Diplomacy

Kremlin: Putin Did Not Call Elton John to Talk LGBT Rights

The pop star wants to meet the Russian president to discuss LGBT equality, and claimed Putin had called him. Not so, says the Kremlin—but never say never.

09.16.15 2:09 AM ET

Put the champagne back in the dacha cellar. Hold the Beluga. Cancel the karaoke machine. There will be no drunken duets of “I’m Still Standing” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” And there will most definitely be no bare-chested horse-riding. At least not for now.

For, sadly, it would seem that President Vladimir Putin and Elton John will not be convening a very personal, two-man summit on LGBT issues.

John had said Putin had called him.

The Kremlin said Putin had not. He was working on his tan on Fire Island at the time. (Sorry, that last bit’s not true.)

The meeting-that-will-never be will not surprise many.

At 68, John has become a later-in-life, admirable LGBT rights crusader, while Putin and his cohorts seem resolutely yolked to their hardline anti-gay policies and rhetoric, which have helped foster a nasty and violent climate of prejudice in Russia.

Perhaps Putin was flirting with the idea just to see if he could get his own personal rendition of “Piano Man,” or compare tracksuits. Who wears them best?

John’s admirable LGBT campaigning has seen him take on Dolce and Gabbana over their views on gay parenting and use his fame to spotlight homophobia around the world.

Over the weekend, he met with Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, to discuss banning LGBT and gender discrimination at work and introducing criminal penalties for hate crimes.

In Moscow and St. Petersburg, prior to the mystery of the proposed Putin summit, John had already condemned—in 2013—a law banning the “propaganda of homosexuality” to minors.

Before last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Putin claimed the new law didn’t hurt anyone, adding it was intended to keep children safe—failing to note the innate homophobia of linking LGBT people to harming children.

Playing concerts in Russia, John has said, is aimed at making LGBT people know that they are not isolated.

On Saturday he told the BBC that he wanted to “use the message of peace and acceptance and inclusion in my older age.”

It was something he probably would not have done at 40 or 50, he said: “I was not mature enough to do it. I was drunk and a drug addict.”

He added that he wasn’t sure, if he met Putin, whether he would be able to influence the Russian president. “I’d love to meet him [Putin], I’d love to sit down and talk to him. It’s probably pie in the sky but unless you try, unless you put your foot in the water, your toe in the water…

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“At least if I meet him and say, ‘Listen, come on, let’s have a cup of tea, let’s talk about this,’ he might laugh behind my back and then he shuts the door and calls me an absolute idiot but at least I can have a conscience and say I’d tried.”

John added: “I’d say, ‘Come on…gay people are not the problem here. They’re not the problem of the world. The world faces much bigger problems than gay people. Be accepting, and let’s all pull together and try to solve the problems of the world, but don’t isolate and be prejudiced against gay people.”

On Monday, John posted an Instagram message, saying Putin had been in touch with him: “Thank-you to President Vladimir Putin for reaching out and speaking via telephone with me today. I look to forward to meeting with you face-to-face to discuss LGBT equality in Russia.”

But on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the phone call ever took place: “This does not correspond to reality. There was no conversation.”

He added: “I don’t doubt that if there is such a request, the president will be ready to meet with Elton John among others to give answers to all the questions that he might ask. But we haven’t received such signals yet.”

That isn’t—as one might expect—a resounding “no, thanks” on Putin’s part.

It is John who emerges with the most credit: a celebrity not in retreat from his sexuality; indeed, one using his fame and celebrity to do good.

Even if Putin does laugh at John’s retreating back, as John imagines it, and no significant, practical change flows from a future meeting, John’s advocacy and bravery remain enhanced.

Indeed, the warm, keeping-lines-of-communication tone of the Kremlin spokesman suggests that the Rocket Man is more welcome in Russia than many Western politicians—and so Elton John’s rather astonishing, one-man LGBT rights crusade continues. The U.N. should take note.