Russian president Vladimir Putin recently enacted a law which prohibits public support of same-sex relationships. The vagueness of the law's language makes it easy for officials to criminalize homosexuality. Despite the devastating consequences, LGBT supporters across the world are rising up to protest these offensive and tyrannical laws. Some of these protests have come from prominent foreign musicians, and despite their inability to truly create any political change, their vocal support is wide-reaching, and may help to inspire a movement within Russia.
1. Madonna and Lady Gaga
Two artists who have championed gay rights throughout their careers, Madonna and Lady Gaga, both promoted gay rights in concerts they held in the country. They are now facing suspicious issues with their visas that prevent them from traveling and performing in Russia because of their vocal support. Lady Gaga also took to Twitter to advocate for LGBT rights , stating the Russian government is “criminal” because of its oppressive laws and promising to continue to fight for their “freedom.” Madonna has been previously targeted by the Russian government for her championing of the release of Pussy Riot from prison.
2. Bloodhound Gang
Perhaps the most brazen protest against the anti-gay laws in Russia was undertaken by Bloodhound Gang, a rather unconventional American rap/rock group. The bassist of the group used a Russian flag in multiple inappropriate physical acts.
Solomon — one of few openly gay artists in hip-hop — spoke out as well, stating that he considered Putin a “coward.” This is a truly impressive protest, simply because of Solomon’s identification with an overwhelmingly masculine genre that commonly displays homophobia and relishes concepts of heterosexuality.
Aside from American musicians, there have been protests from foreign musicians in generally conservative countries. Clubs in Germany and Israel, along with a club in Brooklyn, have planned an event which will donate all proceeds to an LGBT rights group.
But what is the effect of their support? Many musicians promote being unique and individual, with carefully worded lyrics and elaborately constructed performances that embrace differences rather than avoiding them. While it could be argued that they are doing very little to help the situation in Russia, they are still inspiring millions of people to speak out for LGBT rights, and showing LGBT people in Russia that they are not alone — they have the love and respect of millions.
The issues in Russia and the response by musical artists calls into question the role art plays in social movements. Music, as one category, has always been closely linked to struggle. Slaves sang hymns to send messages to each other. The feminist movement relied on “Bread and Roses” to explain their position on equal rights. The VMAs recently introduced a category entitled “Best Video with a Social Message.” Music and policy are inextricably linked, as the voices of the few reach the ears of the many through the widespread influence of musicians. Music also has a particular advantage in that it is easily received. People are much more likely to agree with what they have a visceral reaction to, and they are not going to have the same reaction to a politician giving a speech as they will to “Same Love” by Macklemore. The importance of the reaction by musicians to the Russian anti-gay laws helps to illustrate the critical role art — particularly music — plays in initiating or furthering social movements.
The disrespect for LGBT life in America is slowly dwindling, and more and more states are passing legislation that approves marriage or other rights. The often disheartening pace at which this legislation moves can create a sense of hopelessness. Russia’s anti-gay laws only furthered this hopelessness, giving anti-gay supporters another example of homophobia in an incredibly powerful country. The protests by some of the most powerful and widely-heard voices in America — those of musicians — gave hope that we could finally arrive on the correct side of history.