Less than two days after I officially launched a Change.org petition asking pop star Selena Gomez to speak out for LGBT Russians at her upcoming concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russian officials yanked her visa, forcing her to cancel the performances just four days before the first was scheduled to take place.
According to a report from Germany's Der Spiegel, Putin's government denied Gomez's visa because they were worried she would use the stage to stand up for equality and "show solidarity" with LGBT people.
Russian officials are undoubtedly anxious to avoid a repeat of recent concerts by fellow pop superstars Madonna and Lady Gaga, both of whom violated laws banning so-called "gay propaganda" by making statements in favor of LGBT rights.
The Russian government is clearly on edge and aware of the bruising its reputation has taken in the wake of their anti-LGBT crackdown. As I wrote this morning, for the first time since the end of the Yeltsin administration, a majority of Americans have a negative perception of Russia. Much of the turnaround in public opinion is a result of the backlash over Russia's draconian anti-LGBT laws.
The Russian government's preemptive cancellation of Selena Gomez's visa -- just over the possibility that she'd say something pro-LGBT -- shows just how sensitive and defensive they are. They're afraid to have a superstar like Selena Gomez come in and potentially use her platform to advance LGBT rights. (I wonder whether the openly gay Elton John -- scheduled to play Moscow in December -- will suffer a similar fate?)
Predictably, Russian officials are trying to spin the story in a way that implicates Gomez, suggesting to the Moscow Times that they simply have a more complicated visa process for Western musical artists in the wake of the Madonna and Lady Gaga incidents.
But concert organizers in that country warn that the repercussions of Russia's anti-gay crusade will continue to reverberate, especially if officials persist in targeting musical artists. Promoter Yevgeny Finkelstein told state news outlet RIA Novosti, "Not one artist, circus or exhibition will come here if the prosecutor's office starts disputing something or looking for guilty parties."
Even though she won't be performing in Russia, here's hoping that Selena Gomez will follow Cher's example and speak out more strongly for equality, both abroad and here in the United States.
The Change.org petition to Selena Gomez surpassed 10,000 signatures as I wrote this article.
Update: The headline and first paragraph in this article have been updated to correct an inadvertent error in the timeline of the story.