Retired figure skater Johnny Weir, an out gay man and NBC Sports Sochi Olympics commentator, does not work for the Russian government, his publicist told BuzzFeed on Thursday.
Weir and NBC Sports are the subjects of a series of protests staged by LGBT activists in New York City, who allege the skater “works for the Russian Consulate” here, which they say would be a conflict of interest as a network correspondent at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, early next year. They plan to stage a protest outside the NBC Sports holiday party Dec. 12 in Manhattan.
However, Laina Cohn, Weir’s manager, said he does not work for the Russian government and has never been involved in the consulate, telling BuzzFeed via email, “He is NOT involved with or under contract with the Russian Consulate in any way! Never has been. If you want clarification you can go to Johnny’s personal [website] and click on his charities section.”
I have never worked at or for a Russian consulate. I don’t know where people get this stuff. XO
When contacted Thursday, an NBC Sports spokesperson, too, confirmed that Weir has not worked with the Russian government, nor its consulate.
The LGBT activists with Queer Nation NY point to Weir’s biography posted by the Premiere Speakers Bureau ahead of a Dec. 2 talk at Barnard College, which reads, “[Weir] has recently begun working as a Goodwill Sports Ambassador to Japan and also works with the Russian Children’s Welfare Society and Russian Consulate in New York City.” Additionally, a post appeared on Americablog, an LGBT activist site, accusing Weir and NBC Sports of the conflict, referencing the biography.
That bio has since been revised to remove the information, but a similar version is still available on a Columbia University webpage about the event.
Cohn said the line about working with the Russian Consulate was a “typo” and that Weir “has always maintained that he supports the people of Russia (among people around the world) and his attendance at the Russian Children’s Welfare Society Gala in September of 2010 is one of those examples.”
Cohn said neither she nor anyone at her firm are responsible for the biography’s revision, and added, “I didn’t write it. I don’t know who wrote it, it was written years ago.”
Queer Nation activists are not buying the explanation.
“That’s one hell of a typo,” Ken Kidd, a member of Queer Nation, told BuzzFeed. “Johnny Weir’s bio from the forum at Barnard, which specifically states he works for the Russian Consulate, has been on the website of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs for weeks.”
Kidd accused Weir of downplaying the scope and effects of the anti-LGBT laws enacted this summer in Russia and the degree of violence perpetrated against LGBT people there.
“If the Russian government isn’t paying him, they should be — he might as well make some money from his collaboration,” Kidd said. “If he is such a Russophile, Weir ought to put the Russian LGBT community before his new career at NBC and speak out about the LGBT Russians who are being arrested, jailed, beaten, raped, tortured, and murdered by their own government.”
Under the nation’s “gay propaganda ban,” people can be fined for displaying LGBT pride banners and signs. For example, a leading Russian LGBT rights activist recently became the first to be convicted under the law for staging a protest outside a library in northern Russia. Kidd and other activists demand Weir and NBC take a stand to pressure Russia into abolishing the policies.
During the Dec. 2 speaking event at Barnard, Weir called the Queer Nation activists protesting outside the college “idiots” and characterized the Russian law as “no anal sex in front of libraries.” He apologized the next day.
A representative from the Russian Consulate in New York could not be reached for comment Thursday.