/ 17 September 2013

Cher says no to Russian Olympics invitation

Cher is a longtime advocate of LGBTI rights
Cher is a longtime advocate of LGBTI rights, spurred by events 'in the early days' of Sonny and Cher, as well as her experiences as mother to a transgender child. (Reuters)

Although Cher says she was asked to participate in February's official Olympic opening ceremonies, the singer said she "immediately" refused out of solidarity with Russia's gay community.

Cher told Canadian magazine Maclean's about receiving a call from a friend "who is a big [Russian oligarch]. [He] asked me if I'd like to be an ambassador for the Olympics and open the show."

"I immediately said no. I want to know why all of this gay hate just exploded over there. He said the Russian people don't feel the way the government does," she said.

Cher is no stranger to Russia: she has performed there twice in the past year.

And while she said she "can't name names" when it comes to her friend the oligarch, both of her recent gigs were at the invitation of billionaire businessperson and politician Suleyman Kerimov.

Kerimov is the world's 162nd-richest man, according to Forbes. He is also a huge Cher fan.

He brought the Believe singer to Moscow for a private party in December 2012 and then to his home province of Dagestan in July for the opening of a new football stadium.

"Russia is Great … COLD BUT GREAT!" Cher tweeted at the time of the December show.

"Here is pic of me wearing my friend's [giant, fur] hat!"

Cher is a longtime advocate of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights, spurred by events "in the early days" of Sonny and Cher, as well as her experiences as mother to a transgender child.

"People hated Sonny and I … because we looked and acted so different," she told Maclean's.

"Sonny was always getting into fights – people would called him 'fag' and he'd get his nose broken – only because we were dressing different … You can't forget that."

Artists such as the Bloodhound Gang, Madonna and Lady Gaga have spoken out against Russia's recent anti-gay legislation, including a law that prohibits teaching minors about "non-traditional sexual relations".

The upcoming Sochi Games have become a focal point for the controversy, with activists calling for formal protests and boycotts, with some proposing that Russia be stripped of its role as Olympic host.

Closer to the Truth, Cher's 26th studio album, is out on September 24. – guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013