Should Graham Norton have stepped down as host of Eurovision over gay rights abuses? Or spoken up? Or done something?

As expected, on Saturday Russian police arrested dozens of GLBT activists in Moscow who planned on protesting Russia’s homophobic treatment of its gay citizens. The protests took place hours before the finals of the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest and were designed to bring worldwide attention to the issue.

The tactics are apparently desperately needed as not even the show’s host — out Irish comedian Graham Norton — seems to know how badly Russia treats its gay citizens. That treatment includes the regular harrassment and arrest of gay people demanding equality, as well as Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov referring to gay pride events as "Satanic" and which he forcibly and violently bans.

As far as I can tell, Norton — who hosted the event for the first time this year — made only two comments regarding the issue. The first was to say, during the contest, "Heavy-handed policing has really marred what has been a fantastic Eurovision." Apparently Norton offered no explanation as to what the authorities were policing, so most viewers had no idea what he was talking about.

Norton’s second comment which came after the event, was "I feel really bad, but I don’t know very much about this."

Here is a clip of what Norton missed:

I’m not really sure how Norton could be unaware of how Russia treats its gay citizens. Violent attacks on gay rights events in Russia have been widely documented the past several years and it was only two years ago that police stood by and watched while a homophobic Russian mob beat gay rights marchers.

Editor’s update: I just happened to watch the episode of The Graham Norton Show which aired this past Saturday on BBC America. Joan Rivers was one of the guests and she had just returned from Russia where Graham was headed. She joked with him that there were lots of gays in Russia to which Graham responded "Where? In prison?" Seems like Norton knows at least something about what is going on there. 

Richard Fairbrass after being attacked by a mob in Moscow in 2007

Furthermore, when an entertainer such as Norton lends his name and face to an event, he has an obligation to know something about the circumstances surroing it. Unless Norton decides to say more, it’s impossible to know what he was thinking or to understand his ignorance, but several commenters on PinkNews pointed out this was Norton’s first year hosting Eurovision and that perhaps he feared speaking out might jeopardize being asked to host again.

Or perhaps Norton felt it was inappropriate to speak out during the contest itself, an issue that has confronted entertainers and athletes at other high profile events such as the Oscars and the Olympics. 

But there were other things Norton could have done if he didn’t feel comfortable denouncing the Russian government during the contest. After the police violently attacked the marchers hours before the Eurovision finals, Norton could have stepped down, explaining that as a gay man he couldn’t participate in an event being hosted by a government that abuses gay citizens in such a way.

Yes, that would have put Eurovision in a bind, but that would’ve been their own fault for allowing Russia to host the event in the first place. It should be noted Russia hosted this year’s event since they won it the previous year, which is how Eurovision chooses the next host. Nonetheless, officials for the song contest could have moved it elsewhere to protest Russia’s human rights violations which extend to other minority groups as well. (And other countries and performers could have boycotted for the same reason.)

Short of resigning, as soon as the event was over, Norton could have held a press conference and denounced Russian officials treatment of the protesters and gay Russians in general. 

Instead, Norton has said nothing else publicly which seems ironic as the only reason he is able to live as out gay man, not to mention a gay entertainer making millions of pounds, is because other gay and bisexual men and women before him have stood up for our rights. More of him is to be expected than a "I didn’t know."

Meanwhile, those who did speak out and were arrested include Nikolai Alexeyev, a prominent gay activist in Russia as well as the other protesters including British GLBT activist Peter Tatchell. Via his website, Tatchell said:

This parade is in defence of human rights. We are defending the often
violated human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
Russians. They want legal protection against discrimination and hate
crimes. I support their cause. … Not all Russians are homophobic, but many are. Gay Russians suffer
queer-bashing attacks, blackmail, verbal abuse and discrimination in
education, housing and employment, This shames the great Russian

Tatchell has since been released but there is no word on what happened to the other participants. No doubt Norton is looking into it. 

Here are more photos of the protest and the arrests.