In a searing indictment on the op-ed page of Sunday’s New York Times, four-time Tony-winning Broadway icon Harvey Fierstein took the world to task for staying silent as Russian president Vladimir Putin signed into law a series of unprecedented anti-gay measures that trampled the civil rights of that country’s LGBT citizens.
The latest legislation, which went into effect July 3, prohibits the adoption of Russian-born children not only to gay couples but to any citizen of a country where same-sex marriage is legal in any form. Days before that, Putin signed a law granting Russian police the right to arrest and detain any tourist or foreign national if they are deemed to be gay, lesbian or “pro-gay.” In June, the president signed into law another bill that classified anything considered “homosexual propaganda” as pornography. That vague bill grants the state the right to arrest and/or fine anyone — teachers, judges, politicians — who denies that homosexuality is evil. A forthcoming bill would forcibly remove children from their families if either parent is suspected of being gay or lesbian.
With Russia hosting the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, now less than six months away, the Kinky Boots playwright likens the current situation to Germany in 1936, when the world attended the Olympics and “few participants said a word about Hitler’s campaign against the Jews.”
The Hollywood Reporter spoke by phone on Monday to Fierstein about his op-ed.
The Hollywood Reporter: Your op-ed opened many eyes to a horrific situation in Russia, and one that feels all too familiar. How can history change its course?
Harvey Fierstein: There’s only one way to change somebody like Putin and that’s in the pocketbook. You can’t get him with angry words. He feeds on that and his followers feed on that. You make the West angry, they’re thrilled. You can’t get them that way. You can’t get them through a U.N. sanction: “Oh boy, the U.S. is mad at me. I’m shaking all the f–k over.” There’s only one way and that’s in the pocketbook. You hurt them in the pocketbook, they shut the f–k up and back the f–k down.
THR: What does the world’s silence, or its support of the upcoming Olympics, mean for the larger picture of human rights?
Fierstein: I happen to be American, so I talk to my country first, but any country that puts money into Russia, and that’s what doing the Olympics is, [is guilty]. You can say, “It’s national pride and we’ll go there and we’ll take all the gold medals and show them.” But you’ve just pumped billions of dollars into their economy. You are the enemy, you are the enemy, you are the enemy. And people have to understand that: You go along with them, you are a collaborationist. You go to Russia and spend your money there, you are part of the problem. You go and entertain there, even if you stand up on that stage and say, “I love gay people,” you have pumped millions of dollars into their economy. You send film crews there, you send reporters there, you send trainers there.
THR: What have the Olympics organizers done so far to protect participants in the upcoming Winter Games?
Fierstein: The International Olympic Committee has gotten a promise that [the Russian authorities] will not arrest any gay Olympians. That doesn’t say anything about trainers or reporters or friends or fans of anything else. And what the f–k does it matter, anyway? You shouldn’t be arresting people because they’re gay. You shouldn’t! And going along with it is wrong. I don’t know what the Olympic Committee will do because the Olympic Committee has blinders on and cares only about itself. And Olympic athletes, I understand: You’ve worked your asses off for this for years, but there are still bigger things than you hanging something around your neck. There are bigger things in this world. I speak to the unions. I think that our entertainment unions should not allow people to go — they should not be sending cameramen, they should not be sending reporters. It’s billions of dollars we would spend there.
THR: In 2011, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a stirring speech on Human Rights Day in Geneva in which she stressed to the world that gay rights and human rights are one and the same. Isn’t it up to our own high-ranking politicians to make a similar speech now?
Fierstein: Hopefully they will. I have a lot of faith in President Obama. The thing that seems to be true of him is that he doesn’t speak when you would expect him to speak. He’s very measured in his response to things. He likes to get all the facts first before he shoots his mouth off. It makes me crazy, it makes a lot of people crazy. I have a lot of black friends who were very angry that he didn’t speak out immediately about Trayvon Martin, but when he did, he spoke unbelievably powerfully. And so I am hoping that he will get involved in this.
I’m actually going on Monday to D.C. to testify to Congress on another matter, but I’m hoping while I’m there to grab a couple of people and I’m deciding whether I should Xerox some copies of my op-ed piece and bring it along. … I’m a big-mouth angry faggot, and so I shoot my mouth off and I don’t get along well with many politicians. I doubt that there’s three that I’ve met who have nice things to say about me because I will back them against a wall and give them shit. I’ve done it to [Joe] Lieberman, [Al] Gore, Mrs. Clinton. I just don’t like politics. My rule is if I can put a spotlight on something, I’ll do that. But to go speak to a politician, I think they all suck. Because they have to raise money to run. That’s not the reason we elected you, to run for another term. We elected you to do the job this time.
THR: Did the Supreme Court’s recent decisions regarding marriage equality restore some of your faith in the system?
Fierstein: I didn’t say I didn’t have faith in the system, I said I don’t like politicians. There’s a huge difference there. I have great faith in the system. I believe that we will win everything that we need to win in the United States and it will be done through the courts, and it may be done through some elections or whatever, but we’re well on our way. That train is unstoppable. I have great faith in the United States. It’s the only country I would ever live in.
THR: Turning to our own shores, there has been a disturbing rise in anti-gay hate crimes lately, many in New York City. What do you make of that?
Fierstein: We win these battles and there’s all this positive gay press, right? But then you turn on the TV and there’s [Cardinal Timothy Dolan] of New York speaking hatred about gays. There’s [New Jersey Governor] Chris Christie saying he’ll sign [a bill legalizing] gay marriage over his “dead body.” And that was a quote: “Over my dead body.” So why would you expect that there wouldn’t be some backlash from idiots when there’s backlash from these people who supposedly know better?
Look at that asshole [Orson Scott Card] that wrote this new Harrison Ford movie [Ender’s Game]. I think that you can have any opinion you want, but at least be willing to take the consequences of your opinion. It’s like, “Well, I hope that people will be more understanding,” or what did he say? “More tolerant of my views.” The quotes that got me about him weren’t against gay marriage — he wanted homosexuality criminalized in the United States. That’s what he called for. You want me to be tolerant of you wanting to criminalize homosexuality? F–k you on your grave, you piece of shit.
THR: If someone read your op-ed, grew understandably upset and wants to take action, what can they do about the situation in Russia?
Fierstein: The biggest thing you can do is make sure you put no money toward Russia at all. Check and see what Russian products are and refuse to [buy them]. Write up on your social media — copy the story about the young man that was killed, copy the story about the [four Dutch tourists] arrested, copy the stories about the adoptions and these poor people whose hearts have been ripped open by the stupid laws that [Putin is] passing. Copy anything and just make sure that people know. Then write to your representative and say, “I don’t want you whitewashing this shit. I want a condemnation of Russia. I don’t want any of my tax money going to Russia.” You’ve got to write to the Olympic Committee and say, “I think we should boycott.” People in our industry should write to our unions. We have a TV union, there are lots and lots of unions that will be involved in the Olympics and our unions should refuse to let our union members go. That’s the only way to stop this, is to starve the rat. I’m telling you.
THR: What about NBC, which carries the Olympics and stands to make millions off the games?
Fierstein: I don’t think of it in terms of NBC. I think of it in terms of America. Whoever is going from America. It’s not a company-by-company thing. NBC did not buy the rights to the Olympics because they were backing Russia. Now that this is happening, they have to make other decisions.