State Department issues LGBT travel warning for Sochi Olympics

Sochi

Sochi bear

The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory Saturday for citizens traveling to Russia for the Winter Olympics next month, including a specific warning that “vague guidance” from Russia about its new laws making “it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public” could be used to fine, deport, or jail foreign visitors.

The LGBT warning was part of a longer advisory alerting Americans traveling to Sochi, Russia, for the Olympics that such highly publicized global events are seen as an “attractive target” for terrorists and that several acts of terrorism have already been perpetrated in Russia in the past few weeks.

The advisory, issued January 10, urges American citizens to “avoid large crowds in areas that lack enhanced security measures” and to use caution “in any areas where protests, demonstrations, or other public disturbances are taking place.”

“Demonstrations intended to be peaceful can develop quickly and unpredictably, sometimes turning violent,” notes the advisory.

The possibility of LGBT-related protests in Russia has been a concern since last June, when the Russian government approved its anti-gay laws. Although the Russian government says the laws are just focused on protecting children from “non-traditional sexual relations,” the legislation goes much further. Signed by President Vladimir Putin in June and July, they also prohibit any public displays of affection by same-sex couples and any public events related to LGBT people.

Early talk by activists of staging protests or wearing rainbow pins or waving rainbow flags at the Olympics was met with promises by the Russian government of tough enforcement of its laws. Putin and Russian officials have softened their tone in recent weeks, and earlier this month and said they would provide a designated area in a nearby village for protests. Then earlier this month, Putin signed an executive order that will require protesters to secure approval in advance.

But tensions seemed to be ready to escalate again over the weekend, when the head of the Russian Orthodox Church suggested the Russian people vote on whether to re-criminalize homosexuality.

The State Department advisory notes that foreign citizens could be fined as much as $3,100, jailed for 14 days, and deported for violating the laws.

“The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public, but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms,” notes the advisory. “Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes ‘LGBT propaganda,’ and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as ‘LGBT propaganda.’

The State Department maintains an LGBT Travel Information page.

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

—  David Taffet

Gay activists get ready for tough sledding at Winter Olympics

Russia getting ready for 2014 Winter OlympicsU.S. gay rights activists, buoyed by their unprecedented political successes in 2013, are gearing up to make an international statement at the Winter Olympics in Russia – but know that speaking out against new antigay laws there may be more difficult than anything they faced in America, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Few Western gay rights activists will be in Russia for the Games, which are slated for February in the resort city of Sochi. For Russians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, speaking out about their fears – or abuse they’ve suffered since the laws passed earlier this year – can be deadly. There are only 11 paid gay rights activists in Russia, a country of 143 million people.

Boycotting Olympic corporate sponsors won’t happen; most of those U.S. companies are LGBT-friendly. And the U.S. State Department has told activists that if they are caught violating the vaguely defined Russian antigay propaganda law, their home government won’t be able to help them.

Nevertheless, activists like Dustin Lance Black, the Sacramento native and Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk” about slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, see opportunity. He said the campaign is “all about visibility. It’s about being present. I am telling people that you have to go.”

Faced bomb threats

“This law was constructed to silence gay and lesbian people and their allies. As we said during the 1980s: Silence equals death for this movement,” said Black, who faced bomb threats when he screened his film at an LGBT film festival in St. Petersburg in late November.

Visiting with Russian gay rights activists at that time, Black found them “to be incredibly brave. As a student of gay history, it reminded me of San Francisco in the early 1970s or Salt Lake City for the last five years. It speaks to me of a people who aren’t going to let the pendulum swing back in this manner.”

As Black and Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen corral Hollywood stars to highlight the issue, U.S.-based LGBT organizations are preparing to open a multipronged effort to pull off what they described as their own “Olympic moment” in Sochi.

Several antigay laws

They want to call international attention to several new Russian laws created earlier this year. One bans exposing minors to “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” Critics say that law is so vague that someone could be prosecuted for wearing a rainbow T-shirt or holding hands in public with a person of the same sex. Another new law forbids gay foreigners from adopting Russian children.

“It’s like we’re in the Middle Ages again over there where it isn’t safe for LGBT people to live their lives,” said Cohen, the producer of “American Beauty” and “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Cohen worries most about what will happen after the Games, when the international spotlight dims. That’s a focus of Uprising of Love, an organization he co-founded with Black and singer Melissa Etheridge. The growing group of a couple dozen gay and straight performers – like singer Madonna, actress Julianne Moore and actor Jim Parsons – will speak out on human rights abuses in Russia after the last gold medals are handed out.

“Our message is that the world will continue to be watching afterward,” Cohen said.

—  Steve Ramos

Perry, Romney and gays in the Boy Scouts

The Boston Globe reports today on what is said to be the “bitter personal feud” between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination. The Globe claims the spate between Perry and Romney dates back to 2002, when Romney refused to allow members of Perry’s beloved Boy Scouts to serve as official volunteers at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

In his 2008 book On My Honor, Perry suggested that Romney’s decision to bar the Scouts from serving as official volunteers was based on the fact that the organization doesn’t allow gay troop masters. But Romney has insisted that he barred the Scouts from serving as volunteers simply because they didn’t meet the minimum age requirement of 18. From The Globe:

Perry used the incident to cast Romney as a New England moderate, someone willing to cave under pressure, and as a political opportunist.

“Whether pressure from gay rights groups caused Olympic organizers to resist volunteer assistance from the scouts, we know that Romney, as a political candidate in the politically liberals [sic] state of Massachusetts, has parted ways with the scouts on its policies over the involvement of gay individuals in scout activities,’’ Perry wrote in his book. “He once said during a debate with Senator Ted Kennedy in 1994, ‘I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.’ ’’

Romney, though, cast the decision as a pragmatic one. He told reporters in 2000 that the Boy Scouts were not being excluded for any reason other than that they didn’t meet the age restrictions. He also said the scouts were given a list of possible volunteer opportunities, most of which involved activities before the Olympics began or were behind the scenes.

“We’re very pleased to have Scouts help out,’’ Romney told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City in 2000.

—  John Wright

Starvoice • 04.08.11

By Jack Fertig

CELEBRITY BIRTHDAYholcomb

Steve Holcomb turns 31 on Thursday. Holcomb led his 4-man bobsled team to  the first U.S. gold medal in that race since 1948 at the 2006 Winter Olympics. In doing so, he won the hearts of bears everywhere. Soon after his rise to fame, the Facebook group “Bears for Steve Holcomb” was started.

…………………………

THIS WEEK

The sun is aligning with Eris stoking competition and identity issues. Venus in Pisces is in semi-sextile with both helping to show keys to cooperation and conciliation. Consider how your own achievements can raise not just your stature, but others’ also.

…………………………

ARIES Mar 20-Apr 19
Take care of yourself first, so you can be in service to those around you who need help. When you’re clear on who you are, you can be the most generous star in the sky.

TAURUS Apr 20-May 20
Think about your last will and testament as an exercise in who and what is important. When you’re gone, what will be left? The real question: What do you want to achieve before then?

GEMINI May 21-Jun 20
Your social goals are clearer than your personal ambitions. Feeling vague about your career signals a transition that leads to greater clarity. Talk about it with your friends for help.

CANCER Jun 21-Jul 22
Work and accomplishment are keys to fulfillment. A personal best is more meaningful than competition. Share work and credit to get more done and learn from others how to do a better job.

LEO Jul 23-Aug 22
Be as loud and outspoken as you like. If that gets you into arguments, treat them as a game. Playfulness is sexier than conquest, although you don’t need help in that department either.

VIRGO Aug 23-Sep 22
An erotic competition with your lover helps you come together in more ways than one. Sharing ideas, even if you don’t act on them, can build intimacy, laying the foundation of a happy home.

LIBRA Sep 23-Oct 22
Be clear about whom you’re competing with and competing against. Empathizing with colleagues helps, but clear verbal communication is more reliable than warm, fuzzy feelings.

SCORPIO Oct 23-Nov 21
Take responsibility for boosting morale at work. Small competitive games bring people together. Reevaluate your health regimen. You’re out for a personal best, not to outdo others.

SAGITTARIUS Nov 22-Dec 20
Push for your best performance but trying to best others is secondary. If that becomes your goal you can cause rancor among people in your family or community.

CAPRICORN Dec 21-Jan 19
Empathetic communication diffuses a lot of the trouble. Practical techniques, sensible logic and the “tried and true” aren’t really helping. Trust more in your intuition.

AQUARIUS Jan 20-Feb 18
If being more clever than your friends is important, you need new friends — or maybe they do. Who really does count in your life and why? Tell them — not for their sake, but for your own.

PISCES Feb 19-Mar 19
Sweetness and empathy are your best traits when they’re not a cover for codependency. Cultivate traits that drive you to success. If you want to help others, do it from a position of strength.

Jack Fertig can be reached at 415-864-8302 or Starjack.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 1, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Queering up the slopes

A new gay ski event joins winter wonderlands already catering to gay sportsmen (and chill partiers)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

SHOOT THE BUTTE | Crested Butte, Colo., is home to two gay winter events next year: OutBoard and the inaugural Matthew Shepard Gay Ski Week.

The landscape of gay ski weeks is changing faster than the view from a waxed Telemark swooshing down a double black diamond.

The African-American-centric Winter Explosion enjoyed its last slalom earlier this year, but there’s a new gay ski week founded in conjunction with the Matthew Shepard Foundation — and it’s closer by! And some of the big ones changed their dates in a big way.

Of course, there are many more reachable resorts that don’t have gay ski weeks per se (read about some next week in the Voice), but here are the ones that plan entire weeks around getting queer skiers (and just people who like to cuddle up in the lodge with a furry fellow) to hit their slopes.

Utah Gay & Lesbian Ski Week, Park City, Utah. Jan. 5–9. The season kicks off, as always, in the home of the Sundance Film Festival. Gayskiing.org.

Aspen Gay & Lesbian Ski Week, Aspen, Colo. Jan. 16–23. The 34th annual granddaddy of gay ski weeks brands itself the Wild Wild West this year, and all we have to say is, yee-haw! Dallas-based comedian Paul J. Williams returns to host the Drag Downhill comedy night and performs with Emmy winner Leslie Jordan. GaySkiWeek.com.

Winter Rendezvous XXV, Stowe, Vt. Jan. 19–23. For those who prefer the powder of the Northeast,  Winter Rendezvous returns to the home of U.S.-based gay marriage — Vermont — for its 27th outing. Comedienne Shawn Pelofsky, who recently stopped by the Rose Room, headlines. Winterrendezvous.com.

WinterPride, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. Jan. 30–Feb. 6. Earlier this year, WinterPride got bumped later in the season because of the Winter Olympics (a fair trade — one town can only handle so much gay at one time), but it’s back to early in the season for the 19th annual party where Queernadians are joined by their Anglo-Gringo supports across the border for this skier and snowboarder party. DJs like hot bear Ted Eiel keep the fun going. GayWhistler.com.

Telluride Gay Ski Week, Telluride, Colo. Feb. 26–March 6. Named the U.S.A.’s top gay ski week by Gay.com, the Mountain Village event is back with T-11. Returning to the party are The A-List’s Reichen Lehmkuhl, who will hosting the pool party Wet, and dragcomedy legends the Kinsey Sicks. (Big  news for the Dallas-based traveler: A new nonstop direct flight on American from DFW to Montrose/Telluride Airport.) TellurideGaySkiWeek.com.

Lake Tahoe WinterFest Gay & Lesbian Ski Week, Lake Tahoe, Nev. March 6–12. Organizers insist WinterFest XVI is on the calendar for the first weekend in March, though no details have been released yet. LakeTahoeWinterfest.com.

Mammoth Gay Ski Week, Mammoth Lakes, Calif. March 16–20. Not that boarders aren’t welcome everywhere, but for the biggest gay ski event in California, you just know they are gonna turn out in droves. The 9th annual event kicks off with DJ Josh Peace (who also hosts The Party @ 10,000 Feet) and yummy DJ Escape spinning at the Avalanche party. MammothGaySki.com.

Shoot the Butte (Matthew Shepard Gay Ski Week), Crested Butte, Colo. March 19–26. The newcomer to this year’s ski family is both an ambitious party and a benefit for the murdered teen’s foundation. Reichen pulls double duty (here and in Telluride) with an appearance, and there will be daily skier “hook ups” (meet-and-mixers), a pub crawl and several late dance parties. Be the first to check out this one.  MatthewShepardGaySkiWeek.com.

OutBoard Gay and Lesbian Snowboard Week, Crested Butte, Colo. March 29–April 3. If you like Shoot the Butte, why not just hang around a few days — OutBoard begins just three days later. (In the last three years, it has moved from Crested Butte to Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge and back again to CB this year). You don’t need to snowboard, either — there are ice-skating and wall climbing adventures to be had as well. OutBoard.org.

Vail Gay Ski Week, Vail, Colo. March 30–April 3. Vail, which this year had its event in late January, bumped it two months into the late winter, capping off the gay ski season. This version brings back the Vail Splash Club hot tub and pool party as well as the beer bust and daily après ski socials. VailGaySkiWeek.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens