MOSCOW, March 14 (RIA Novosti) – In what can only be described as a clash of civilizations, British actor, writer, comedian, gay rights activist and blogger extraordinaire Stephen Fry met on Tuesday with the Russian lawmaker who kick-started the ongoing crackdown on Russia’s LGBT community.
Fry traveled this week to St. Petersburg, a city that enacted the notorious ban on “gay propaganda” last March, to work on a documentary about “being gay globally,” according to his Twitter account, which boasts 5.5 million followers.
The actor, himself openly gay, met with members of the local LGBT organization Coming Out on Wednesday – and proceeded on Thursday to have a chat with Vitaly Milonov, a member of the city legislature with the ruling United Russia party who authored the ban.
Both men traded jabs behind each other’s backs ahead of the meeting, with Fry calling Milonov “an uneducated religious bigot” and “a fool,” and the legislator saying that he only knows the British celebrity as “that nude dude from ‘Sherlock Holmes: [A Game of Shadows],’” a 2011 blockbuster by Guy Ritchie where Fry, who plays Mycroft Holmes, appears completely naked in one scene.
But the ideological standoff was tempered with grudging personal respect: The duo traded handshakes before vanishing behind the closed doors of the lawmaker’s office for a 75-minute tête-à-tête, and Milonov promised to pray for Fry’s soul after they parted ways.
Still, mutual understanding appeared to be in short supply. “All very sad,” Fry wrote on Twitter after the meeting.
“I shall always love Russia and hope that its youth will not allow the toxic mix of nationalism and religious zealotry to destroy her,” he followed up in another Tweet.
Milonov, on his part, compared his experience of meeting Fry to “drilling a hole to some ancient Antarctic lake that was living an isolated life for the last 50,000 years,” Spbdnevnik.ru city news website reported.
He also complained to RIA Novosti that Fry considered him “the worst man in Russia,” and spoke against Fry’s alleged “clichés about homosexuals, who are supposedly jailed, denied their rights and made to suffer here,” according to Metro newspaper.
The actor, whose deadpan British humor earned him a cult following among Russia’s Anglophiles, left for Britain on Thursday afternoon, the crowd seeing him off at the St. Petersburg airport being reportedly “bigger than for Shakira,” he wrote on Twitter. Fry gave no release date for his two-part documentary, “Out There,” which he is making for the BBC.
Promotion of LGBT values and lifestyle to minors is punishable in St. Petersburg with fines of between 5,000 and 500,000 rubles ($160 to $16,000). Several other Russian regions have similar bans in place, but the law lobbied by Milonov got the biggest media exposure, though it is rarely enacted. In the most high-profile case up to date, Milonov and his supporters attempted to sue Madonna for supporting gay rights activists during a concert in St. Petersburg last year, but the court dismissed the lawsuit.
Earlier this year, a federal bill to ban “gay propaganda” passed the first of three required readings in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament. The lawmakers are currently hard at work to give a legal definition to “gay propaganda” ahead of the crucial second reading, which is not expected before late May.
Ninety-four percent of Russians have never encountered “gay propaganda,” but 84 percent oppose it, according to a nationwide poll of 1,600 respondents held by state-run VTsIOM last April.