Pop superstar Selena Gomez was forced to cancel two concerts in Russia after government officials denied her visa, reportedly due to stricter transit laws for foreign artists. Organizers, however, believe Gomez, who supports gay rights, fell victim to a controversial new law in Russia barring "propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships" to minors.
The pop-singer was scheduled to perform at St. Petersburg's Ice Palace on Sept. 23 and Moscow's Olimpiisky Stadium on Sept. 25. Both dates have since been erased from the singer’s online itinerary, as have performances in Belarus on Friday and a show supposed to have taken place in Kiev, Ukraine on Sept. 21.
Prior to the canceling of the of shows, Gomez was facing pressure to take a stand on LGBT rights in the former Soviet Union as the subject of a Change.org petition drafted by activist, writer and blogger, John Becker. The petition called on Gomez to speak out while in Russia to let LGBT folks “know that we stand with them, and that they are not alone." It reached over 1,000 signatures before the news of Gomez's denied visa became public. The number of signatures topped 10,000 by Friday.
“I'm incredibly heartened by the amount of attention this petition has received,” Becker told The Advocate. “I do hope that it will inspire other equality supporters to keep the pressure up on artists and entertainers who travel to anti-LGBT countries, including Russia. We need to continue encouraging them to speak out for our persecuted LGBT siblings who are living their lives in fear. And I'm absolutely committed to doing just that.”
Russia continues to deal with intense scrutiny for it’s series of anti-LGBT legislation ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi. The government’s reinstatement of the "gay propaganda" law and a proposed bill that would remove children from the homes of their LGBT parents have garnered recent outrage around the globe.
In August, Russian officials announced that Madonna and Lady Gaga had each violated their own visas while touring in the country last year, and asserted that the two pop stars had indeed violated the nation’s propaganda law. In a series of August 5 tweets, Lady Gaga spoke out in support of the LGBT fight against the Russian government’s homophobic legislation. “Why didn't you arrest me when you had the chance, Russia? Because you didn't want answer to the world?,” she asked defiantly. “The Russian government is criminal. Oppression will be met with revolution. Russian LGBTs you are not alone. We will fight for your freedom.”
As a further result of widespread outrage over Russia’s antigay legislation, prominent Western entertainers and LGBT allies such as Elton John and gay icon Cher have also been forced to take a stand on the issue. While Cher announced that she turned down an invitation to perform at the 2014 Olympics, Elton John still plans on traveling to Russia in December.
"I've got to go. And I've got to think about what I'm going to say very carefully,” said John in a statement to The Guardian. There's two avenues of thought: do you stop everyone going, ban all the artists coming in from Russia? But then you're really leaving the men and women who are gay and suffering under the antigay laws in an isolated situation. As a gay man, I can't leave those people on their own without going over there and supporting them. I don't know what's going to happen, but I've got to go."
The next stop scheduled on Gomez’s tour is a Sept. 27 performance in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Sexual relations outside of traditional heterosexual marriage are still criminalized in the UAE.