MOSCOW: Elton John is to play a concert in Moscow on Friday during which he has vowed to raise the issue of gay rights, braving a controversial new law banning the promotion of homosexuality.
The British singer told CNN last month that he was “going to say something from the stage that's... going to be meaningful” when he plays two dates in Russia, in Moscow on Friday and the Volga city of Kazan on Saturday.
He also said that he wanted to “meet with the LGBT community”, describing the current situation in Russia as “awful”.
He will be the first major Western star known for strong support of gay rights to play in Russia since President Vladimir Putin in June signed a national law banning “propaganda of homosexuality” to minors.
The loosely worded law, aggressively lobbied by conservative lawmakers, can be used to ban any gay rights event, critics say.
“Of course it's important, the more famous the person is, the more important it is. Elton John is a massive cultural figure in the whole world. It's hard to ignore what he says,” said Ivan Tikhonov of the Russian LGBT Network in Saint Petersburg.
Elton John publicly announced his homosexuality in 1988 and is in a civil partnership. He and his partner, David Furnish, have two children born to a surrogate mother. The singer is a major backer of programmes to help those with AIDS. In 2009, Ukraine refused to let him adopt an HIV-positive toddler.
Ahead of the Russian concerts, a conservative parents' group and the outspoken imam of a mosque in Kazan, a city with a large Muslim population, called for a boycott.
But gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev, who has organised a series of gay pride parades in Moscow roughly broken up by riot police, criticised Elton John for failing to support gay rights earlier.
“In all the years he has been travelling to Russia and performing for high-ranking officials and oligarchs, he never cared about the state of gay rights,” Alexeyev said, downplaying the importance of Elton John's speaking out.
“He is going only to say a few words. It won't change anything. It certainly won't change the opinion of the Russian government.”
Before Russia's national law was signed, both Madonna and Lady Gaga last year used concerts in Saint Petersburg to speak out on stage against local legislation that went in the same direction.
The promoters of Lady Gaga's concert were fined last month by a Saint Petersburg court under a child protection law which includes a ban on gay propaganda.
Russia decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, but its medical institutions continued to class homosexuality as a mental disorder until 1999. Russian society remains deeply homophobic, with a survey by the Levada independent polling centre in March finding that 34 percent thought homosexuality was an illness that should be treated.