There's no evidence that famed Russian composer Pytor Tchaikovsky was gay. So said the Russian Culture Minister recently in discussing an upcoming state-funded biopic that promises to shove the 19th-century musical icon -- along with his sugar-plum fairies, boy-toy soldiers and square-jawed nutcrackers -- firmly back into the closet.
Trouble is that Tchaikovsky's same-sex orientation is so well documented in his own letters and diaries -- as well as the writings of his gay brother Modest and contemporaries such as E.M. Forster -- claiming he wasn't gay is like insisting Liberace just didn't find the right Swan Queen. Historians' heads pirouette.
But the climate of homophobia in Russia these days -- as embodied in the new so-called "gay propaganda" law -- makes it hard for even dead Russians to be gay. And the living risk fines, imprisonment or worse for saying anything positive about gay or lesbian relationships or, Putin forbid, equating them with, say, the Romeo and Juliet ideal -- whose passion Tchaikovsky's music ironically brought to life -- before they killed themselves, of course.
Imagine how quickly the West would condemn a "heterosexual propaganda" law that similarly criminalized any honest expression of boy-girl sexuality. No public touching, kissing or holding hands -- no acknowledgment of your love or family -- and no ability to speak out about the injustice. Leo Tolstoy famously said: "Everything that I understand, I understand only because I love." Sorry, big guy, that sounds like propaganda to me, and are you sure you were really straight? We can't have the children asking questions.
That's what LGBT Russians are dealing with -- along with an alarming wave of anti-gay violence that their government also seems content to ignore. They deserve our unwavering support, and their oppressors, our unequivocal condemnation.