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Stone trashes gay rights, then says he was “misunderstood”

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Oliver Stone, the filmmaker, said something pretty stupid the other day, when he told Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he was meeting, that Russia’s anti-gay laws are “sensible.”

In their conversation, the two men wandered into what seems like a weird area for the leader of a nuclear-armed country and a Hollywood movie director: gender issues. It’s not clear from the reports how they got there, but Stone began complaining about “some of the behaviors and the thinking of the new generation…about gender.” What specifically galls Stone is, in his words, “people identify themselves [as] ‘I’m male, I’m female, I’m transgender, I’m cisgender.’ It goes on forever…It’s not a healthy culture.”

Putin, who has presided over increasingly harsh anti-gay laws in Russia, was quick to agree. “They live too well. They have nothing to think about.” Again, it’s not quite clear what Putin meant by this insulting observation (“nothing to think about”??), except that he was agreeing with Stone. Then Stone made his “sensible” comment. Their chat had reverted to Russia’s notorious 2013 law (pushed by Putin) that criminalized “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships,” widely known as the “gay propaganda law.”

Passed by a vote of 436-0 in Russia’s parliament, it banned “the spreading of propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors,” and “made it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships, as well as the distribution of material on gay rights.” The law was heavily lobbied for by the Russian Orthodox [Catholic] Church, of which Putin claims to be a devout follower.

To understand the law’s impact, imagine such a ban here in the U.S. No gay magazines would be allowed to publish. No homophile films could be made (such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Call Me By My Name, or Brokeback Mountain). Schools would be forbidden to teach anything suggesting acceptance of LGBTQ people. Media commentators could be arrested for making pro-gay statements. Gay people would, in short, be “disappeared” from public discourse.

Why would Stone—born of Jewish and Catholic parents but a practicing Buddhist—be so fiercely critical of gay rights? It’s easy to understand why Putin is: in Russia, the Orthodox Church is just as hatefully intolerant as the evangelical churches are here in America. You would think that Oliver Stone would be more receptive to gay people, wouldn’t you?

But no. That conversation between Stone and Putin is best seen as a whine-fest between two aging, straight and rather angry white men, whose cozy, familiar world of heteronormativity is being challenged by a new generation of gender activists. This is hugely upsetting for Stone and Putin. They just can’t understand why everybody isn’t comfortable with the old roles: you’re either male or female, and that’s it. Why does anyone have to use non-gender-conforming pronouns like “we” or “it”? Why do transgendered people insist on using public bathrooms of the gender with which they identify? Why for that matter do people have gender-reassignment surgery? Why all the fuss?

Liberals and gay activists were quick to criticize Stone, who immediately went on the defensive. “Vladimir Putin is not anti-gay, nor am I,” he insisted just two days ago. Claiming that the whole issue had been “much misunderstood,” Stone trotted out the pro-gay themes in his films, including his 2004 movie, “Alexander” (a critical failure), which told the story (made famous by the writer Mary Renault) about Alexander the Great’s male lover, Bagoas. “I prominently featured Alexander’s love for the Persian eunuch Bagoas, certainly an example of a third sex and emblematic of Alexander’s world vision, which I much admired,” Stone argued. Then he added, “Do not bring American expectations to Russian life any more than you expect Iran, Korea, Venezuela, or China to follow our political or social demands.”

This is moral relativism of the highest order. Don’t tell the Ayatollahs that anti-semitism is bad, not unless you want them to lecture us on our racial problems. This false equivalency argument has never been productive. It lets oppressive regimes off the hook for muzzling their populations, and completely shreds the historic American ideals of equality and freedom.

If Oliver Stone can’t understand that LGBTQ members of “the new generation” are tired of being excluded by a straight culture that has never permitted them rights, that’s his problem. He ought to know better. One doesn’t expect anything from a man like Putin, but of an American who made Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street, World Trade Center and Midnight Express, one should have higher, nobler expectations.

It is, admittedly, difficult to convince straight white men, who have never suffered discrimination based on their race or gender, that LGBTQ people might have a case. In this rapidly changing world, they feel the rug being pulled out from under their feet; indeed, this is why so many of them voted for Trump. But decent policies ought not be based on the fears and insecurities of bigoted people. The LGBTQ community and their straight supporters for many years have presented eloquent, detailed arguments for their positions. There has been no lack of information. Still, some opponents, including Oliver Stone, just don’t get it. It’s so odd. Stone has an entire body of work that critiques the American government for censoring truth and suppressing information. But when the Russian government does the same thing to gay people, suddenly that’s “sensible.”

I don’t buy it.

  1. mike hayes says:

    i will never pay to see his work again, homophobe

  2. Dear Mike Hayes, I think a lot of people feel the same way. Thank you.

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