December 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Louganis: gay MSNBC anchor should not have hosted Russia pageant
Gay News, Washington Blade, Greg Louganis

Retired Olympian Greg Louganis on Friday, Dec. 13, took part in a Russia briefing on Capitol Hill. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Retired Olympic diver Greg Louganis on Friday said he disagrees with gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts and singer Elton John’s decisions to host the Miss Universe 2013 pageant and perform in Russia because of the country’s LGBT rights record.

“I don’t agree with it,” Louganis told the Washington Blade during an interview after he took part in a Russia briefing on Capitol Hill organized by Human Rights First. “It just seems like all they’re doing is lending credibility to what’s going on there because they’re not going to be reporting on the crimes and the horrors that are happening there. You’re going to be a feather in [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s cap.”

Louganis, who learned he was living with HIV six months before he competed in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, came out as gay during an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 1995. He won two gold medals during the Seoul games and in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Louganis described Russia’s LGBT rights record that includes a law that bans gay propaganda to minors as “very, very disturbing” during the Capitol Hill briefing in which Anastasia Smirnova and Maria Kozlovskaya of the Russian LGBT Network, Elvina Yuvakaeva and Konstantin Iablotckii of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation and gay Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline also took part. The four-time Olympic gold medalist was unable to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because the U.S. boycotted them over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the previous year.

“When you’re talking about Olympic boycotts, they hurt the wrong people,” Louganis told the Blade, noting athletes often have a limited amount of time in which they can compete. “You have a window and if that window is taken away from you, you don’t have that opportunity. And I’ve lived that through two boycotts and they truly do hurt the wrong people.”

Iablotckii has invited Louganis to attend the Russian LGBT Sport Federation’s “open games” that are scheduled to take place in Moscow between Feb. 26 and March 2, but the retired Olympic diver said he does not currently have the financial means to travel to the Russian capital. He told the Blade he is not even sure the Russian government would grant him a visa that would allow him to legally enter the country.

“I’d love to be there,” said Louganis.

Louganis spoke with the Blade a week after John blasted Russia’s LGBT rights record during a concert in Moscow.

“You have always embraced me and you have never judged me,” said the gay British singer while on stage. “So I’m deeply saddened and shocked over the current legislation that is now in place against the LGBT community here in Russia.”

Louganis told the Blade he respects John, but questioned the effectiveness of his statement.

“It was skewed in such a way that it really did not help the cause,” said Louganis. “I think it was an attempt, but I don’t know how effective it was.”

Roberts last month co-hosted the Miss Universe pageant 2013 in Moscow with singer Mel B after Andy Cohen said he turned down the request, in part, because “he didn’t feel right as a gay man stepping foot into Russia” as he told E! News.

Masha Gessen, a lesbian Russian American journalist, appeared on the gay MSNBC anchor’s program before he traveled to Moscow. Roberts also 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 the gay propaganda law, once he arrived in Russia.

Roberts criticized the aforementioned statute and Russia’s LGBT rights record during a series of pre-pageant interviews with NBC, which co-owns the Miss Universe Organization with Donald Trump, and other media outlets. Neither Roberts nor participants in the Miss Universe 2013 pageant discussed Russia’s LGBT rights record during the broadcast of the event.

“All kids — Russian, American or otherwise — need hope,” wrote Roberts 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 Dec. 10 moderated a panel on LGBT issues in sports at the United Nations that featured Smirnova, gay former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, South African activist Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma and intersex advocate Huda Viloria. The event coincided with the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

Roberts was unavailable for comment as of deadline.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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