Vladimir Putin arrives on Soho gay scene
Of all the people to breeze into the Soho gay scene this week, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s arrival was the least expected. But on Tuesday night the homophobic autocrat made a surprise appearance at the G-A-Y nightclub on Old Compton Street, projected on the outside of the club in one of his customary topless poses, in front of a rainbow background, and wearing just a pair of pink hot pants.
While still largely popular in Russia for his strong leadership style, Mr Putin is currently one of the most reviled personalities in western gay culture. The Russian government has passed a series of laws which effectively ban the acknowledgement of homosexuality, while police have violently put down gay rights protests in Moscow. Russia’s anti-gay laws are causing a particular stir in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which many prominent gay activists, including the comedian Stephen Fry, have called to be boycotted. Many bars and restaurants around the world, including G-A-Y, have stopped serving Russian vodka in protest.
The poster outside G-A-Y on Tuesday night is part of the movement to raise awareness of Russia’s intolerance of gay people ahead of the Winter Olympics, which is being used as a PR exercise by Russia’s current tsar. The striking aspect of the poster is that it plays up to an image of Putin which he himself cultivates. It is well known that he goes to preposterous lengths to project a macho image of himself, frequently appearing in staged press shots without his shirt on, usually while locked in an iconic encounter with a wild animal.
Mr Putin does not seem to realise that this image is also somewhat of a stereotype within the gay community. But the macho muscle man – often referred to as a gay ‘bear’ – is an identity which the openly homophobic leader has unwittingly come to resemble. It’s little wonder, then, that protesters took the opportunity to point out the silliness of Mr Putin with such a fierce image.