BY Neal Broverman
March 03 2011 5:10 PM ET
A U.S. speaking tour this month was supposed to be Nikolay Alekseyev’s American “debut,” where the 33-year-old Russian gay activist cemented his position as a global civil rights leader. But the trip has mostly been a disaster, with the California portion of the tour canceled amid accusations that Alekseyev is anti-Semitic.
Alekseyev is one of the world’s most visible young gay activists — as a lawyer and author of two law books now in the U.S. Library of Congress, he forced the hand of Russian officials by suing them multiple times for their cancellations of Moscow Pride. He’s been repeatedly intimidated by Moscow police and in October was kidnapped from the Moscow airport and detained by officials who held him for two days as they pressured him to drop the lawsuits (he refused and was later released). That same month the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it banned three Moscow gay pride festivals. The situation for gays in Moscow has gotten somewhat better since then, as an Alekseyev-sponsored gay rights protest in the fall was met with police support instead of resistance.
All of this initiated the planned seven-city Alekseyev speaking tour (with stops in Chicago, New York, Dallas, Fort Worth, West Hollywood, San Francisco, and Palm Springs, Calif.), organized by Andy Thayer, a Chicago-based gay rights activist and cofounder of the Gay Liberation Network. Longtime gay activist Robin Tyler was producing the California leg of the trip, and she helped recruit groups like West Hollywood’s Congregation Kol Ami, the Jewish Community Relations Council, GetEqual, Christopher Street West, Equality California, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights as co-sponsors for the three California events. Things were on track until February 26, when Scott Long, a senior fellow at Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program, translated the following post from Alekseyev’s blog (which has since been deleted) and placed it on a civil rights listserv:
"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."
The passage was posted January 31 and had already been deleted by Alekseyev, but it spread like wildfire. When Tyler became aware of the post last week, she says, Thayer told her Alekseyev needed 24 hours to clarify his remarks. After the day passed, Tyler says two planned conference calls between the California event sponsors, Thayer, and Alekseyev never happened because the latter wasn’t ready to discuss his position on the blog post (Alekseyev denies this).
“Andy said Nikolay refused to issue a statement and said he would 'deal with his remarks' when he got to California,” Tyler says. On Monday afternoon, “We said that we had given Nikolai every opportunity to explain himself, but at this point, we had waited 24 hours, and that we were canceling him. Andy went to Nikolay's motel, told Nikolay, and Nikolay put out a statement saying he was canceling the California tour!”
For his part, Alekseyev says he was bullied by the California gay leaders
and was told by Tyler what to say when he spoke in California. Tyler denies
this; she says a reporter told her Alekseyev had said he “hated America”
and that Tyler sent Alekseyev an e-mail that advised him to avoid saying
anything like that on his speaking tour.
On Tuesday, Alekseyev
spoke at New York’s Columbia University as part of his tour. The speech
went off without a hitch, according to TheNewCivilRightsMovement.com, until a Columbia
professor asked Alekseyev about the controversy.
accused of being anti-Semitic, and I’d like you to respond to the
charge,” she asked, adding, “We’re in a university setting and so we
want to have an open discussion.”