Lady Gaga, one of pop music's most outlandish acts, took her tour to Russia's capital for a performance that was predictably ribald and indomitable despite what she said were threats of arrest if she broke local laws against "homosexual propaganda."
The American singer is a longtime gay-rights activist who had spoken out to thousands of fans three nights before, in Russia's second city of St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg is the birthplace of antigay legislation that's left the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community feeling embattled and is about to reach the national parliament.
It has also been replicated in neighboring Ukraine, where lawmakers are trying to proscribe the "promotion of homosexuality"
because they argue that it's a threat to national security.
At Moscow's Olympic Arena on December 12, Lady Gaga continued her "Born This Way Ball" tour in front of a packed house and left no doubt as to where she stood on discrimination based on sexual orientation.
She prefaced her call for unity and equality in Russia with an expletive that many people might find objectionable, so here's a slightly edited transcript of what she said:
You know, I can't even really believe that you're all here, because when they first called me they were like, "We want you to go to Russia but, you know, we might have some problems because of all the gay propaganda in your show." But I want to thank you. I want to thank you, Moscow. Thank you for spreading the message of equality around the world. Thank you for spreading...the message of "Born This Way." ...Get on your feet. Stand up, Russia. You have one chance...to unite. You have one night to come together for the voice of society, for equality in Moscow, equality in Russia. So stand up for yourself or stand up for your friends. Where's all my gay kids tonight? Tonight, this is my house, Russia. You can be gay in my house. And if you ever need me, Moscow, I will just be a telephone call away.
You can watch the video for yourself here
Lady Gaga chafes at comparisons to Madonna. But her repeated appeals for gay rights in Russia invite another, since a St. Petersburg court just last month threw out a $10 million lawsuit
alleging "homosexual propaganda" against that pop doyenne over messages conveyed at a concert in August.
READ about some of the bizarre courtroom exchanges during the Madonna hearing, thanks to RAPSI
Earlier on the Russian leg of her tour, Lady Gaga said that she and associates had received similar threats, including of heavy fines and even arrest.
Reuters cited one of those threats in connection with the St. Petersburg appearance:
Vitaly Milonov, a member of the ruling United Russia party in the St. Petersburg assembly and the architect of a city law that bans gay "propaganda," accused the singer of breaking the law at the beginning of her show.
"We saw that in addition to music, songs and such, there were direct calls for 12-year-old citizens to support the LGBT...community," Milonov said, adding that he would file a complaint to prosecutors over the singer's actions.
He had unsuccessfully called on authorities to bar people under 18 from attending Lady Gaga's show.
A vocal defender of lesbian and gay rights, Lady Gaga said offstage that her managers had received a call threatening her with arrest or a $50,000 fine if she spoke in support of the LGBT community, according to media reports.
The latest antigay initiative was mocked by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. He let out a laugh when asked about it and suggested that "not all human relationships are subject to legal regulation."
Lady Gaga tweeted her gratitude for that response:
As with their public sparring over the fate of jailed activists from Pussy Riot
, Medvedev's statement is unlikely to tip the scales of Russian justice. After all, legislators in his and Putin's United Russia party are among the most strident supporters of the antigay bill slated for debate in the State Duma in the next few weeks.
-- Andy Heil