August 21, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay U.S. journalist challenges 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)

A gay American journalist on Wednesday challenged Russia’s LGBT rights record during an interview with a Russian television network.

Jamie Kirchick, a writer-at-large for Radio Free Europe who has worked at other publications that include The New Republic, wore rainbow suspenders as he appeared on RT, which is funded through the Kremlin, to discuss the sentencing of former U.S. Army private Bradley Manning whom a military judge at Fort Meade, Md., last month found guilty of leaking classified documents to Wikileaks.

“Being here on a Kremlin-funded propaganda network I’m going to wear my gay pride suspenders and I’m going to speak out against the horrific anti-gay legislation that Vladimir Putin has signed into law, that passed unanimously by the Russian Duma that criminalizes homosexual propaganda,” Kirchick said. “It effectively makes it illegal to talk about homosexuality in public. We’ve seen a spate of violent attacks on gay people in Russia.”

Anchor Yulia Shapovalova interrupted Kirchick and asked him about Manning.

“I’m not really interested in talking about Bradley Manning,” Kirchick said. “I’m interested in talking about the horrific environment of homophobia in Russia right now. I’m interested in talking about the horrific environment of homophobia in Russia right now, and to let the Russian gay people know that they have friends and allies in solidarity from people all over the world, and that we’re not going to be silenced in the face horrific repression that is perpetrated by your paymaster, Vladimir Putin. That’s what I’m here to talk about.”

Kirchick further criticized Shapovalova and her network for not reporting on the country’s LGBT rights record, although RT did air a segment on calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February on August 12.

“I don’t know how as a journalist that you can go to sleep at night seeing what happens to journalists in Russia who are routinely harassed, tortured and sometimes killed by the Russian government,” Kirchick said. “I find that abominable. You should be ashamed of yourself. Everyone across this network should be ashamed of yourself.”

Kirchick’s comments come against the backdrop of growing outrage over the country’s LGBT rights record that threaten to overshadow the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Kirchick did not immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment, but RT took him off the air after the segment. He said on his Twitter account the network called the taxi company that had brought him to its studio in Stockholm, Sweden, from where he appeared on the segment and told it to drop him off on the side of a highway that leads to the Swedish capital’s airport.

RT posted a clip of the segment on its Google+ account under a headline that criticized Kirchick.

“James Kirchick joined RT’s live discussion panel on the Bradley Manning verdict,” it reads. “Instead he went off on a self-promoting rant that was not even tangentially related to the matter at hand.”

RT told the Blade late on Wednesday it invited Kirchick to appear on the segment after he wrote an op-ed in the New York Daily News that criticized Manning and his supporters after the judge found him guilty in the Wikileaks case. The network described the verdict the verdict and the former Army private’s sentencing as “obviously the major international news event.”

“Mr. Kirchick decided to instead use this time to express his opinion on LGBT rights, a matter which, while important, was entirely unrelated to the subject of the panel,” RT told the Blade. “Regretfully, RT had no other recourse but to continue the discussion without him.”

RT also disputed Kirchick’s claim the driver it had hired dropped him off along a highway outside the Stockholm airport.

“Logistics management by RT is often part of the agreement when required for a person’s appearance in an RT broadcast,” the network told the Blade. “After Mr. Kirchick tried to sabotage RT’s broadcast, it’s rather surprising that he expected us to pay for his taxi ride.”

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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