of St. Petersburg had always been welcoming in the past, the national anti-gay attitude in Russia is intolerable. Campell hopes that the economic consequences of the boycott will in a small way help pressure the regime to change its ways.
While Cher refuses to perform in Russia and Elton John feels morally obligated to perform in Russia, one teen sensation has remained mum about her two upcoming performances. Selena Gomez, who is set to highlight two concerts in both Moscow and St. Petersburg next week, hasn’t spoken about her two upcoming concerts or if she plans to pull a Madonna and speak up for the gay and lesbian community there. The petition was launched by John Gomez, a fan, LGBT-rights activist, and blogger, who writes: “Singer Selena Gomez is a talented, award-winning pop superstar with a Top 10 album and multiple hit singles under her belt, as well as a worldwide following of devoted fans. By speaking out, Selena can let LGBT folks in Russia know that we stand with them.”
If you think the “Come and Get It” singer should take action against Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws, click here to sign.
UPDATE: The Russian government refused to give Gomez a visa. According to the Moscow Times:
U.S. pop star Selena Gomez has been forced to cancel two concerts in Russia after indirectly falling victim to Russia’s anti-gay law, concert organizers said Thursday.
Gomez failed to secure a Russian visa after the government tightened the visa regime for foreign musicians in response to Madonna’s and Lady Gaga’s decisions to openly support gays during their shows in Russia last year, the organizers told RIA Novosti.
Two-time Olympic gold-medal winner Seth Wescott spoke out on Wednesday criticizing the International Olympic Committee for selecting and sticking with hosting the Olympic Games in Sochi Russia. The snowboarder first thinks that Sochi hasn’t proven itself capable of holding the Olympics, infrastructure wise, and also feels that their anti-gay laws are a violation of human rights. “The human rights stuff that’s going on, there’s a potential for it to be an incredibly negatively overshadowed Olympics,” he told The Associated Press. Wescott continues by saying that he has female friends in the sport who are lesbians: “They’re wonderful human beings, and I think for them to be discriminated against is a crime,” he said. “They should be able to be who they are and compete proudly. They represent our country incredibly well and they don’t need to be the object of that kind of criticism and negativity.” [ESPN]
LGBT activists have been invited to meet with President Barack Obama during this week’s G20 conference in St. Petersburg, Russia. So far, two groups have been approached to attend the meeting LGBT Network and Coming Out, though the latter is still unsure whether or not to accept the invitation. According to the AP: “The White House would not comment on the meeting. However, Obama has frequently met with civil society groups when traveling abroad. In 2009, he met with a group of Russian rights activists while visiting Russia, but members of the LGBT community were not present then.”
A Russian artist who caused a stir this week in Russia by painting President Putin in lingerie has fled the country after the government seized his work and threatened him with arrest. On August 26, the police confiscated several of Konstantin Altunin’s works that were political satires of the President along with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and those that passed the anti-gay propaganda laws. While Altunin defended his work as artistic freedom and free speech, he said the response from Russian authorities has been “very unpleasant and very ugly.” The organizers of the exhibit were soon arrested after the police seized the artwork. “The organizers have been arrested, although they have nothing to do with this as it is I who is to blame,” Altunin said. “They detained them until 3 o’clock at night, then took them to a police station. There was a young woman among them and they were practically bullying her. What is this?”
Today, in a telephone interview, Altunin confirms that he has fled the country and is now seeking asylum in France. “Today, I appealed to the French prefecture in Paris because I have no other [option]. I would gladly get [local residence and work permits] so that I can be useful to France and to work and pay taxes,” he said. “But now, I am forced to request political asylum because I fled very quickly without luggage or money.” [RFERL]