Trigger warning: This post reports on the use of vulgar anti-Jewish slurs.
Nikolai Alekseev, a 35-year-old lawyer from Moscow, is arguably Russia's best-known LGBT activist.
He's the founder and chief organizer of Moscow Pride and has been arrested several times for holding pride events in defiance of official bans. He won the first-ever successful suit against Russia for LGBT human rights violations in the European Court of Human Rights in 2010 and reportedly has several other complaints pending. And he's been hailed by everyone from the New York Times to the Advocate to Russian-born gay porn entertainer and LGBT activist Michael Lucas as Russia's gay-rights champion.
Yet over the past several weeks, as the world has focused its attention on the draconian and barbaric crackdown on LGBT rights in Russia, Alekseev -- already known for an ample ego and volatile temper -- has turned his wrath away from the anti-gay Russian government, and towards LGBT Russians who've applied for asylum in other countries, Western mainstream and LGBT media outlets, and any activists, commentators, and social media followers who express disagreement or displeasure with his tone and tactics.
And he's changed that tone too: after spending the last eight years alerting the West to the plight of Russian LGBTs (and basking in the ensuing media attention), Alekseev now claims that the situation actually isn't so bad in that country at all, and that hysterical, meddling Westerners are exaggerating the danger posed by Russia's "'horrific [anti-LGBT] laws'" (scare quotes his). According to the new Alekseev, folks concerned about LGBT Russians should just move along. No persecution here, folks.
To one activist who took issue with Alekseev's anti-Western vitriol on Facebook, he responded with a misogynistic slur; he baselessly accused two others of being pedophiles. And for his latest stunt, he lashed out at Lucas -- who penned an op-ed for Out.com discrediting Alekseev -- with several derogatory remarks, then launched a series of broader anti-Semitic attacks.
In the 1970s and 1980s, no one in Russia was talking about gay people. The scapegoats then were the Jews, who were demonized by government propaganda campaigns (under the guise of "anti-Zionism") and faced widespread discrimination. Russian Jews who wanted to escape this treatment by emigrating were forbidden to do so, and by the early 1980s these "Refuseniks" had become a major problem for Russia's international relations.
So in 1983, a desperate Russia tried some public-relations trickery. The Department of Propaganda set up the Anti-Zionist Committee and recruited or pressured various prominent Soviet Jews -- soldiers, writers, artists, scientists -- to join it. To decline meant repercussions. The idea was to show that even the Jews themselves agreed with the Kremlin's smears. Happily, the effort failed; neither Jews within Russia nor the international community were fooled by the Kremlin's "pocket Jews," and the AZSCP collapsed into irrelevance.
If "gays are the new Jews" in Russia, as many people have said, then Nikolai Alexeyev is the new Anti-Zionist Committee. Russia is desperate again: The upcoming Sochi Olympics are important to Putin's sense of his standing in the world, and the international campaign against Russian homophobia is staining them more every day. This campaign is working, and Russia knows it. What better way to slow this movement's momentum -- and to confuse and discourage those in the West who have been working for it -- than for its most visible advocate to minimize its importance and dismiss it as a Western, anti-Russian plot?
It could not be clearer to me that the Kremlin is up to its old tricks -- and that somehow, it has gotten to Alexeyev.
He continued: "...[Alekseev] can no longer be trusted as an advocate for LGBT Russians. Stick a sickle in him: He's done."
Alekseev, who spells his last name Alexeyev on Twitter, responded with a full-on meltdown. He threatened to sue Lucas, claimed he was quitting activism altogether, and then said he would "personally hire a contract killer" to murder Lucas if the article somehow caused the death of his 72-year-old mother.
And then Alekseev jumped headfirst into the cesspool of anti-Semitism. First he retweeted a tweet calling Out Magazine a "jewish slut magazine that supports jews and their filthy faggotry propaganda" and another smearing Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief of the Advocate, as a "jewish pig, Israeli monkey." For the record, Breen is not Jewish; Lucas is.
It only got worse from there. When the group Human Rights First cancelled his participation in an upcoming conference call, Alekseev unleashed a tirade of disgustingly vile anti-Semitic remarks. The following are screenshots from his Facebook and Twitter pages, arranged chronologically. I will indicate whenever tweets have been translated from Russian via Google. Note: the term "yid" (sometimes spelled "jid") is an extremely offensive anti-Semitic slur.
And in response to a Twitter user who scolded him for his anti-Semitic bigotry and reminded him that both gay people and Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, Alekseev replied:
But even though Alekseev despises Westerners and Jews, he still would very much like our money: on Sunday he tweeted out a plea for PayPal donations to Moscow Pride.
Can you believe this guy?
Here's the thing: I don't care what one thinks about Michael Lucas, who is, to be sure, a controversial figure. I don't care what one's opinion is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue irrelevant to this discussion but one which will nonetheless be brought up by commenters attempting to deflect or downplay Alekseev's remarks. What matters here is that Nikolai Alekseev has definitively revealed himself to be what many have long suspected he is: a disgraceful anti-Semitic bigot, unfit to be a civil rights leader in the 21st century.
Alekseev must immediately apologize for his hateful anti-Jewish slurs and step aside to allow non-bigoted activists to take up the reins of LGBT advocacy in Russia.
Will he do this? Of course not -- he's a preening prima donna who loves the spotlight far too much to remove himself from it. But our community's response to Alekseev must be swift and forceful. LGBT activists and organizations in the West and in Russia must unequivocally condemn his anti-Semitic slurs; furthermore, responsible media outlets like the Associated Press, Reuters, and the New York Times must stop using Alekseev as their go-to gay in Russia and instead amplify the voices of other Russian LGBT activists whose work isn't tainted by the cancer of anti-Semitism. And we need to stop donating to Moscow Pride and give instead to Russian LGBT groups that refuse to participate in the slandering and mischaracterization of Jewish people.
Mr. Alekseev clearly thinks he's too big to fail and that he can consequently say whatever he wants without any negative repercussions. In his mind, he is the Russian LGBT movement. "Dear friends, you will have to either hate me or love me for many more years but you will have to deal with me if you want to change [something] in Russia [for LGBT people]," Alekseev wrote on Facebook recently. "There is no other way!" he said.
Sorry, Nikolai, but you're wrong. The LGBT civil rights movement is not -- and cannot be -- a movement that tolerates bigotry towards any other racial, cultural, ethnic, religious, or gender minority. I reject the assertion that condoning your anti-Jewish prejudice is the price we must pay for creating pro-LGBT change in Russia. There is another way, and we will find it -- with or without you.