June 12, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
‘Dangerous’ time in Russia
Nikolai Alekseev, gay news, Washington Blade, Russia

Nikolai Alekseev in 2012 holds a sign in St. Petersburg that reads “homosexuality is not a perversion. Perersion is grass hockey and ice ballet.” He was fined 5,000 rubles ($154) for violating the city’s ban on gay propaganda to minors. (Photo courtesy of GayRussia.ru)

As LGBT rights advance in the United States, gays in Russia are experiencing the opposite trend: an erosion of rights and a violent backlash against those fighting for equality there.

Russian lawmakers on Tuesday approved a bill that would ban the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors, leading some to urge a U.S. boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The measure passed in the Duma by a 436-0 vote margin with one abstention. Individuals would face fines of between 4,000 and 5,000 rubles ($124-$155,) and government officials would face fines of between 40,000 and 50,000 rubles ($1,241-$1,551.)

Media organizations and other groups would face a fine of up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) or suspension of their activities for up to 90 days. Foreigners could also face up to 15 days in jail and deportation.

Nikolai Alekseev of Gay Russia, an LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade from Moscow on Wednesday he “was expecting” lawmakers would support the measure. He noted programs on Russian television were largely supportive of the measure – and some of its supporters publicly compared homosexuality to pedophilia.

The Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, still needs to approve the bill, but observers expect it will easily pass.

President Vladimir Putin, who announced his divorce from his wife of 30 years last week, is expected to sign it into law.

“I was sure it would be passed,” Alekseev said. “It will now be signed by the president, who is very much using this fight against homosexuals in his campaign to attract voters.”

The State Department in January criticized the passage of the “promotion of homosexuality” bill on its first reading. The United Nations, Amnesty International and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are among those who have also spoken out against the measure.

“Russia is trying very hard to make discrimination look respectable by calling it ‘tradition,’ but whatever term is used in the bill, it remains discrimination and a violation of the basic human rights of LGBT people,” Graeme Reid, LGBT rights program director at Human Rights Watch, said. “To try to exclude LGBT people as ‘non-traditional’ is to try and make them less than human. It is cynical, and it is dangerous.”

“This is a very sad day for the Russian LGBTI community and for Russian democracy,” Martin K. I. Christensen, co-chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, added.

The measure passed amid growing concerns over anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in the country.

Two men allegedly sodomized Vladislav Tornovoi with empty beer bottles and set his body on fire near Volgograd on May 10 after he reportedly came out to them. Reuters on June 3 reported authorities on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s Far East said three men stabbed and trampled a gay man to death late last month before they set his car on fire with his body inside.

Russian lawmakers are also poised to ban foreign same-sex couples from adopting Russian children.

Alekseev said hundreds of skinheads and other anti-gay demonstrators confronted the few dozen LGBT protesters who kissed outside the Duma before Tuesday’s vote. He noted several of the advocates were attacked; and one of them remains in the hospital.

Alekseev said authorities arrested many of the LGBT activists and “didn’t touch any of the anti-gay protesters.”

“We’re quite used to such hostility and to such arrest,” he told the Blade.

 

Boycott Sochi Olympics?

 

HereTV.com host Jim Morrison posted a petition to the White House’s website after Tuesday’s vote that calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in the Russian city of Sochi in February.

“For my country to participate in this is outlandish,” he told the Blade.

A Russian appeals court in March 2012 upheld a lower court ruling that blocked a group that sought to disseminate information on the Russian LGBT rights movement during the Sochi games.

Alekseev, who has appealed the decision to the European Court of Human Rights, noted the country will also host the 2018 World Cup.

He said economic sanctions against Russia is one way to pressure the government to improve its record on LGBT rights and other human rights issues. Alekseev added, however, the international community “should think” before it decides to participate in the Sochi Olympics and the World Cup.

“[They are] a very good opportunity to raise particular concerns,” he said. “One of the ways for many countries would be to boycott these international sporting events because they take place in a country which doesn’t respect basic human rights.”

The United States and other countries boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the year before.

Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder of Outsports.com, described the boycott as “the biggest black eye this country has ever self-inflicted.”

“The Olympics are supposed to be apolitical,” he said, noting gay Olympic diver Greg Louganis was unable to compete because then-President Jimmy Carter decided to boycott the games. “To start playing politics by removing an opportunity for these athletes to participate — something they’ve been working for all their lives would be a disgrace.”

Blake Skjellerup, a gay short track speed skater from New Zealand who plans to compete in Sochi, said he would not support a boycott of the games.

“The Olympic games for athletes is something they dream of their whole life and spend their whole life working for,” he told the Blade during an interview on Tuesday night from Calgary where he continues to train. “To have that swept away from underneath you is pretty shocking.”

Gay gymnast Josh Dixon, who finished 13th at the Olympic trials ahead of last summer’s London games, said there would be “nothing more disheartening” than to “discredit the years of work put into accomplishing a goal taken away for political reasons.”

“To have that work taken away, let alone the time it took to reach such a level, would be gut-wrenching,” he told the Blade.

Zeigler and Skjellerup both said they support any athlete who decides to publicly speak out against LGBT rights abuses in Russia.

“I’ll be focusing 110 percent on my competing,” Skjellerup said. “I’m not going to tone down the sort of person that I am just because I’m in a country that has these barbaric laws that exist saying that who I am is wrong.”

The U.S. Olympic Committee did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

19 Comments
  • Putin is bowing to the outmoded and bigoted Russian Orthodox Church in its sponsorship of homophobic violence in Russia. Maybe Stalin was right when he tried to rid Russia of all religions. Too bad he failed and now the cancer spreads.

  • This is fucking stupid. Why can't Russia accept LGBTQS community

  • This just shows that the government in Russia is still a gang of thugs. Different name, same oppression.

  • Dr. Robb Kvasnak

    Next year I will be boycotting the Winter Olympics by simply not watching them on TV and not paying any attention to them. I will also boycott any sponsors of the Russian Olympics. I suggest parallel Winter Olympics in a country that welcomes ALL people regardless who they are – only that their athletic competence counts.

  • I am emailing this to friends in Russia, Mongolia, and Knowledge Commons DC.

  • Hundreds of thousands of LGBT citizen activists and allies from around the world should make plans to attend the Games, and participate in organized demonstrations instead. Will LGBT athletes approve of THAT? Will LGBT athletes participate? Thoughts?

  • I too will not watch any Sochi news. I hope the weather sucks – rain! rain! rain! If a a hopeful boycott doesn't occur, I urge teams to carry Rainbow flags at the Opening Ceremonies.

  • its not like this is a new phenomena…skinheads have been killing foreigners in russia for years, yet there's never been much of an outcry over that……now they've picked a different target and suddenly calls of boycotts fill the air…….sad and strange…..

  • The blame rests with religion. The government is its messenger. However, penchant towards draconian squashing of dissent is part Russian social conciousness.

  • A boycott of the Olympics would be a mistake. The US boycott in 1980 did nothing except prevent athletes from competing, and taking the Russian games off the world’s radar.

    PROTEST AT THE GAMES! There are various Facebook pages suggesting athletes wear a logo in solidarity. If athletes and visitors were to protest in front of the world press, it would go a lot further than silence. Would Russia create international incidents over LGBT policies? Doubt it!

  • I been petition to ban the games and have them move some where else that is safer, to put gay athletics in danger is stupid. I have wrote to NBC news, which will show the games, Coke Cola and McDondals not to support the games. IOC needs to take this Russian Anti-gay law serious. To have the games in such a hateful place is wrong and is telling the world what Russia is doing is ok. I will not be watching the games, The games needs to be moved into a safer place other than Russia.

    • Crystal, I googled "gays banned in Russia" what I found, was that they didn't want gay literature passed out to under aged children. I have to agree with that stance. Homosexual behavior isn't " natural or normal" according to a lot of people. Just telling you what I found.

    • The is must more crueler than that. Gays are fine and put into jail for being who they are. People do not have to agree with their life style, but to silence them is wrong. I am writing to LBGT groups asking them to write to the Olympic Committees and their supports to move the game somewhere safer.

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