November 10, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Russia’s LGBT rights record not discussed during Miss Universe pageant

Thomas Roberts, Gay, Russia,MSNBC, Washington Blade

Thomas Roberts (Photo courtesy of MSNBC)

Participants in the Miss Universe 2013 pageant that took place in Moscow on Saturday did not discuss Russia’s LGBT rights record during the broadcast of the event.

Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, who co-hosted the pageant with singer Mel B, earlier on Saturday described Russia’s law banning gay propaganda to minors as a “discriminatory” statute that “condones the closet” during an interview with fellow MSNBC anchor Alex Witt from the Russian capital with Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo. The network said Roberts further criticized the statute during an interview on the red carpet at Crocus City Hall where the pageant took place.

“I know the law is very vague, and it’s still hard to interpret for many people,” the gay MSNBC anchor said. “It is discrimination and that’s definitive.”

Roberts further criticized the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during an interview with Agence France-Presse after he and his husband, Patrick Abner, arrived in Moscow.

“The Russian laws obviously are a dark time and a dark chapter in LGBT history here,” Roberts said. “They’re seeking a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist and meanwhile it causes new problems because it allows people to abuse and hurt and vilify the LGBT community under the guise of some propaganda law that’s just ridiculous.”

The pageant took place against the backdrop of growing outrage over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record that threatens to overshadow the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Andy Cohen told E! News he turned down a request to co-host the pageant, in part, because “he didn’t feel right as a gay man stepping foot into Russia.”

The Miss Universe Organization in August criticized the gay propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed earlier this year and the ongoing anti-LGBT rights crackdown in the country. Donald Trump, who co-owns the pageant with NBC Universal, reiterated this position during an interview with Roberts last month.

“I don’t like what it’s all about,” Trump said. “We can go over there and make a difference.”

Roberts interviews gay Russian journalist in Moscow

John Aravosis of AMERICAblog and journalist Andrew Miller are among those who criticized Roberts’ decision to co-host the pageant.

“All kids — Russian, American or otherwise — need hope,” Roberts wrote in an MSNBC column that announced his decision to co-host the pageant. “I am a happy, healthy, gainfully employed, educated and married man. And yes, I am gay. These new Russian laws won’t stop Russians from being born LGBT and growing up to identify as such. Russia’s treatment of its LGBT citizens is unacceptable, unrealistic and only promotes homophobia and intolerance for a community that does and will continue to exist.”

Roberts on Nov. 6 interviewed Anton Krasovsky, the former editor-in-chief of a pro-Kremlin television station who said he lost his job in January after he came out during a segment on Russia’s gay propaganda law. Masha Gessen, a lesbian Russian American journalist, appeared on the MSNBC anchor’s program before he traveled to the country.

Roberts told “Today” show co-host Savannah Guthrie on Friday that he hasn’t “run into any discrimination so far since I’ve been here” in Russia.

“Visibility is really important,” Roberts told Guthrie. “I’m openly gay. I think it’s an interesting fact, but I’m certainly not embarrassed about it. I’m proud of my marriage. I’m proud of who I am.”

Oleg Klyuenkov of the Russian LGBT advocacy group Rakurs in the city of Arkhangelsk told the Washington Blade on Friday during an interview in D.C. that he feels most Russians will not watch the pageant. He nevertheless applauded Roberts’ decision to co-host it.

“It’s great,” Klyuenkov said.

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

3 Comments
  • Any idea how much Roberts was paid for his services? I’ve searched the web and cannot find a damn thing about the amount he was compensated by the Miss Universe operation. I doubt he hosted the pageant pro bono.

  • I support Thomas Roberts. Another horrific video of a young student being abused surfaced this week. Something has to be done.

  • What role if any did Russia have in Roberts co-hosting the pageant? If it’s Donald Trump’s show then it doesn’t seem Russia had anything to do with it. Roberts doesn’t fit the gay stereotype. Had he not come out or been with his spouse, I would wonder if I would know he is or not. He doesn’t come across as obvious to me like a lot of gay men happen to be. The reception and treatment in Russia might have been quite different had someone like Carson Kressley been invited to co-host instead.

    More to the point, I’d like to know if Roberts tried to hold hands or kiss with his spouse in public while in Russia. Did they stay in a room with one bed or were they given double beds? Did they behave like a couple in public while being out and about in Moscow?

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