The fallout from Russia’s two-month-old antigay law continued this week as thousands of people around the world pledged not to travel to Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.
Francesco Pascuzzi, who described himself as an openly gay lifelong pageant fan from Somerville, N.J., launched a Change.org petition this week calling on the Miss Universe Organization to relocate its Nov. 9 pageant from Moscow’s Crocus City Hall to a venue in a country safer for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travelers.
“I’ve loved pageants since I was a young boy, and I was taken aback to learn that Miss Universe would host its pageant in Russia this year,” Pascuzzi said. “It seems insensitive to bring an event that is supposed to be festive and joyous -- focused on celebrating different cultures and nations coming together -- to a country where LGBTQ citizens are being treated like criminals and brutalized day in, day out.”
Abby DePhillips, Miss Teen New Jersey 2013, signed on to the petition and commented: “Beauty queens should be looking towards the future. Allowing Russia to host Miss Universe 2013 pushes us back years and years! As Miss T.E.E.N. New Jersey, I believe the MUO needs to find a new location, preferably one with better laws and values.”
The Change.org petition had nearly 24,000 signatures as of Thursday morning, just shy of its goal of 25,000. In it, Pascuzzi argued that attending the event could potentially be unsafe for fans or employees who identify with the LGBT community.
Andy Cohen, the event’s co-host, agreed. He announced Wednesday night that he wouldn't return to the pageant this year due to safety concerns in Russia. The openly gay Bravo executive and host of the channel’s "Watch What Happens Live" nightly talk show has co-hosted the pageant the past two years.
Cohen told E News’ Giuliana Rancic, his fellow pageant host, that he had turned down the job because Russia’s “discriminatory policies make it unsafe for the gays who live there and gays coming to work or visit.”
“The law is that anyone under suspicion of homosexuality can be arrested,” he added. “[I] didn’t feel right as a gay man stepping foot into Russia.”
The Miss Universe pageant is a joint venture of real estate mogul Donald Trump and NBC Universal, which is scheduled to air the event in the United States. NBC Universal wasn't available to comment on Cohen’s departure or the proposed boycott at the time of publishing, nor was Trump, who came under fire last year for excluding a transgender woman from competing in the Miss Universe Canada pageant.
Russia passed a law in June that banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” and established steep fines for anyone equating the value of same-sex relationships with those between individuals of the opposite sex.
“The law is very vague,” Nina Long explained to International Business Times last month. Long is the co-president of New York-based RUSA LGBT, which spearheaded a campaign to boycott the 2014 Sochi Olympics after the safety of LGBT people in Russia “changed drastically.”
“You can be fined for [the law], and if you are a foreign citizen you can be detained for up to 15 days and deported. If you use media to communicate your ‘propaganda’ online or in a newspaper, these penalties can be significantly larger.”
Authorities detained, fined and deported four Dutch tourists three weeks ago under the new rules after they filmed a forum at a Youth for Human Rights camp, despite having visas for “cultural relations.” Russia-based human rights group LGBT Network said the Dutch nationals could still face charges in court, which it said would be the first de facto legal application of the new law.
The Sochi Olympics has become the focal point of international outcry, with celebrities and human rights groups calling for an outright boycott unless Russia can assure the safety of all visitors, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Russia’s Interior Ministry, which controls the police force, confirmed on Monday that the country would indeed enforce its draconian antigay law during the Sochi Games. The head of Russia’s National Olympic Committee added, however, that “if a person does not put across his views in the presence of children, no measures against him can be taken.”
The International Olympic Committee offered a similar response, noting that the Olympics aren’t the place for “proactive political or religious demonstration” according to Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter. Human rights groups responded that this sends a message to all athletes and spectators to “stay in the closet or face the consequences.”
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...