31 Oct 2014

Milonov: ‘Ban Apple chief from Russia for being gay’

Apple boss Tim Cook should be “banned for life” from Russia after coming out as gay and poses threats of “Ebola, Aids and gonorrhoea”, says Vitaly Milonov, one of Russia’s most prominent politicians.

Picture: Apple’s Tim Cook (left) publicly disclosed his sexuality on Thursday, while Vitaly Milonov, one of the architects of Russia’s anti-gay laws, has called for Mr Cook to be banned from the country

A prominent Russian politician has attacked Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook for coming out as gay, and said he should be “banned for life” from visiting the country.

Vitaly Milonov said Tim Cook could bring “Ebola, Aids and gonorrhoea” to Russia. The reaction, published on the FlashNord website, is the first negative response to Tim Cook, who publically disclosed his sexuality on Thursday.

“Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day,” Mr Cook wrote in Business Week, adding that he intended “to rise above adversity and bigotry”.

His words have been welcomed by the corporate business world which remains largely conservative. Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein said the disclosure would “resonate powerfully”. Virgin’s Richard Branson called his words “inspirational” and said Mr Cook was “standing up for equality”. “My hat’s off to you,” former US president Bill Clinton tweeted.

Anti-gay laws under scrutiny

But Mr Milonov’s reaction marks the counter view from Russia, whose attitude to gay rights has come under intense scrutiny, particularly in wake of this year’s Winter Olympics. The country’s controversial “homosexual propaganda” legislation, bans the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” among minors.

It means that among other things, teachers cannot tell their students that gay and straight relationships are equal; parents cannot tell their children being LGBT is normal; and people cannot distribute pamphlets promoting gay rights.

Mr Milinov views will not come as a surprise to many. Earlier this month he demanded Russia’s postal service refuse all letters from Finland bearing commemorative stamps depicting the gay Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, calling it “homosexual propaganda”. He has called Austrian Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst a “pervert” and labelled the entire competition a “hotbed of sodomy”.

In an interview with Channel 4 News earlier this year, Mr Milinov said that living as a homosexual is like “living in an evil scheme”, and has depicted an example of how gay people might live in Russia. “You can have your same-sex friend, your common disease, together with virological disease or Aids and live with him?,” he said.

“If you’re talking about the strength of real families, normal families, real families are 10 times stronger than same-sex couples,” he told Channel 4 News in an interview with Matt Frei weeks earlier.

Watch his full interview with Jon Snow here:

Watch Matt Frei’s documentary, in which he asks Vitaly Milonov if any of his children are gay, here:

Nonetheless, Mr Milonov’s words – which come at the height of sanctions imposed by the US and Europe for Russian interference in Ukraine – are unlikely to daunt Mr Cook.

iPhone sales doubled in Russia last year, with fans known to include Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and other close allies of President Vladimir Putin.

For his part, Mr Cook has vowed to spend the rest of his life helping to “pave the sunlit path” towards equality and justice. He has already made inroads campaigning for better gay rights in his birthplace of Alabama – one of America’s most conservative states.

“It’s given me the skin of a rhinoceros,” he said. “Which helps when you’re CEO of Apple.”

It will undoubtedly help when under fire from Mr Milonov too.