Groups nix Russian activist's CA visit
by Cynthia Laird
Several local and California organizations have pulled the plug on their sponsorship of a visit to the Golden State by prominent Russian gay rights activist Nikolai Alekseev after it was discovered that he posted an anti-Jewish remark on a blog that he owns.
Alekseev was to have appeared in San Francisco at the LGBT Community Center Monday, March 7. An interview that he gave to the paper before news broke of the sponsorship flap is on page 6.
Alekseev said in a statement Tuesday that he still plans to come to California. On his Facebook page, according to a source, he posted, "It's time to shake the 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."
Equality California and Robin Tyler, of Robin Tyler Productions, were the main sponsors of Alekseev's visit. But a broad range of organizations were also on board, including Congregation Kol-Ami, Jewish Community Relations Council, Get Equal, Christopher Street West, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Scott Long, formerly of Human Rights Watch and now a fellow at Harvard, captured the January 31 blog post on February 26. The specific quote from Alekseev (since deleted) reads: "The Jews and Mubarak ... 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." (Ellipses in original.)
In a statement released Tuesday night, Alekseev said he did publish the comments, which he said were directed at the Israeli government.
"I was angry that anyone could support this dictator [Mubarak] as he was killing his own people. My comments appeared to blame all Jews for the actions of the Israeli government and its supporters," he said.
Alekseev said he is a "strong believer" in human rights and equality for everyone, "irrespective of personal characteristics, whether it is sexual orientation, race, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion, or any other basis."
Tyler said she saw Alekseev's quote in English, not translated from Russian, before it was taken down. She said the groups organizing Alekseev's visit were asked to wait for the activist to clarify his remarks, but that clarification never came.
"Andy Thayer a few days ago asked us to wait until we made a decision, as Nikolai was going to make a statement clarifying his misquotes around Jewish people," Tyler said in an e-mail Tuesday to the Bay Area Reporter. Thayer, with Gay Liberation Network Chicago, has helped coordinate Alekseev's visit to the United States.
Tyler said that Thayer called Monday afternoon and said Alekseev refused to make a statement but would "explain everything" when he got here.
"We said we had a lot of Jewish sponsorship to these events, plus other organizations who fight racism and anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish remarks). So yesterday at 4 p.m. we told Andy we were going to cancel," Tyler said.
She said Thayer went to Alekseev's hotel room in Chicago and told him the California visits had been canceled.
"Nikolai put out a statement last night saying he was canceling California, hours after he found out he was canceled," Tyler said.
In fact, Alekseev, on his Facebook page, posted a lengthy note explaining that he was "highly pressured" by Tyler "in terms that are 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," he wrote.
He alluded to being pressured into toning down comments about gay organizations, what he called "Gay Inc."
"This restriction of my freedom of speech was not acceptable to me," he wrote.
Tyler denied that.
"I never told him to tone down his comments on Gay Inc.," Tyler said.
Alekseev was also critical of Long, saying that he waited "until I arrived in America to run his campaign because by attacking me, he was at the same time attacking the activists from Chicago who are also not his toys."
Alekseev did not address the offending blog post in his Facebook note.
"There was no 'campaign,' and I don't even know who the activists from Chicago are," Long said in an e-mail Tuesday.
"Generalizations about a racial, religious, or ethnic group cross a line," Long added. "They're wrong in themselves and they're wrong when indulged by LGBT activists who have a responsibility to be true to their own values of equality and understanding."
Long said he had nothing to do with the cancellation.
"I never spoke to Robin Tyler in my life," he said. "I would have preferred, in fact, that Nikolai speak, and answer public challenges about what he wrote."
The statement put out by the coalition that had organized Alekseev's visit to California said, "Offensive remarks against a religious and ethnic group is at direct odds with the goal of our coalition."