Cinema of the United States
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Madonna touts gay rights at Russian concerts, faces fine

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI – "Raise your arm and show your love and appreciation for the gay community," pop megastar Madonna urged the crowd at an Aug 9 St Petersburg concert, in the face of threats of violence.

"Are you motherfuckin' with me?" she asked her 25,000 fans. And the cheering crowd, wearing pink wristbands, roared a resounding, "Yeah," many of them holding aloft rainbow flags and rainbow-coloured posters with "No Fear" printed in all-caps on them. Performing in black lingerie, the singer also had the words "No Fear" scrawled on her back, The Huffington Post reports.

Madonna had promised to speak out for gay rights in St Petersburg in light of that city's passage of so-called "propaganda of homosexuality" laws created to prevent public discussion of queer issues or events that favourably portray queer people. 

Now the Moscow Times is reporting that local deputy Vladimir Milonov, who authored the anti-gay gag law, is saying that the American singer flouted the legislation and that she and her organizers "need to be brought to justice." Milonov also reportedly told RIA Novosti news agency that Madonna should be fined for her "illegal" statements and that there were witnesses available to testify against her. He also is quoted as saying that the St Petersburg city government would not permit "our society to be fed sewer water from the hellish kitchen of the evil empire."

The Times report states that Milonov indicated the concert was videotaped, that minors were present, "including 12-year-old children," and therefore the law had been broken. Violators reportedly face fines of up to 500,000 rubles, or $15,700.
The city's police chief, Sergei Umnov, said in July that so far 74 people have been fined under the gag law.

Here are Madonna's on-stage comments in St Peterburg.

Scenes of gaybashings from demonstrations in Russia, photos of teenagers who died because of homophobia, and many gay and lesbian kisses were shown during the very political "Nobody Knows Me" video interlude, says Polina Savchenko, director of the St Petersburg queer advocacy group Coming Out.

At a Moscow concert on Aug 7, Madonna also expressed support for, and called for the release of, the members of the punk band Pussy Riot, who were put on trial for performing songs deemed insulting to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a cathedral. The verdict in the trial is expected to be handed down Aug 17.

Not everyone welcomed Madonna's approach. Gay rights activist Yuri Gavrikov, who felt the singer should have cancelled the Russian leg of her world tour in protest, was critical of mixing show business with human rights activism, according to The Huffington Post.

Gay Star News quotes Gavrikov as saying, "If you want to really do something, you have to not just talk about problems, you have to do something that is politically important, powerful. Meeting with the mayor of St Petersburg or breaking out of the Russian tour is a way to attract more attention." 

But Savchenko called Madonna's support "extremely moving." Savchenko said the majority of the mostly heterosexual crowd reacted positively to her message by raising pink wristbands that were distributed to support the queer community. "The LGBT in the audience received Madonna's support with both smiles and tears." 


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