It is no secret that I am a very public cheerleader of Russia, U.S.-Russia relations, and Russia’s continued growth as a democracy. I have been gifted and worn Russian uniforms and clothes for years. I collect Russian porcelain, Fabergé eggs, and photos of Red Square and Saint Basil’s Cathedral. I speak, read, and write in the Russian language. My dream since I was a little boy was to one day own property in Moscow. I married into a family of Soviet descent. I have Russian channel packages added to my premium cable to improve my comprehension skills. If it were the ’60s or ’70s, I would most likely be arrested as a traitor or for spying.
I have been asked thousands of times why I love Russia and why I am such an emphatic Russophile, but to be honest there is no distinct reason. The way snow settles on the subtle curves of the Orthodox churches, the glamorous upper class, the fairy tales and old wives tales, the spoken history passed down by generations, the language, and the food, all these things are a part of my appreciation for a country so foreign to my own. I have over 25 Russian visas spanning two passports and a name change due to my marriage to my husband, Victor Weir-Voronov. I took his very Slavic last name out of respect for his family and heritage.
Something that is constantly brought to my mind is people’s fear of Russia – how Russians always play villains in American movies, and how it seems to love Russia is to love all of her governments. Russia is the only country that I find that to love her means to love Putin, Kruschev, Medvedev, Yeltsin, Stalin, Lenin, the KGB, and communism. Did many of us love America but hate Bush? Do millions of tourists love their trips to Italy without immediately being told it’s weird because that means they love Mussolini? To love a place is simply to love a place, but to love a government or political leader is a different love and support entirely. I love Russia, the country; the government of Russia is not associated with my appreciation.
I have performed many times in Russia, walked down the street, and kissed my husband in Red Square. I have worn flamboyant costumes there, and I have met with Russian LGBT citizens and support groups. I have a very large following in Russia, and I am always cheered for as a kindred spirit or even as a hometown hero when I’m on the ice performing to classical music or that of the much adored gay icon Lady Gaga. In theory, for all these acts I am a criminal.
The fact that I may never be issued a visa to the Russian Federation again in my lifetime; that I may never be able to take my children to a place I love so much; and of course the fact that I could be publicly humiliated, beaten up, arrested, charged, and expelled is a crushing blow. Due to this new law, I may not be able to safely enter Russia for the Olympic Games next February, or to perform with my friend and icon Evgeni Plushenko in his future tours. I may never meet the children of my many friends living in Russia, and I may never be able to work in Russia again. My heart is broken when I think of my amazing fans in Russia who have supported my career since the beginning, fans I may never be able to perform for again. I am especially worried for my brothers and sisters who were born, just like me, slightly different.
Despite my heartache, I will fight for my right to go to Russia. I will fight to perform there. I will fight to show the government how strong my community is. I will proudly go to Russia – God willing I slip through the cracks and get a visa – and hold my head high. Should I get arrested, I will be arrested with the pride that I am myself, never flinching, and I will be strong for the oppressed community of beautiful people who I can call brothers. I will be strong for the country, not for the government.
Discrimination is something held behind the eyes of the ignorant. Hatred is a skill taught by others. Life is a gift worth living, no matter the cost. Pray for our friends in Russia that one day, they will all be free.