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Anti-LGBT crackdown continues under Russia propaganda law

Masha Gessen, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade, GLIFAA

Masha Gessen relocated her family from Moscow to New York last December. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Russian LGBT rights advocates say rates of harassment and violence have increased over the last year since a law banning so-called gay propaganda to minors took effect.

Polina Andrianova of Coming Out, a St. Petersburg-based advocacy group, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during a Skype interview that she has been verbally accosted twice since President Vladimir Putin on June 29, 2013, signed the propaganda bill.

Andrianova said she is now afraid to hold her girlfriend’s hand in public.

“People just look at you differently,” she said. “Now they know that gays and lesbians exist, but unfortunately they also know that we are a danger to children and we’re a danger to traditional Russian values.”

Andrianova told the Blade that her organization installed security cameras in its offices last November after two masked men with air guns and baseball bats attacked gay and bisexual men who were attending a meeting at the St. Petersburg office of a Russian HIV/AIDS service organization. Bomb threats disrupted an LGBT film festival in the city a few weeks later that gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black attended.

Andrianova said people who were “clearly not members of the LGBT community” began to attend support group meetings and other events at Coming Out’s office after the attack at the HIV/AIDS group. She told the Blade they took pictures and videos and acted in “a weird way.”

“We are pretty sure that they were going to plan some provocations,” said Andrianova.

Andrianova said local authorities have also continued to target Coming Out for violating a 2012 law that requires groups that receive funding from outside Russia to register as a “foreign agent,” even though a St. Petersburg appellate judge last July overturned a lower court’s ruling that fined her organization more than $15,000.

“That has been taking a lot of our emotional, administrative, human resources to fight these court battles,” she said. “We might actually have to close down.”

Arrests of LGBT advocates persist after Olympics

Putin signed the propaganda law slightly more than six months before the 2014 Winter Olympics took place in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

Police in Moscow and St. Petersburg arrested more than a dozen activists who tried to stage two pro-LGBT protests hours before the opening ceremony. Elena Kostynchenko, one of the advocates who was arrested in Moscow, told the Blade during a telephone interview after her release that officers threatened to sexually assault her and another women while they were in custody.

Russian authorities detained Vladimir Luxuria, a transgender former Italian parliamentarian, twice during the Sochi games after she protested the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

This harassment has continued since the Olympics ended.

Venues that abruptly cancelled scheduled competitions and bomb threats disrupted the Russian Open Games that drew more than 300 LGBT athletes from Russia and other countries to Moscow a few weeks after the Sochi games.

Authorities on May 31 detained several people who took part in two LGBT rights demonstrations in Moscow. A four-day camp the Russian LGBT Sports Federation, which sponsored the Russian Open Games, took place outside the capital last month without incident.

Konstantin Yablotskiy, co-organizer of the Russian Open Games, told the Blade on Monday during a Skype interview from his Moscow apartment that the principal of the school where he teaches asked him to resign twice in April.

Yablotskiy refused, but he said that administrators continue to harass him.

“They probably think that just my personal example is showing the example of non-traditional family values,” Yablotskiy told the Blade. “I don’t see how my working duties are somehow devoted with my public activity.”

Administrators of an Arkangelsk university last month fired a lecturer who is a local LGBT rights advocate after he traveled to the U.S. last fall to discuss the Kremlin’s gay rights record. Yablotskiy told the Blade that a gay man who taught at a Vladivostok university recently resigned.

“He clearly understood that there would be no chance to prolong this contract,” he said.

LGBT Russians seek asylum in U.S.

The Kremlin’s ongoing LGBT rights crackdown has prompted many gay Russians to leave the country.

The former manager of a gay nightclub in Moscow that had been attacked several times late last year told the Blade during an interview in D.C. in January that he does not want to return to Russia because he feels his life will be threatened. George Budny, a gay doctor from St. Petersburg who also fled his homeland, said his mother told him to stay in the U.S. because of the propaganda law.

Vlad, a 17-year-old gay teenager from Sochi, arrived in New York on June 23.

He said before marching in New York’s annual Pride parade with a group of LGBT Russians that authorities are now targeting his friend, who is a gay rights advocate and supported a proposed boycott of the Olympics. Vlad — who told the Blade he plans to seek asylum in the U.S. — said officials are trying to force his friend into a mental hospital.

“Russia became more homophobic after the Olympic games,” he said.

Ivan and Aleksandr, a gay couple from Murmansk who has been together for seven years, moved to the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., last July. They applied for asylum in February with assistance from Immigration Equality.

Ivan told the Blade during an interview in Manhattan on Friday that Aleksandr was a well-known photographer in Murmansk when he came out on Twitter in February 2013. He said Aleksandr was attacked outside of their apartment after his message was reposted and screenshots of it appeared in local media.

Someone vandalized their car in May — and a burned vehicle was left in their parking space outside their apartment building two weeks later. The couple was also afraid to hold hands or kiss each other in public before they left Murmansk.

Ivan, who married Aleksandr at New York City Hall last October, said someone in Murmansk took pictures of their wedding that his husband posted onto Facebook and wrote a blog post about it. He said there were a lot of “bad comments” under the article.

“People were not friendly towards us and towards our relatives,” said Ivan. “We were scared not for ourselves because we were in a safe place at that moment here. We were scared for our families.”

Masha Gessen, a Russian journalist and prominent LGBT rights advocate, in December moved to New York with her family after a lawmaker proposed a bill that would allow the government to take children away from their gay and lesbian parents.

She told the Blade last week during a telephone interview that she did not allow her two oldest children to ride the Moscow subway alone before they left the country.

“We didn’t think that there was a very high risk of their being harassed or attacked, but there was a risk,” said Gessen. “When you’re talking about kids, that’s a totally unacceptable level of risk.”

Gessen criticizes advocates who ‘did nothing’ during Olympics

President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other American and European officials have repeatedly criticized Putin for signing the gay propaganda law over the last year.

The Kremlin’s LGBT rights record was among the factors that prompted Obama to cancel a meeting with Putin that had been scheduled to take place last September before the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. The White House in March announced the Russian lawmaker who introduced gay propaganda bill is among the seven officials who will face sanctions for their role in the escalating tensions between Moscow and Ukraine that include the annexation of Crimea.

David Pichler, a gay U.S. diver who competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics and 2000 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney, and two staffers from Human Rights First met with Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg and Sochi in February. Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, highlighted efforts in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause, while he was in the Black Sea resort city during the games.

The Human Rights Campaign has thus far contributed $140,000 to a fund designed to support Russian LGBT advocacy groups since Putin signed the propaganda law. The organization also continues to work with the Russian LGBT Network.

Singer Elton John last December blasted the propaganda law during a Moscow concert that he dedicated to a man whom authorities said two men tortured and killed near Volgograd in May 2013 after he came out to them. Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts echoed John’s criticisms during a series of interviews before co-hosting the Miss Universe 2013 pageant that took place in the Russian capital last November.

Neither he nor co-host Mel B discussed the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the event’s broadcast.

Gessen, who spoke at last month’s Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies’ annual Pride event at the State Department, was more critical of activists who went to the Olympics and “did nothing” to highlight the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record than Roberts, whom she said “made his presence count.”

“Getting deported for being disruptive of Sochi would have been making your presence count,” she said. “Issuing a couple of press statements among the thousands of press statements that the press corps got there is a waste of money and time.”

Gessen said during the GLIFAA Pride event that she would like to see the U.S. impose sanctions against those in Russia and other countries who violate LGBT rights — similar to the travel bans against Ugandan officials the White House announced on June 20 as part of its response to the draconian anti-gay law that President Yoweri Museveni signed earlier this year. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.); gay journalist Jamie Kirchick and Larry Poltavtsev of Spectrum Human Rights, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBT Russians, are among those who have urged Obama to use a 2012 law that freezes the assets of Russian citizens and officials directly responsible for human rights violations to punish those behind the Kremlin’s ongoing LGBT rights crackdown.

Gessen told the Blade that multinational companies that do not offer the same benefits to their LGBT employees in Russia and other countries that their U.S. counterparts receive should not “be landing” on the HRC Corporate Equality Index.

“It can make the difference between life and death for their LGBT employees in other countries,” she told the Blade. “HRC’s approach to measuring this is inadequate.”

Deena Fidas, director of the HRC Workplace Equality Program, told the Blade on Tuesday her organization in 2015 will evaluate “all businesses with global operations” based on whether LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies are consistent with their employees in the U.S. and abroad.

“We foster trusting relationships with major employees of all stripes, but do not rely on trust alone to validate our information,” she said.

Russia, Ukraine, New York City Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT Russians and others from Ukraine and other former Soviet republics march in the New York Pride parade on June 29, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)


El Paso gets new LGBT community center

OUTright Center, Elton John, David Furnish, gay news, Washington Blade

The OUTright Center space was made possible by a donation from the Elton John AIDS Foundation. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

EL PASO, Texas — The new OUTright Center, an LGBT community space made possible from a $50,000 donation from the Elton John AIDS  Foundation, has opened in El Paso, Texas, the El Paso Times reports.

The gift helped the International AIDS Empowerment agency, which has served the HIV community here for years, open the site.

The center will have a pharmacy and doctor’s space to see patients, a fitness room, an LGBT library and social activities geared toward gay youth. Desert View United Church of Christ also will have services on Sundays at the center, the Times notes.

The International AIDS Empowerment has been offering testing and other social services for the HIV/AIDS community since 1997. Those services include housing opportunities for people with AIDS, the Times article said.

The building, which has two floors, will have plenty of space to gut out a small kitchen and create a space for two exam rooms. Skip Rosenthal, Empowerment director, is working with two medical residents from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center who are interested in seeing patients at the center.

Ultimately, Rosenthal is hoping to create a comfortable place for the LGBT community as well as have visibility in the El Paso community, the Times reports.


‘Old age isn’t for sissies’

senior citizens, seniors, LGBT seniors, gay news, Washington Blade, life expectancy

As we age, we hope that the government, along with our community, will be there for us. (Photo by Bigstock)

Old age isn’t for sissies, queer icon Bette Davis famously said.

Lately, as a lesbian and a boomer, I’ve wondered about this. Earlier this month, like many of my generation, I recalled a milestone of my youth. Fifty years ago on Feb. 9, 1964, the Beatles, in a moment that transformed our culture, appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Then, our parents were aghast over the Beatles’ unkempt hair (it went below their ears!) and the subversive tilt of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Recently, watching Paul McCartney, 71, on the piano and Ringo Starr, 73, on the drums on “Hey Jude” on CBS’s “The Beatles: The Night That Changed America – A Grammy Salute,” I thought: we boomers may not be, as Bob Dylan sang “forever young,” but getting old looks damned good. At least if you’re Paul or Ringo.

Straight people aren’t the only ones leading fab lives as they age. LGBT boomers and elders are going strong from singer and musician Elton John, 66, to tennis and gay rights icon Billie Jean King, 70, to newly out TV morning show co-host Robin Roberts, 53. Ellen DeGeneres, 53, will host the Oscars next month and actor Ian McKellen, 74, is appearing in “Waiting for Godot” and “No Man’s Land” on Broadway.

For many of us who aren’t celebs, old age isn’t the misery that it was for our grandparents.  Fifty-something, 60-plus or even 70 are far different for most of us, with our Smart Phones, gym workouts and online dating, than for our grandparents. Thanks to better health care, we’re living longer and more productively.

Half a century after Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, far fewer elders live in poverty, according to a recent Akron Beacon Journal analysis of Census data. Fifty years ago, according to the Beacon’s analysis, 27 percent of seniors lived below the poverty line. Today, nine percent of elders live in poverty, the Beacon reported earlier this month. While the poverty rate among seniors has declined, the population of people over 65 in the United States has doubled to 40.8 million.

Why has the poverty rate so dramatically decreased among seniors? Not surprisingly, experts on aging told the Beacon Journal: because of Social Security, Medicare, pensions and 401k programs. “That is a success story,” Harvey Sterns, director of the Institute for Life-Span Development and Gerontology at the University of Akron told the Journal.

Despite this apparent good news, I can’t help but wonder: Are things that wonderful for seniors – especially for LGBT elders? Americans worry (only 26 percent) far less about getting old than people in other countries according to “Attitudes About Aging: A Global Perspective,” a report released by the Pew Research Center last month. I worry about this – especially one finding from the report. “In only four countries–South Korea, the U.S., Germany and Britain–do more than one-third of the public say that the primary responsibility for the economic well-being of people in their old age rests with the elderly themselves.”

This finding is scary, especially for LGBT elders. The social safety net, which had its beginnings in the New Deal, has kept many seniors from living in poverty. Yet, even with Social Security, numbers of elderly in the LGBT community live in or near poverty. Medical expenses (not paid for by Medicare of Medicaid), housing and other expenses keep LGBT seniors below the poverty line. Some were unable to find work in their earlier lives due to homophobia. Ageism within the queer community contributes to their hardship.

In an age of partisan politics and budget cuts, it’s frightening to think that the social safety net in place for elders could be diminished. Most of us want to be independent. We don’t want government to solve all our problems. Yet as we age, we hope that the government, along with our community, will be there for us.


Calendar: March 14-20

Hump Film Festival, calendar, gay news, Washington Blade

A still from one of the films to be screened next week as part of the Dan Savage ‘Hump’ Film Festival at Woolly Mammoth. (Still courtesy Justin Morrison and Kelly O.)

Calendar for LGBT D.C. for the week ahead.

Friday, March 14


Bachelor’s Mill (1104 8th St., S.E.) holds a happy hour from 5-7:30 p.m. tonight with all drinks half price. Enjoy pool, video games and cards. Admission is $5 after 9 p.m. Must be 21 and over. For more details, visit

Cobalt (1639 R St., N.W.) hosts free vodka Friday tonight from 9 p.m.-3 a.m. Free rail vodka 11 p.m.-midnight. Two DJs on two floors. Cover is $10. Admission is limited to guests 21 and over. For more information, visit


Saturday, March 15


The Latino Queer Bilingual Writing Group hosts its monthly workshop today at the D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W.) from 12:30-2:30 p.m. The focus will be on memoirs. Open to writers of any genre and levels of experience to share creative work in Spanish or English. Workshop is free and no prior experience is necessary. For details, call 202-682-2245 or email

Young Artists of America perform an orchestrated version of Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown’s “Songs for a New World” at Winston Churchill High School (11300 Gainsborough Rd., Potomac, Md.) tonight at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. For details, visit

Mr. D.C. Eagle 2014 hosts “Leather Invasion: 17th Street N.W.,” a St. Patrick’s Day weekend bar-crawl. The crawl begins at the Duplex Diner (2004 18th St., N.W.) at 7:30 p.m. and ends at Green Lantern (1335 Green Ct., N.W.) at 12:30 a.m. for the “Bears Can Dance” party, Jell-O shots and a price raffle. Money will be raised for SMYAL.

GLBT Outreach and Engagement (GLOE) hosts “Masquerade and Mischief: Purim Drag Ball” at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center (1529 16th St., N.W.) tonight from 8:30 p.m.-midnight. There will be a drag performance by Ms. Hilda Seaview and an amateur drag/costume parade and contest with prizes. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. There is a free open bar for anyone who comes in costume. Food and desserts are included. Admission limited to guests 21 and over. For more information, visit

Cobalt (1639 R St., N.W.) hosts “Bare: Military Appreciation St. Pattie’s Day” tonight from 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Admission is free for those with a valid Military ID. There will be beer pong and flip cup on the first floor. Jameson and Fireball shots are $3. Domestic beers are $5. Music by DJs Rosie and Keenan Orr. For more details, visit


Sunday, March 16


Chick Chat, an ages-50-and-over lesbian singles group, celebrates Women’s “Herstory” month with a tour of the Clara Barton House (5801 Oxford Rd., Glen Echo, Md.) today at noon. For details and to RSVP email

Perry’s (1811 Columbia Rd., N.W.) hosts its weekly “Sunday Drag Brunch” today from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The cost is $24.95 for an all-you-can-eat buffet. For more details, visit


Monday, March 17


United Soldiers and Sailors of America, a non-profit organization that supports combat wounded and their families, hosts a St. Patrick’s Day event at Jake’s Boiler Room (5018 Connecticut Ave., N.W.) from 4-11 p.m. Admission is $10 and includes a complimentary green beer and St. Patrick’s Day mug. There will be $5 Smithwicks and Harp, $8 Irish car bombs and $15 corned beef and cabbage platter. All proceeds benefit United Solders and Sailors of America. For details, visit

Rainbow Theatre Project presents a reading of the Noel Coward play “Long Island Sound” tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Source (1835 14th St., N.W.). It tells of an author seeking peace and quiet at a friend’s house who is interrupted by a large gathering of boisterous artists and socialites of whom he becomes the main attraction. About 20 local and student artists will present the reading. Rainbow Theatre Project is a new LGBT-specific theater company.


Tuesday, March 18


Transgender Legal Advocates of Washington (TransLAW) hosts its annual celebration and fundraiser tonight at Lost Society (2001 14th St., N.W.) tonight from 6:30-9:30 p.m. There will be an open bar with wine and specialty cocktails and light hors d’oeuvres from 6:30-7:30 p.m. There is a suggested $10 donation at the door but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. For more information, visit

“Elton John: The Million Dollar Piano,” a filmed concert special of John’s “Million Dollar Piano” show at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, plays at AMC Mazza Gallerie (5300 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.) tonight at 7 p.m. as part of a special two-night event. There will be another showing on March 26.


Wednesday, March 19


Bookmen D.C., an informal men’s gay literature group, discusses “The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered” edited by Tom Cardamone at the American Foreign Service Association (2101 E St., N.W.) tonight at 7:30 p.m. All are welcome. For details, visit

The Tom Davoren Social Bridge Club meets tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Dignity Center (721 8th St., S.E.) for social bridge. No partner needed. For more information, call 301-345-1571.


Thursday, March 20

Freestyle Fitness presents “Go Live and Rewind,” a fitness dance party that benefits Capital Pride 2014, is at Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) tonight from 7-11 p.m. Enjoy music from DJ miGGL from the ‘80s, ‘90s and today from pop, hip-hop, Latin and more while getting a workout. For more details, visit

Congressional Chorus presents “New York, New York: An American Cabaret” at Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H St., N.W.) tonight at 8 p.m. through March 23. A cast of 85 singers and dancers perform musical selection from notable people in the music industry from New York City including Stephen Sondheim, Billy Joel, Alicia Keys and Jay-Z. Tickets are $45. For details, visit

Dan Savage, gay author and co-founder of the “It Gets Better Project” brings his “Hump!” Film Festival to Woolly Mammoth Theatre (641 D St., N.W.) tonight with showings at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. These 15 short films discuss sexual situations and include straight, gay, lesbian and transgender stories. Tickets are $20. Screenings go through March 22. For more information, visit

Whole Foods (1440 P St., N.W.) hosts “Drag Bingo on P Street” featuring the Imperial Court of Washington tonight from 7-9 p.m.  There will be prizes and snacks. All proceeds benefit Whole Planet Foundation. For more details, visit

LGBT personnel assigned to the Pentagon meet at Freddie’s Beach Bar (555 23rd St., Arlington) today from 5-7 p.m. for happy hour. This monthly event (the third Thursday of each month) is open to military, Department of Defense civilians and military contractors who work in and around the Pentagon.

The band cut/copy plays Echo Stage (2135 Queens Chapel Road, N.E.) tonight at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35. Visit for details.


‘Rough and tumble show biz epic’

Rufus Wainwright, gay news, music, Washington Blade

Rufus Wainwright (Photo by Sean James; courtesy Slate PR)

‘The Best of Rufus Wainwright’

With Lucy Wainwright Roche

Lincoln Theatre

1215 U St. N.W.

Wednesday at 7 p.m.


Rufus Wainwright took a few minutes during a tour stop in Warsaw a few weeks ago to talk to us by phone about his show next week in Washington.

Touring behind two projects that were released last month — hits package “Vibrate” and the Blu-ray video “Rufus Wainwright: Live From the Artists Den” — Wainwright, 40, says he’s at a logical career mid-point that inspired revisiting his catalogue.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Are the audiences significantly different in Europe versus the U.S.?

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: It really varies. I did shows in Latvia and Lithuania recently and you could have been talking about the East Coast and then the West Coast in terms of differences and it’s fascinating how it’s real peaks and valleys on this continent. It’s a little daunting. Occasionally you get some kind of icy folks, but mostly they’re very happy I’m here.


BLADE: The Artists Den show was recorded in May 2012 but just released last month for purchase. Did you always plan it as a home video release?

WAINWRIGHT: I just thought it would be a TV special and then we did a good job on it, so it made sense to keep the ball rolling. I’ve always concentrated really hard on my live performance and making sure that the pinnacle of my career is really what you see on stage in front of you when you’re in the room. I put a lot of faith in my live work, so it’s good to release it.


BLADE: So this is an entirely different show from the Artists Den show?

WAINWRIGHT: Oh yes, very different. Now I’m mostly promoting the “Vibrate” CD, the best-of CD, so I’m just doing a lot of songs from the expanse of my career and even a couple of new ones to whet people’s appetite. But it’s a much more intimate show, just one on one. Or hopefully one on a thousand, at least. But yeah, you’re hitting the core of the matter when you come see this new show in the spring.


BLADE: It’s a solo show? No band?

WAINWRIGHT? Just me and either piano or guitar.


BLADE: You have a strong body of work built over many years. What’s your philosophy of set list construction? To what degree is it informed by what you’re promoting at any given time?

WAINWRIGHT: Well there’s a few projects now so it’s definitely dictated to some degree by what I’m trying to sell. There’s lots of good stuff to talk about. For instance, I’m raising money now to record my opera “Prima Donna” ( which will be my next album, but I also sing some of my mother’s material (the late Kate McGarrigle) to promote some of her work, because I feel she was a great genius. And there’s also just the fun of making music.


BLADE: About how long do you play on average?

WAINWRIGHT: About 90 minutes.


Rufus Wainwright, gay news, music, Washington Blade

Rufus Wainwright (Photo by Sean James; courtesy Slate PR)

BLADE: In addition to the aforementioned projects, you also had a lavish box set out a couple years ago. Are you curating your body of work in a sense?

WAINWRIGHT: Well, I have a lot of it and I hit 40 so I have 40 years left to fill up in terms of my career so yeah, I’ve definitely spent the last five years going over what’s happened and putting it in its rightful place. I’ve also been writing another opera, “Hadrian,” and now I’m working a lot on some films for Hollywood and putting together some other tracks for another pop record but we’re definitely at the middle point right now. The best is yet to come.


BLADE: It’s obvious, though, that you put some care and thought into these things. Fans can always tell when they’re just slapped together by the label. Yours clearly were not.

WAINWRIGHT: Well, I have a lot of supportive and very intellectual people who helped me do that along the way. Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys was influential and instrumental I should say in putting together the list of songs for “Vibrate.” And, you know, I had such a great band for the Artists Den recording. You know, you’ve got to have good people around you.


BLADE: What was it like singing with Joni Mitchell at her birthday tribute last year?

WAINWRIGHT: Oh, that was wild. Really amazing. I can’t say that I was the biggest Joni Mitchell fan growing up. Not so much because I didn’t like her music but my mother was very jealous of Joni Mitchell. My mother was a very well known Canadian songwriter as well, so we weren’t allowed to listen to much Joni Mitchell in the house. So I wasn’t really that familiar. So it was really an amazing education and kind of a baptism by fire and the last lesson was singing with her on stage. It was a lot of fun.


BLADE: Did you get to interact much with her aside from what we saw on stage?

WAINWRIGHT: Oh yeah, a lot. We hung out a lot. I went to her house a few times because my husband (Jorn Weisbrodt) runs the festival, we had to really work with her on everything so we spent a lot of time together, Joni and I. It was a great honor.


BLADE: In interviews, she’s never been one to mince words. Is that how she is when the camera’s not rolling too?

WAINWRIGHT: Oh yeah, there’s no filter there whatsoever. You know, she’s lived in her own universe for so many years, there’s no way to really encapsulate and explain what she is. She’s kind of transcended what it is to be real.


BLADE: With the operas, which came first — the concepts or the commissions?

WAINWRIGHT: Well, I’ve always wanted to write operas, that desire was always there, but you really cannot write an opera in a vacuum. You need a commission to really hold on to because it’s such a laborious and intense process so yes, thankfully, I did receive one commission and now I’ve received another so I’m continuing that journey. But yeah, you can’t really write an opera on the side. It doesn’t work that way.


BLADE: Your vocals manage to be both full voiced and big, yet also have a world weariness to them. How do you do that?

WAINWRIGHT: I think part of it is due to my love of opera. They have to project in these huge halls so I try to kind of emulate that. But growing up, even before I became a big opera fan, my other influences were people like Judy Garland and Al Jolson, these, you know, much older kind of vaudevillian performers who, again, had to project. I think that kind of thing always attracted me more than, I don’t know, some kind of high quality recording. I was more into the kind of rough-and-tumble show biz epic. My voice is a very unusual and mystifying monster to me. I mean, I love my voice and I’m indebted to it eternally, but on the other hand, it puts me through hell sometimes trying to figure out what it is, where it’s going to go and what it needs. It has a life of its own. I’m just dragged around.


BLADE: You’ve said your last studio album (2012’s “Out of the Game”) with (producer) Mark Ronson was the most pop album you’d ever made. Do you think about pop and commercial appeal when you’re writing?

WAINWRIGHT: When I talk to my accountant I do (laughs).


BLADE: But do you with the muses as well?

WAINWRIGHT: A little bit. I know a lot of people who are very successful in the industry in terms of pop music. You know, Elton John or Neil Tennant. People who’ve had real hits. Norah Jones. So it’s around me and I see it happen and I wonder, you know, why not me? It’s always important to have a dangling carrot in front of you in the arts. You always have something you haven’t quite attained yet, so I’m thankful for this as an impetus.


BLADE: Is your stuff too smart perhaps for the masses?

WAINWRIGHT: I think that might be an issue. When I sing, it tends to grab your attention fully. I’m not very good background music. It seems like most pop music today is made to be played in restaurants really.


Rufus Wainwright, gay news, music, Washington Blade

Rufus Wainwright (Photo by Sean James; courtesy Slate PR)

BLADE: How gay is your fan base would you say?

WAINWRIGHT: Well, that’s an interesting question. I’ve never felt supported by my own kind. I think there are a lot of great gay music fans out there and definitely a strong nugget of wonderful queers who get it, but I’d say like the majority kind of mainstream gay sensibility really kind of runs countercurrent to what I’ve been trying to put forth. I’ve never felt that embraced by gay culture, especially by gay men. But that’s also part of my aesthetic. If I felt accepted by them, I’d be far too happy. (laughs)


BLADE: Do Jorn and (3-year-old daughter) Viva travel with you?

WAINWRIGHT: Jorn sometimes but he’s busy with his festival. We kind of run into each other along the way. My daughter lives with her mother (Leonard Cohen’s daugher, Lorca) in Los Angeles so I see her once a month or so.


BLADE: Did you see the Judy tribute at the Oscars?

WAINWRIGHT: No, I didn’t. What was it? Was Liza in it?


BLADE: Well she and Lorna and Joey were there but it was clips from “Wizard of Oz” and Idina Menzel sang. Do you know Liza well?

WAINWRIGHT: Well, I know Lorna a lot better. I don’t think anybody really knows Liza that well.


BLADE: You do so much work aside from the traditional writing/recording/touring cycle of a typical recording artist. Do you think you would have been doing as many other things had you been doing all this, say, a generation before?

WAINWRIGHT: I think if all of this had been happening even 15 years earlier, it would have been a whole other story. Financially, well, you know, there was just more of a kind of market and structure in the record business to support developing artists. I don’t think the deals were particularly good, but you were nonetheless kind of strung along more and there were more platforms to really express yourself whether it was TV or the radio. There was more to do. But I’m happy. I don’t know — I probably would have branched out anyway, now that I think about it. I tend to be pretty slippery.


Pink Tuesday?

music, Cher, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, gay news, Washington Blade

Cher, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga (Cher photo courtesy Fly Life Inc., Miley Cyrus photo courtesy Enlina Beck; Gaga photo courtesy Trung Nguyen)


Get ready for some major diva action this fall — from legends like Cher and Elton to red-hot-at-the-moment Icona Pop, this fall’s album releases should pack some major aural wallop.

Gloria Estefan returns with her latest offering “The Standards,” which dropped this week. Estefan takes on The Great American Songbook this time around, experimenting with jazz and soulful classics such as “What a Wonderful World” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”  The lead single for the album is “How Long Has This Been Going On.” Listen for guest work from gay sax man Dave Koz.

Gay staple Goldfrapp also has an album out this week, “Tales of Us,” which finds the group returning to its ambient down-tempo sound featured on their debut album, “Felt Mountain.” Their most conceptual LP to date, “Tales of Us” leads off with the melodic ballad single “Drew.”

Sheryl Crow released “Feels Like Home” this week. It’s being billed as her most country-influenced album to date.

Gay singer, activist and feminist Sonia Rutstein and Disappear Fear release their 17th album “Broken Film” on Sept. 17. Fun/peppy “Be Like You” is the first single.

Cher’s “Closer to the Truth” is out Sept. 24, her first studio album since 2001’s “Living Proof.” Lead single “A Woman’s World” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Chart. The album also features production from Pink co-writing two tracks and Timbaland producing one. Scissor Sisters front man Jake Shears joins her for duet “Take It Like a man.”

It doesn’t get much gayer than Pink Martini, the gay-helmed band set to release “Get Happy” on Sept. 24. Guests include everyone from the late Phyllis Diller (on a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” of all things) to the Von Trapps to regular collaborator Are Shapiro to gay singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright.

Capital Pride vets Icona Pop also have a Sept. 24 project planned — debut album “This is … Icona Pop,” which will feature double platinum hit “I Love It,” second single “All Night” and nine other cuts from the EDM duo.

The 24th is shaping up to be perhaps the gayest musical release day in history. Besides those already mentioned, Elton John’s “The Diving Board” is also set to drop that day. Written and recorded in 10 days, expect 12 new songs and three piano interludes from John who worked with usual suspects Bernie Taupin and T Bone Burnett for this first solo album in seven years.

Sweeping the MTV Video Music Awards recently by winning the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award and Video of the Year, Justin Timberlake is back with “The 20/20 Experience Pt. 2.”  Set for release on Sept. 30. Timberlake’s fourth full-length LP will feature collaborations with Jay-Z, Drake and trademark sounds by Timbaland.

Also making quite the impression at the VMAs earlier this year was diva in the making, Miley Cyrus. Her latest offering “Bangerz” is scheduled to drop on Oct. 8. Along with the summertime top five smash “We Can’t Stop,” Cyrus’ fourth disc will feature collaborations with Britney Spears and Ludacris. Hannah Montana is all grown up folks.

TLC plans another retrospective, this time with four new songs, slated to drop Oct. 15.

Katy Perry returns with her third studio album “Prism” set for an Oct. 22 release. The lead-off single “Roar” has already reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Perry’s latest set will also include a song co-written by 2013 Capital Pride performer Emeli Sandé. The ferocious diva has revealed her latest record is “more stripped down” and won’t contain “any darkness,” despite a recent divorce.

Gay pop legend Boy George is set to release his first studio album in 18 years on Oct. 28.  His new disc “This Is What I Do” includes 12 new tracks produced by longtime collaborators such as Richie Stevens and John Themis.  George revealed his new album is a “baggy” record and “not overproduced.”

After two years of recording, Lady Gaga remerges also with her third studio album “Artpop” dropping Nov. 11.  “Artpop’s” first single “Applause” has reached the top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 already. The pro-LGBT diva’s latest offering will feature production by several DJs including DJ White Shadow, Madeon and Zedd.


Elton John to perform in Russia – will he speak out against gay crackdown?

Elton John also performed at Rush Limbaugh's wedding and broke the apartheid boycott of South Africa.


Various stories you might have missed today…

George HW Bush witnesses to a gay wedding, Robert Reich tells Bill O'Reilly to man-up, and 26 bad book jackets.


Elton John blasts anti-gay law during Moscow concert (video)

By criticizing the draconian anti-gay "propaganda" law, Elton John was also violating it.


Elton John blasts Russia gay propaganda law

Russia, Moscow, Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral, gay news, Washington Blade

Singer Elton John on Dec. 6 criticized Russia’s LGBT rights record during a Moscow concert. (By David Crawshaw via Wikimedia Commons.)

Singer Elton John on Dec. 6 criticized Russia’s LGBT rights record during a concert in Moscow.

“You took me to your hearts all these years ago and you’ve always welcomed me with warmth and open arms every time I’ve visited,” said John while on stage in the Russian capital. “You have always embraced me and you have never judged me. So I’m deeply saddened and shocked over the current legislation that is now in place against the LGBT community here in Russia.”

Members of the audience applauded John as he continued to speak out against Russia’s LGBT rights record that includes a broadly worded law that bans gay propaganda to minors. He dedicated the concert to Vladislav Tornovoi, a 23-year-old man whom authorities said two men tortured and killed near Volgograd in May after he came out to them.

“Some people have demanded that because of this legislation, I must not come here to Russia,” said John. “But many, many more people asked me to come and I listened to them. I love coming here.”

Lady Gaga and Madonna’s comments against St. Petersburg’s gay propaganda to minors ban during concerts in the city in 2012 prompted Russian authorities to investigate whether the singers did not secure the proper visas to enter the country. A St. Petersburg court dismissed a $10 million lawsuit against Madonna over her comments.

John’s concert took place in Moscow roughly a month after gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts co-hosted the Miss Universe 2013 pageant in the Russian capital.

Roberts criticized the gay propaganda law during a series of pre-pageant interviews with his network. Neither he, co-host Mel B nor pageant participants discussed the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the event’s broadcast.

German president to boycott Olympics
The Associated Press on Sunday reported German President Joachim Gauck will boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February because of the Kremlin’s human rights record.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Obama and retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova are among those who oppose a boycott of the Sochi games over the gay propaganda law and Russia’s ongoing LGBT rights crackdown.

Lesbian Russian journalist Masha Gessen on Dec. 5 discussed her support of a boycott of the Olympics while speaking on a panel at Human Rights First’s annual summit in D.C.

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin should be a pariah at this point,” said Gessen. “He should be alone in that box at the Olympic games, which are his personal project.”