Vlad Slavskiy is an 18-year-old LGBT rights activist currently living in Los Angeles. He grew up in Sochi, Russia, where he endured severe harassment and abuse after coming out as gay.
Slavskiy will participate in Uprising of Love: A Benefit Concert for Global Equality, a star-studded event being held tonight at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre.
Danny Fisk, a philanthropist and CEO of Work the Room Productions, recently spent some time with the young asylum-seeker at the suggestion of Danny Greene. Greene is campaign manager of Uprising of Love, a movement for global LGBTI safety and dignity that was initially launched in response to Russia's antigay laws.
After meeting with Slavskiy, Fisk sent the following letter to Greene:
Dear Mr. Greene,
When you first asked me to spend the afternoon with Vlad I didn't realize that it would turn into a transformative experience. I needed a distraction from the stress of life and starting my own business. I chose to take a walk with him and the dog around WeHo. As we walked Santa Monica Blvd. I learned more about humanity than in any of my thirty years on this earth. While my understanding of the UPRISING CAMPAIGN is limited, I was happy to take the time out of my day to help out in any way I can.
Sure, I've experienced my share of homophobia and taunts, especially in high school, but never to the point where I truly feared for my life daily. Growing up as a product of the Will and Grace generation I knew I would have a good life as a white gay man. For me the fear of coming out was not about life and death, but more about facing my ego and self-confidence.
This young Russian man was so relaxed with me, a complete stranger, that I was stunned. As he began to share one horrible story after another about life in "Mother Russia" I was becoming uncomfortable and unable to relate. Vlad spoke about being beaten down physically and emotionally every day. He told me stories of humiliation in the classroom and running for safety from a gang of bullies trying to smash his head into the curb. I was disconcerted and taken aback. Unable to fully grasp or connect, mostly out of fear for having to feel the pain, I tried to ease my own discomfort the only way I knew how -- with deflection and humor. I lightheartedly taught him WeHo 101. I matched his horror stories with an education in what a Muscle Daddy, Power Bottom, Rice Queen, and Fruit Fly looked liked. At times I was just amazed at what a life this young man has endured and now I was able to put a face to all those nameless victims of brutality in viral videos on YouTube.
The dog stopped to sniff another tree and there we were looking up at a trio of rainbow flags perfectly waving in the light of the setting sun. It was then I realized what freedom truly means. I have never embraced the symbolism of the rainbow flag, always having found it to be a cliche of identity and not much more than a few colors stacked on top of each other. I am more than a few colors. For years I have fought off the notion that my identity as a gay man is just an understanding of myself as a sexual being who takes it up the ass. Now the flag means more to me than just a symbol of freedom and pride, but also it is a connection to the fore-queens of the past who have fought for equality. I am no longer dissociated with the fabric of the global community I am unmistakably a part of.
Thank you for awarding me these gifts. Time with Vlad has changed me and I will forever look at that afternoon as the moment that I understood what courage looks like. Vlad never once tried to claim "victim-hood," he kept talking about the future and how he was going to change it. I am truly inspired by the strength of this young man and his unapologetic hope for a brighter future for LGBT youth around the world. More than ever I value the space I am free to take up as a fat, loudmouth fag. I have embraced the pride in my sexuality and myself and now I will forever be proud of those colorful flags that fly above the streets of WeHo.
For more information on tonight's event visit UprisingofLove.org.