There was great excitement in California when it was announced that Russian gay activist Nikolai Alekseev was coming to America to speak about his often dangerous demonstrations supporting LGBT rights. The trip was arranged primary by Alekseev Chicago-based activist friend, Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network, who has long worked with Los Angeles-based activist Robin Tyler (on such projects as stopdrlaura.com, for instance). Tyler went to work in California to find sponsors for the Russian's trip - from Equality California and the City of West Hollywood to GetEQUAL and Marriage Equality/California.
But weeks before Alekseev was to arrive for his sponsored but unpaid speaking tour, rumors surfaced that he was not really fond of Americans. While that left some LGBT activists privately questioning why he was coming here at all, others suggested that perhaps something was lost in translation and to give the activist the benefit of the doubt.
Then came rumors that Alekseev posted anti-Jewish comments on his blog on Jan. 31 - http://alexeyev.livejournal.com/465479.html – now apparently deleted. The specific offending quote, captured by Scott Long, formerly of Human Rights Watch and now a Visiting Fellow, Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School was:
"The Israeli Prime Minister urged Western leaders to support Egyptian dictator Mubarak … And who after this are the Jews? In fact, I always knew who they were."
The California sponsors were unaware of this when they agreed to sponsor Alekseev. In fact, EQCA's Andrea Shorter chided Julie Dorf, Senior Advisor for the Council for Global Equality, for not warning EQCA about possible problems with Alekseev when they were having email discussions about international issues.
Update: Alekseev spoke at Columbia University Tuesday night. Please check out Michael K. Lavers at Boy in Bushwick and see Lavers' video below.
Updated Wednesday AM: David Badash posted a thoughtful piece on his blog.Two quick points: I updated and corrected my post last night to clarify that Robin Tyler said she read the offending quote in English on Alekseev's Facebook page. Additionally, at the end of Alekseev's statement (posted in full this morning following the video), he says he was not on any of the conference calls with the California organizers. Tyler says this is because Andy Thayer told the California organizers he would speak for Alekseev.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that there are political and personality conflicts in the LGBT international arena of which many of us are unaware.
(Updated/corrected) Meanwhile, Tyler, who said she read the comment posted in English on Alekseev's blog Facebook page – was on a conference call with Shorter and Rabbi Denise Eger, another longtime LGBT rights activist, among others.
"I'd like to say I am surprised – but I'm not surprised. There's a lot of anti-Jewish sentiment within our movement that is usually not addressed as swiftly as this has been," Tyler said. "All my friends have said that dictators like Mubarak should be overthrown so I don't know what the hell Nikolai is talking about."
Tyler and some of the sponsors of Alekseev's California tour contacted Thayer Monday morning about the issue. Thayer – who has shelled out his own money for the tour – said he wanted to try to convince the gay Russian activist to clarify his position and asked for the Californians to wait for 24 hours before deciding to cancel the tour. They said they would wait until 4:00pm Pacific time to give Alekseev "every opportunity" to clarify his position. But after Thayer informed the gay Russian of the situation, Alekseev not only refused but issued his own pre-emptive statement on his Facebook page saying he was cancelling on the Californians and essentially blaming Tyler and "Gay Inc" for trying to censor him. (See his complete message below.)
When San Francisco gay/HIV activist Michael Petrelis called Alekseev out on the Gays Without Borders listserv about the anti-Jewish remark and his Facebook page claim that he was being censored by "Gay Inc," Petrelis reported: "my effort to post this note failed because my membership in the gays without border yahoo group, whose membership list is maintained solely by nikolai, was canceled."
The California groups released this statement:
EQCA and Robin Tyler Productions, Inc. have decided to cancel sponsorship of the California speaking tour of Russian LGBT Activist Nikolai Alekseev. Our broad coalition of California organizations including Congregation Kol-Ami, Jewish Community Relations Council, Metropolitan Community Church, Los Angeles, Harvey Milk Foundation, SF LGBT Community Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Imperial Court of Canada, USA, and Mexico, Gays Without Borders, San Diego LGBT Center, Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, Jordan Rustin Coalition, Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, City of West Hollywood Lesbian and Gay Advisory Committee, Christopher Street West, WEHO, and Get Equal who were supporting this tour are focused on the common goal of securing civil rights and legal protections for the LGBT community. They are also withdrawing sponsorship when made aware that on January 31, 2011, Mr. Alekseev, who is a noted fighter for LGBT rights in Russia, made anti-Semitic remarks against Jewish people on his blog.
Offensive remarks against a religious and ethnic group is at direct odds with the goal of our coalition, and undermines our important work. EQCA and Robin Tyler Productions, Inc. asked Mr. Alekseev to clarify the disparaging remarks that he made, in an attempt to create open community dialogue. He declined. We believe that it is imperative that our speakers share our commitment to dignity for all human beings. It is our intention to focus on the important and timely task at hand: the recognition of full equality, and as such, we have canceled the March 5 - 7 engagements.
Meanwhile, Alekseev has apparently changed his mind about coming to California. This is from his most recent Facebook posting, according to a friend:
IT IS TIME TO SHAKE CASTRO! AND I WILL DO IT! SO THAT THOSE WHO FORGOT WHAT IS GAY ACTIVISM SWITCH ON THEIR BRAIN AGAIN AND NOT CONCEAL BEHIND THE NAME OF HARVEY MILK!
Putin’s police brutality is nothing to compare with the brutality of Californian Gay Establishment.
Here’s Alekseev’s posting on GaysWithoutBorders:
Dear friends,I know many of your are waiting to meet me in California and I was actually waiting to meet you as well.But unfortunately, I just took the decision to cancel my appearances there. I have been highly pressured over the last 4 hours by the Producer of the event Robin Tyler in terms that are absolutely not acceptable. I have experienced such a stress in the last hours than cannot even be compared with what I faced while being arrested and insulted by the Moscow police over the last years. This is just another drop that I cannot accept. This is not actually the first time. As you know, in the last weeks, I hesitated already to come to the US especially after Robin sent me an email in which she explained me how I will have to behave and what I will have to tell the audience. Saying what I think about Gays INC NGOs here was not very much welcomed. This restriction of my freedom of speech was not acceptable to me. At this time, I got to know the list of sponsors of the events and I regret I was not made aware earlier that organizations that I have denounced recently in articles published in the Advocate and elsewhere for their lack of support to grassroot activists where among the sponsors. I was trapped and at this moment I understood the ultimatum I received from Robin. I promise you to be more careful next time I am invited somewhere and check who is behind. But I still went on this time and stepped over my principle, and decided to come by friendship for Andy but also for all of you who sent me warm messages over the last weeks and asked me to come and share experience. You contributed to make me change my mind. Now, this has become impossible. Someone called Scott Long decided to run a campaign against me in the last 48h and harassed the sponsors of the events asking them to pull out and cancel. I want to underline that I did not request any money for speaking anywhere in the US contradictory to what many usually do. This would be disgusting for me. It’s not my way of doing. I don’t need money. I am fighting this concept of activists being paid for their campaigns. I was just coming to share experience. I don’t understand how I can see a poster of my appearance stating “produced by Robin Tyler Inc”. What is this? Hollywood ? No, this is serious. The topic is blood of people being arrested, assaulted. The bullying campaign by Scott Long made its effect and I got a large pressure which people where not even able to make directly. They understood they were behaving improperly and decided to pressure me indirectly. This is just amazing. This is too much. This campaign has absolutely no reasoning and there is no ground for it.Honnestly, I cannot say that I am disappointed in America. This would be totally untrue. I am dellighted to be in Chicago among marvelous grassroot activists who are every day fighting for gay rights and human rights and not seating in an office and getting well paid salaries from generous sponsors. I know most are disappointed that we will not meet but you might understand that I put my health first. Tonight I feel more stressed than after what happened last September. This is just too much. I am sure you understand.
Here’s the video of Alekseev at Columbia University.
UPDATE( 8:54 Pacfic) : Asked about the on-going controversy, Tyler said, “The fact is he didn’t cancel. we canceled him. Andy Thayer was on the phone with us for days and said he was speaking on behalf of Nikolai and he would issue a statement. Bob Schwartz, who works with Andy Thayer in Gay Liberation Network, emailed me to convine Andy to cancel the entire tour because of Nikolai’s temperment. To quote Bob from his email:
I read Nikolai’s statement about him canceling the California tour. And his rant about his dissatisfaction about you and the others. More failure to take responsiblility for his own behavior.
Andy is going to be working on a statement regarding the California cancelation, and I am in agreement with you that we need to distance ourselves from Nikolai.
I can tell you that Andy was ambivalent about continuing with the tour for a number of reasons. Rather than speak for him, I ask that you take the question up with him directly. For what its worth, I told him to scrap the tour. Nikolai is just too volitile, a loosse cannon.”
Tyler continues: “Nikolai is spinning the story as if he’s the victim instead of being an anti-Semite.”
Updated 6:20AM Pacific, Wednesday: Late Tuesday night, LGBT POV received a statement from Alekseev under the name Nicolas Alexeyev:
In the light of the controversy concerning the cancellation of my speaking engagements in California, sponsored by a group of local LGBT organizations, I would like to make the following statement, the essence of which was addressed tonight during my speech at Columbia University.
I would like to state that I am a strong believer in human rights and equality for everyone, irrespective of any personal characteristics, whether it is sexual orientation, race, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion or any other basis.
I did publish in my blogs the comments which were addressed against the Israel Government after Israeli Prime Minister called the world to support Egypt dictator Mubarak and to unite around him, disregarding popular public efforts to oust him. I was angry that anyone could support this dictator as he was killing his own people. My comments appeared to blame all Jews for the actions of the Israeli government and its supporters.
The accusations of me distributing anti-Semitic statements on blogs were initiated by notorious human rights campaigner Scott Long who had to quit his position at Human Rights Watch (HRW) due to his involvement into slandering British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell for which both Mr Long and HRW had to make a public apology.
Mr. Long was intentionally waiting for my trip to the US to start this campaign against me, which he started the day I arrived in Chicago, a month after this comment were made by me and already long ago after it was removed and address directly with the few who read them and contacted me to discuss it. If Scott Long was truly interested in stopping anti-semitism, why did he wait a month to raise an objection, but instead wait until I landed in the US to start this tour? One can doubt Mr Long would have ever distributed this information if I did not have any speaking engagement in the US. I regret this personal vendetta which goes on between the 2 of us for years might have hurt other people.
I would like to say that I have several Jewish friends who I treasure, including one Jewish American who played a significant role in Moscow Pride movement for years, helping to organize all our events in Russia. I adore her and I consider her as one of the most outstanding people I met in my life. Without her Moscow Pride campaign would not be as successful as it was.
My mum's stepfather was a Jew who immigrated to Israel from Soviet Union.
I am one of the only persons who always defended Jewish people against the hypocrisy of Switzerland during World War II. This is the topic which almost noone is courageous enough to raise neither in Switzerland itself, nor elsewhere. Just as noone was courageous enough to challenge Gaddafi regime from within Libya and I already did it in 2002 during my trip there risking problems to exit this country.
My grandfather died in World War II fighting the regime which is responsible for killing of millions of Jews. He was fighting for freedom and liberation aged younger than me now. I don't even know where he found his resting place.
Every time I am in Berlin, and a few weeks ago was not an exception, I visit a massive monument to millions of Jews who died under Nazi devastating rule.
I always dreamt to visit Jerusalem and I am sure I will do it very shortly.
I am a great believer in justice and a great opponent of all injustice. I am always very direct in what I say and sometimes people interpret it the way they want to use it against me.
It is true that I had to cancel my appearances in California due to enormous pressure from the organizers of the tour there. I always said in the last 48h that I would answer any question anyone might have about this issue after my speeches and make them public. And so, I did it tonight at Columbia University in New York, an institution which I admire for not surrendering to the harsh pressure Mr Long put on them in the last day to cancel my appearence. But I still plan to come to California as I know many people are waiting for me there and I have no right to punish them or disregard them.
Closing this statement I would like to stress that I was not personally contacted by any organizers of my tour in California with questions concerning my statements on policy of the Israeli Government. I was not invited in the several conference calls Californian organizers held in the last 48 hours on this issue.