Pussy Riot To Be Freed: Amnesty for Russian Punk Band, Greenpeace Protestors and Others

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are being freed under the amnesty bill being submitted by Vladimir Putin to the Duma, the Russian parliament, on Monday December 9, to mark the Russian constitution’s 20th anniversary on Thursday. Nadya’s husband Pyotr Verzilov confirmed the rumors to The Voice Project:

It’s from the Kremlin and official already, they will be freed. We do not know yet when this will happen, because it is unclear when the bill will be voted by the Duma and how fast it will be applied to prisons – could be from 2 weeks to 2 months until they are freed.

The Voice Project also reports that Nadya’s father Andrei has also been able to confirm this from “reliable sources.” Nadya was moved to Siberia in November after protesting conditions and going on a hunger strike at her previous penal colony in Morodovia. She is now hospitalized in a Siberian prison facility, Regional Tuberculosis Hospital No. 1.

The BBC reports that Putin may also free the Greenpeace Arctic 30 campaigners currently on bail and facing trial on (reduced) charges of hooliganism, as well as some of the opposition activists involved in unrest in May 2012.

This all feels like a Putin move to make Russia seem less yucky-looking in the buildup to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Simone Baumann’s film Putin’s Game, documenting charges of threats, corruption, and environmental damage is screening throughout Europe. Pussy Riot jailed, Greenpeace activists facing trial, “gay propaganda” banned and LGBTQ beaten, Elton John (finally) speaking out about anti-gay discrimination in Russia. From the stage. While performing a concert in Moscow. Add in a boycott of Smirnoff vodka and Putin had to do something.

In a surprising move, NBC has named the New Yorker’s editor and a former Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, David Remnick as a guest correspondent:

Remnick said NBC had guaranteed him editorial independence with his commentary, including such politically charged issues as gay rights and the relationship between Russia and Ukraine. “There is nothing in the world — and I know they don’t intend to hinder me in this way — where I would not be honest in my analysis,” Remnick said. “It would be a waste of everyone’s integrity and time if otherwise.”

Meanwhile, it could be a very happy new year for Pussy Riot, Greenpeace, and other jailed Russian activists. (more…)

Live Blog: 2013 Emmys

Popcorn? Check? Tuned to CBS? Yes! Perrier? Check? Chocolate? Of course! Here we go! Neil Patrick Harris is hosting which will make the Emmys fun, no one specific show dominates the nominees which makes things a little more interesting. What shows do you watch? I’m a Big Bang Theory girl myself, and I note that the other shows I watch religiously (Hell on Wheels, The Americans) didn’t make the noms. Thrilled about Behind the Candelabra, though I think Rob Lowe should have gotten a nomination for his role as the Bev Hills plastic surgeon. He was sooooo creepy…okay, here’s the monologue!

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

Jeff Daniels (“The Newsroom”)

Claire Danes (“Homeland”)

Henry Bromell (“Homeland”)

David Fincher (“House of Cards”)

Bobby Cannavale (“Boardwalk Empire”)

Anna Gunn (“Breaking Bad”)

“Modern Family” (ABC)
Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”)

Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield (“30 Rock”)

Gail Mancuso (“Modern Family”)

Tony Hale (“Veep”)

Merritt Wever (“Nurse Jackie”)

“Behind the Candelabra” (HBO)

Michael Douglas (“Behind the Candelabra”)

Laura Linney (“The Big C: Hereafter”)

Richard LaGravenese (“Behind the Candelabra”)
Abi Morgan (“The Hour”)
Tom Stoppard (“Parade’s End”)
David Mamet (“Phil Spector”)
Jane Campion and Gerard Lee (“Top of the Lake”)

Steven Soderbergh (“Behind the Candelabra”)

James Cromwell (“American Horror Story: Asylum”)
Zachary Quinto (“American Horror Story: Asylum”)
Scott Bakula (“Behind the Candelabra”)
John Benjamin Hickey (“The Big C: Hereafter”)
Peter Mullan (“Top of the Lake”)

Our Hot Date Tonight: We’re Live Blogging the Emmys at 5pm West Coast Time

Starting at 5pm West Coast time Sunday–that’s tonight!–we’ll be live blogging Emmys, with a bowl of popcorn, a case of Perrier (water, not Jouët), and of course chocolate. The Emmys are broadcast live on CBS, with Neil Patrick Harris hosting. And Elton John will be opening the show as a tribute to Liberace.  I sense the Russian government refusing to issue his visa to perform in 3…2…1!

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will be presenting together, along with  Zooey and Emily Deschanel. Diahann Carroll, who broke the color barrier in 1968 with Julia, the first television show to star an African-American in a non-stereotypical role. Carroll played the title role on Julia, a widowed mom who worked as nurse.  Kerry Washington is nominated as Best Lead Actress in a Drama for her role in Scandal as crisis manager Olivia Pope. She is the first African-American woman to star as the lead character in a network drama series in 39 years–first and last was Theresa Graves in Get Christie Love! which was awesome. I loved it–she wore hot pants, halter tops and a natural ‘do. (Cicely Tyson, nominated in the category in 1995 for the drama Sweet Justice, was a main character not the lead; she lost to Kathy Bates for Picket Fences).

A special In Memoriam segment will be held for actors James Gandolfini, Cory Monteith, Jean Stapleton, Jonathan Winters and producer David Goldberg. The Cory Monteith segment has some up in arms (including Jack Klugman’s son) because Monteith (Glee) was not as well known and did not leave as lasting legacy as Klugman (Quincy, The Odd Couple) or Hagman (the groundbreaking I Dream of Jeannie and of course as J.R. “It Was All a Dream” Ewing  on Dallas). The Klugman camp has a point. And besides, Lisa Robin Kelly was robbed, robbed I tell you!

The countdown begins at 2pm PT on E! and will go live 2pm on E!Online.  Live coverage of arrivals will also be on both outlets, and I’ll have E! on at 3pm PT if you want to swap groans and gasps over outfits!

Then just minutes before the 5pm West Coast live broadcast begins, we start our live blogging on FDL’s front page. See you there!

Russia: Selena Gomez Visa Yanked over LGBT Rights Petition


A Change.org petition asking Selena Gomez to speak up about LGBT rights during her Russian concerts received over 12,000 signatures in one day. And now the Russian government has revoked the platinum-selling singer’s visa. The twenty-one year old Gomez, who got her start on Barney & Friends and dated Justin Bieber before he turned into a chavy douche, was scheduled to play St. Petersburg’s Ice Palace on Sep. 23 and Moscow’s Olimpiysky stadium on Sep. 25.

The petition, organized by John Becker, managing editor of Bilerico Project, called on Gomez to

 stand up for Russia’s LGBT community when she’s in Russia next week.

Both Madonna and Lady Gaga spoke out for LGBT rights at their concerts last year, and Cher has said she turned down an offer to open the 2014 Sochi Olympics.  Elton John is scheduled to play in Russian in December, though his visa has not yet been issued. And it might not be, given Sir Elton’s recent statement:

I’m supposed to be going to Moscow in December. I’ve got to go. And I’ve got to think about what I’m going to say very carefully. There’s two avenues of thought: do you stop everyone going, ban all the artists coming in from Russia? But then you’re really leaving the men and women who are gay and suffering under the anti-gay laws in an isolated situation. As a gay man, I can’t leave those people on their own without going over there and supporting them. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ve got to go.

In a statement, Becker told E! Online:

This cancellation of Selena Gomez’s visa shows that the Russian government is sensitive and on the defense, and shows that the pressure from people all around the world and the backlash against these laws is strong. They’re afraid to have someone like Selena Gomez come in and potentially use her platform to advance LGBT rights.

Madonna and Gaga are facing lawsuits for promoting

homosexual propaganda

to those under 18. That statute is part of larger effort to crack down on LGBT Russians. In response to harsh anti-LGBT laws and rhetoric there has been a boycott on Russian vodka in bars across the United States and a call to boycott the  2014 Olympics.

Elton John to Play Moscow: “I’m Doing It for Gay Russians”

Oh Elton, Elton.  I am so confused, but I just can’t quit you. Remember when his remark about being very happy with civil unions became a rallying cry for Prop 8 and anti-equality forces? Once there was a hue and cry about his naivety ignorance of basic facts, he came around and ended up playing an amazing concert as a fundraiser for AFER and becoming a spokesperson for marriage equality. Then he played Rush Limbaugh’s wedding for  huge fee. (I’d like to hope that he donated that fee to pro-equality groups as a puckish fuck you to the forces at the EIB, but I guess I’ll never know).

Elton John played Sun City  in South Africa during apartheid, and yes that was 30 years ago. He played Tel Aviv just three years ago saying:

Musicians spread love and peace, and bring people together. That’s what we do. We don’t cherry-pick our conscience.


Then Sir Elton thumbed his nose at China’s cultural politics by publicly dedicating his 2012 concert in Beijing to  to “the spirit and talent” of dissident artist Ai Weiwei,  prompting the Chinese culture minister, Cai Wu, to demand that only stars with university degrees be allowed to play in China. Sir Elton told the Guardian:

“Ten thousand people went ‘Eugh!’, but how could you not?. He’s become a friend, and what he’s suffered as an artist is unbelievable. During and after the show, my tour manager was interrogated for three hours, and what he said to them was true: I bought a beautiful Ai Weiwei piece, I was grateful and we’ve become friends. I didn’t feel in any danger.

Sir Elton adds a new item to his wish list: He’d like to go back to China and talk to the government about AIDS. According to the performer:

the country’s leading AIDS activist has claimed that the government’s estimate of 650,000 HIV cases is barely a 10th of the real figure.

Elton John wanted to play in front of the Pyramids of Giza, but claims be was banned because he is gay. And his very public gayness has ruffled feathers in other locales, the Guardian reports:

a church in Tobago organised a protest against his appearance there, while he received threats from an Islamic group when he played in Morocco.

So what about his proposed December concert date in Moscow?

Listen, I went to Russia in 1979 and I knew we were being watched all the time: I had an interpreter that they’d clearly set up. Actually, I ended up having sex with him on the roof of my hotel.  I’m supposed to be going to Moscow in December. I’ve got to go. And I’ve got to think about what I’m going to say very carefully. There’s two avenues of thought: do you stop everyone going, ban all the artists coming in from Russia? But then you’re really leaving the men and women who are gay and suffering under the anti-gay laws in an isolated situation. As a gay man, I can’t leave those people on their own without going over there and supporting them. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ve got to go.

Elton John certainly flies in the face of Putin’s  ban on homosexual propaganda. He and longtime partner David Furnish united in a civil union ceremony in 2005, one of the first in Britain, and are planning weddings in Britain and in California now that it is legal to do so– and the couple has two children Zachary  and Elijah. In 2009 the Ukrainian government block Sir Elton’s adoption of an HIV+ baby, citing his age and single status; the Ukraine does not recognize same-sex unions.  Adoption officials had another point of view:

Albert Pavlov, head of the Happy Child foundation for orphaned and sick children in Zaporizhia, said he opposed adoption by gays, but called for removing age and marriage restrictions for adopters.

How will Putin and Russian government deal with Elton John, a venerable and flamboyant, visibly gay figure in pop music who refers to himself as the Queen Mother? Madonna and Lady Gaga  played St Petersburg and spoke out from the stage, violating, according to the Russian government, the terms of their visas.  Lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to ban fans under 18 years old from Gaga’s concerts. Madonna and Gaga are post-modern hetero-normative, basically straight ladies who like teh gheys, have a platform to speak out, and do. Elton John is waaay more risky–he’s clearly queer and the very act of playing in Russia is pretty subversive/transgressive, especially given his outspokeness on  stage and off.

In July, 2103 Elton John was scheduled to play a concert in Krasnodar, Russia which caused great consternation.

Local party leader Mikhail Abramyan recommended that Elton don a knee-length kaftan, knee-high leather boots, and a fur hat for the July 14th gig.

He said: ‘It would be more respectable.  We have suggested it to the promoters and we hope he’ll wear it.’, according to Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

Despite calls from Krasnodar clergy to ban Sir Elton’s July 14th concert because the singer represents homosexual propaganda, no ban was issued. Rather the concert was postponed, then cancelled due to the singer’s illness.

Somehow I think, and maybe I am just an optimist, that Elton John playing Moscow is his attempt at activism, and is motivated by the desire to make a positive change, rather than to line his pockets. It will be interesting to see what bombshells, like that in China, he drops from the stage–maybe playing “All the Young Girls Love Alice”? And I wonder if Edward Snowden will be backstage! Now that would be a Facebook photo op!

HT: Back2Stonewall

Sacha Baron Cohen: Ixnay on Freddie Mercury Bio Pic

Sacha Baron Cohen has withdrawn from the upcoming Queen bio-pic. The chameleon/actor was to play Freddie Mercury, the band’s coloratura singer, who died in 1991 of HIV/AIDS. According to Deadline, Cohen disagreed with the  direction the band wanted to take the film:

[T]he band wanted to make more of a PG movie about Queen while Cohen was counting on a gritty R-rated tell-all centered around the gifted gay singer.

Mercury played coy with his sexuality for decades, though seriously, the band’s name was Queen, and it was clear to me, even as a teen fan that Freddie was more like Elton John and David Bowie than Bruce Springsteen. According to his many biographers, Mercury had  had a long-term relationship with Mary Austin, which ended when the singer became involved with a (male) executive at Elektra Records. (Elektra Records eventually signed Queen). Mercury and Austin remained close  for the next twenty years, until the singer’s death; she is on the board of the Mercury Phoenix Trust, the posthumous charity foundation which raises funds for HIV/AIDS awareness. Mercury bequeathed his home in London to Austin and was godfather to her son. In the mid-80s Mercury had a brief relationship with an actress, Barbara Valentin, but the last six years of his life were spent living with hairdresser Jim Hutton, who died in 2010.

The surviving members of Queen have final script and director approval on the bio-pic.   It would be hard to imagine anyone but Baron Cohen in the role–he not only bears a strong physical resemblance to the late singer, but has also proven himself to be more than able to carry a tune.

Morgan Freeman, Marisa Tomei, Christine Lahti Do “8″

Academy Award winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s play 8 covering the Proposition 8 hearings and starring Morgan Freeman, Anthony Edwards, Cheyenne Jackson, Christine Lahti, Rob Reiner, Yeardley Smith and Marisa Tomei hits Broadway on September 19th in a one-time staged reading at the Eugene O’Neil Theater to benefit the American Foundation for Equal Rights. Tickets start at $500.

AFER was formed specifically to fund the legal challenge against Proposition 8. A previous fundraiser, featuring a full length concert with Elton John was held earlier this year in Los Angeles.

8 is based on the California Supreme Court trial transcripts, and Milk screenwriter Black, who spent six months writing the play, told the New York Times:

I mined the best arguments on both sides, trying to capture everything on their side that was a winning point and anything on our side that was a winning point.

Luckily Black didn’t have to deal with these kind of arguments found on Facebook.

Wow, what’s next, blaming gays for hurricanes? Oh wait the heterosexual Rick Perry’s buddy/partner in Jesuspalooza, James Hagee has already done that.

8 will also be staged at Carnegie Mellon University, Northwest, and the University of Michigan.

[Thanks, Pam Spaulding for FB tip; h/t OnTopMagazine]

photo: creative commons, Mary McTavish

Elton John: “F**CK YOU!” to Anti-Civil Marrigage Equality H8ers

Last night I went to the American Foundation for Equal Rights benefit concert. Full disclosure, I paid for my ticket. AMFR is the sole sponsor of the federal court challenge of California’s Proposition 8, known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

Elton John was awesome (more on that later), and it was kinda thrilling to see Theodore Olson and David Boies take the stage together. Olsen said  their plan was for him get to the four Supreme Court Justices that voted his way and the five that voted Boies’ way re: Florida, and that way they’d have all nine. Laughs form the audience. Chairman Rob Reiner said the whole point was being non-partisan. Both John Podesta and the Cato Institute are involved with AFER.

Okay done with the speechifications and on to Elton John: Sir Elton, once he realized the difference between UK civil unions and state civil unions, got involved in the battle against Prop 8. He told the audience of 300 at the start of the 90 minute show that he

would always be there for you standing at the forefront to help you guys

and while he realized he had everything, he didn’t have the right to be married to his partner of 17 years. Midway through the set which included several new songs plus “Levon,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Candle in the Wind,” “I’m Still Standing,’ “crocodile Rock,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Rocket Man,” and Benny and the Jets,” plus some awesome jazz, boogey-woogey and barrelhouse  piano improv, Sir Elton, who looked like he was having a ton of fun, got serious with a speech ending with the full force of righteous anger toward the churches, the people and politicians who deny equal marriage rights:

Fuck you! Fuck you!

Celebrity spotting was not the purpose of the evening, though  Adam Lambert,  Golden Globe winner/Glee star Jane Lynch and Bruce Vilanch–who our cat Mr Bruce is partially named for (see photo below)–were two rows in front of me.

The event was held at Ron Burkle’s estate in the benefit section of the vast grounds, with one tent for the concert and another for enormous and elegant buffet, with an open bar. The passed hors d’oeuvres included mini-burgers, brie and pear tarts, shrimp and wee pizzas, plus tables loaded with salads, green beans, vegan mousaka, braised short ribs on puff pastry and some amazing desserts including homemade s’mores.

But Elton, OMG! It was incredible to see him up close like that and for such a good cause.

Mr. Bruce

Bruce Vilanch

Sir Elton John and David Furnish Adopt Son, Sir Elton Fundraising for CA Marriage Equality

Sir Elton John and his partner David Furnish have a adopted a baby, Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, the couple told Us magazine exclusively. ZJLF-J was born via surrogate December 25. The couple’s bid to adopt a Ukranian baby was rejected last year.

Sit Elton and Furnish have been together since 1993 and were joined in a civil partnership December 21, 2005  the first day civil partnerships became legal in the United Kingdom. While the media has often referred to the UK unions as gay marriage, they are technically/semantically not marriage.*

The media is currently reporting that Sir Elton and his partner are “married,” and have used that language in the past.

During the 2008 Prop 8 election Sir Elton famously said:

I don’t want to be married. I’m very happy with a civil partnership. If gay people want to get married, or get together, they should have a civil partnership. The word “marriage,” I think, puts a lot of people off. You get the same equal rights that we do when we have a civil partnership. Heterosexual people get married. We can have civil partnerships.

At the time, Sir Elton seemed unclear in the difference between the U.S. and UK civil unions. His words were used by Yes on Proposition 8 as part of their anti-marriage campaign in California.

But since then Sir Elton appears more aware of lthe difference between the limited (states’) rights granted same-sex unions in the US — in which over 1,000 federal rights are denied to couples — and UK same-sex unions which accord couples equal rights across the board. Equal rights — both state and federal — are what the piece of paper should provide, here in this land where all were created equal.

And now in a show of support for marriage equality in California, Sir Elton is performing a fund raising concert January 19 to benefit the American Foundation for Equal Rights. AFER is The sole sponsor of the landmark federal case against Proposition 8, Perry v. Schwarzenegger (Teddy Partridge has been liveblogging the court cases including the anti-equal righters’ appeal for Firedoglake.com)

There’s a Facebook sweepstakes (entry is free) to win tickets to the Elton John AFER concert concert plus airfare and hotel, but I have poor impulse control and never win contests anyway — so full disclosure –I bought a ticket weeks ago. It’s a cause I support, and a once in a lifetime experience. OMG, Elton John! At a private home! I am soooo excited!

I hope AFER expands their efforts beyond California into other states and turns up the heat on repealing DOMA.

On Christmas Eve day, Vice President Joe Biden told ABC News that

I think the country is evolving. There is a inevitability for a national consensus on gay marriage

in America. Biden also said that President Obama’s attitude towards same-sex marriage is evolving. Well, this clergy-gal can dream (and prays daily) that she’ll be able to officiate at the marriages of her same-sex friends, and that those marriages will grant federal rights.

Sir Elton, thank you for supporting the effort for equal rights. And now that you’re a dad, I hope in addition to working for civil marriage equality, you’ll turn your attention to adoption laws in order to insure that LGBT adoption is legal in every state.

*UK Civil partnerships provide the legal consequences of marriage, including the the same property rights as married opposite-sex couples, the same exemption as married couples on inheritance tax, social security and pension benefits, and also the ability to get parental responsibility for a partner’s children. Civil partnership also incurs responsibility for reasonable maintenance of one’s partner and their children, tenancy rights, as well as granting full life insurance recognition, and next-of-kin rights in hospitals, and other rights. There is a formal process for dissolving partnerships akin to divorce.

Millions Thrilled It’s Not a Joke: Anna Paquin Sez She’s Bisexual

Oscar winning actress Anna Paquin taped a video PSA for the True Colors Foundation Give a Damn project, announcing:

I’m Anna Paquin. I’m bisexual, and I give a damn.

Radaronline.com has one of the organization’s videos which features Elton John, Whoopi Goldberg, Cynthia Nixon, Sharon and Kelly Osbourne, Judith Light, Kim Kardashian, Clay Aiken, and Wanda Sykes–all proclaiming they “Give A Damn” about equality no matter what their sexuality, but Paquin’s announcement has caused wegivedamn.org‘s servers to clog as everyone rushes to view her buoyant message.

The True Colors Fund is the non-profit arm of the True Colors Tour. Co-founded by Cyndi Lauper, the organization’s goals are

to inspire and engage everyone, particularly the straight community, to become active participants in the advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) equality and ensure a strong and vibrant LGBT community.