Citing Safety Concerns, Andy Cohen Bows Out of Russian Miss Universe
Rupert Everett, newly-out Wentworth Miller, Russian chess champion Gary Kasparov and playwright Harvey Fierstein joined a growing list of celebrities boycotting all Russian events in light of that country's anti-gay statute. They join Andy Cohen, whose refusal to host this year's Miss Universe pageant is perhaps the loudest single salvo yet from the West's outrage with Russia's discriminatory statute.
Last week, the Watch What Happens Live host told E! News Russia's "discriminatory policies make it unsafe for the gays who live there? and gays coming to work or visit. The law is that anyone under suspicion of homosexuality can be arrested." He added he "didn't feel right as a gay man stepping foot into Russia."
No replacement for Cohen has since been announced.
While Donald Trump, the owner of Miss Universe, remains silent on the Russian crackdown on its LGBT community, the Miss Universe Organization (MUO), which also organizes the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants, released a statement on August 20 saying:
"The Miss Universe Organization believes in equality for all individuals and is deeply concerned by the laws recently enacted in Russia and currently in place in several other countries. Both the law, as well as the violence experienced by the LGBT community in Russia, are diametrically opposed to the core values of our company. Our organization has always embodied a spirit of inclusion and is a celebration of people from all countries and walks of life."
Pageant organizers hinted that the pageant might do more good if it remains in Russia. The same statement goes on to say, "It is our hope this year's Miss Universe contest in Moscow will help foster a common understanding and appreciation of the rights of all individuals, regardless of their nationality, race, religion or sexual orientation...The safety of our contestants, staff and crew is of the utmost importance and we are working with our Russian hosts to ensure the security and well-being of those traveling to Russia for the pageant."
The controversy puts the MUO under increasing scrutiny because the organization is one of the largest
"Miss Universe is an organization with incredible impact all around the globe [and] has a unique opportunity to continue to speak out against the anti-LGBT violence and laws in Russia and demonstrate that the international community does not support Russia's anti-LGBT brutality," said GLAAD spokesperson Omar Sharif Jr.
Signs of Things to Come?
Cohen could not be reached for further comment, but his refusal has turned the Miss Universe pageant into a precursor to what Russia will most certainly face when the Winter Olympics take place in the Black Sea port of Sochi next February. Nigeria faced a similar public relations nightmare in 2002 when several contestants of the Miss World pageant refused to participate in protest of a Nigerian woman condemned in an Islamic court to death by stoning for infidelity. That year’s pageant was eventually moved to London.
There are similar demands that Miss Universe be moved to more hospitable environs as Francesco Pascuzzi, a gay Miss Universe fan from New Jersey, collected 28,000-plus signatures on a Change.org petition calling on pageant authorities to relocate the competition. Among the signatures of Pascuzzi’s petition is Abby DePhillips, whose opinion as Miss Teen New Jersey 2013 carries more weight than most.
"Allowing Russia to host Miss Universe 2013 pushes us back years and years," writes DePhillips. "I believe the MUO needs to find a new location, preferably one with better laws and values."
"Andy Cohen’s decision to boycott hosting the Miss Universe pageant sends a very loud and clear message that Russia needs to be held accountable for its brutal and violent crackdown on gay rights," Pascuzzi adds. "There are more than 28,000 people who’ve signed my petition, and we’re going to keep the pressure on the Miss Universe pageant to pull out of Moscow, in order to make sure all contestants and spectators are safe."
New signatures on Pascuzzi’s petition are sent via email to Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization. To date, no pageant participant has declared she will not attend, and it is unclear if Cohen’s pageant co-host for the last two years, Guiliana Rancic, will follow his lead and also boycott.
The competition premiers November 9th.