August 20, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Miss Universe Organization criticizes Russia LGBT rights record
Russia, anti-gay, gay news, Washington Blade

Protesters gathered outside of the Russian Embassy on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

The Miss Universe Organization on Tuesday expressed concern over a law that bans gay propaganda to minors in Russia and the ongoing anti-LGBT crackdown in the country.

“The Miss Universe Organization believes in equality for all individuals and is deeply concerned by the laws recently enacted in Russia and currently in place in several other countries,” it said in a statement GLAAD released. “Both the law, as well as the violence experienced by the LGBT community in Russia, are diametrically opposed to the core values of our company. Our organization has always embodied a spirit of inclusion and is a celebration of people from all countries and walks of life.”

The statement comes less than a week after Andy Cohen told E! News he turned down a request to co-host the 2013 Miss Universe pageant that will take place in Moscow in November, in part, because “he didn’t feel right as a gay man stepping foot into Russia.”

Francesco Pascuzzi, a gay man from Somerville, N.J., urged the Miss Universe Organization that Donald Trump co-owns with NBC Universal, in a Change.org petition to relocate this year’s pageant from the Russian capital over the country’s LGBT rights record.

“It is our hope this year’s Miss Universe contest in Moscow will help foster a common understanding and appreciation of the rights of all individuals, regardless of their nationality, race, religion or sexual orientation,” the Miss Universe Organization statement said.

Cohen could not be reached for comment.

Trump’s representatives last week did not return the Blade’s request for an interview.

“While I appreciate the Miss Universe Organization’s concern over Russia’s anti-gay policy, statements alone won’t protect gay staff and fans traveling to the pageant,” Pascuzzi said in a statement.

Growing outrage over the country’s gay rights record threatens to overshadow the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Russian chess champion Gary Kasparov and playwright Harvey Fierstein are among those who have called for a boycott of the Sochi games. Author Dan Savage, LGBT rights advocate Cleve Jones and others have called for a boycott of Russian vodka.

Gay Olympic diver Greg Louganis, who was unable to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because then-President Jimmy Carter boycotted them over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the year before, is among those who feel the U.S. should compete in the Sochi games. President Obama, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova and a coalition of LGBT advocacy groups that include Outsports.com and Athlete Ally also oppose an Olympic boycott.

Figure skater Johnny Weir, whose husband is of Russian descent, told CBS News earlier this month he is “not afraid of being arrested” while at the Sochi games.

American runner Nick Symmonds criticized the gay propaganda ban after he competed at the World Athletic Championships in Moscow last week. High jumper Emma Green Tregaro and sprinter Mao Hjelmer, who are from Sweden, painted their fingernails in rainbow colors as they competed in the same event.

The Miss Universe Organization said in its statement the “safety of our contestants, staff and crew is of the utmost importance.” It added it continues to work with “our Russian hosts to ensure the security and well-being of those traveling to Russia for the pageant.”

GLAAD said it plans to urge the Miss Universe Organization to continue speaking out against the gay propaganda law and anti-LGBT violence in Russia.

“Miss Universe is an organization with incredible impact all around the globe,” GLAAD spokesperson Omar Sharif, Jr., said. “Following this important first statement, Miss Universe has a unique opportunity to continue to speak out against the anti-LGBT violence and laws in Russia and demonstrate that the international community does not support Russia’s anti-LGBT brutality.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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