On Monday night, the Metropolitan Opera went along with its protested Russian-themed opening night gala as planned — there was no dedication to the LGBT people of Russia as gay rights advocates wanted, and the few protesters that made it inside were shushed. And yet, as the Met's General Manager will tell you, this was a stunning success.
The protest against the Metropolitan Opera has been in the works for weeks. The idea was to protest the Met, its Russian program featuring work from the gay composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Russian stars, into dedicating its opening night to gay people in Russia, who are subject to the country's aggressively anti-gay laws. The online petition garnered more than 9,000 signatures.
"This is a way to pressure Putin, because Putin is using culture, and the Olympics, to divert from human rights abuses," one of the organizers told The New York Times. And all that planning culminated in a vocal and vibrant protest outside the building last night, and a meager heckling inside. "Four protesters in the Family Circle were asked to leave and did, opera officials said," The Times explained.
And this was a success. Gay rights advocates' hands are tied when it comes to the way Russia treats its LGBT citizens. They can't change the fact that people can be fined for telling children that gay people are not equal to straight people. And gay rights advocates can't halt the aggressive anti-gay momentum in the country. Currently, lawmakers there want to introduce and pass a bill in the Russian Duma that would equate being gay to alcoholism and abuse, thus making sexual orientation grounds to deny a gay person custody of his/her children.
One of the few things gay rights advocates can do abroad is raise visibility and awareness of the current situation. That comes in the form of boycotting Russian vodka, threatening to out Russian lawmakers, and, yes, protesting Russian opera. And the Metropolitan Opera has given them a bright stage. General Manager Peter Gelb wrote in Bloomberg this past weekend:
We respect the right of activists to picket our opening night and we realize we've provided with a platform to further raise awareness about serious human rights issues abroad ...Although Russia may officially be in denial about Tchaikovsky’s sexuality, we’re not. The Met is proud to present Russia’s great gay composer. That is a message, in itself.
That isn't exactly the dedication gay rights activists were hoping for. But it's something that could not have been achieved if they remained silent.