June 19, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Navratilova criticizes Putin, opposes Olympic boycott
Martina Navratilova, tennis, gay news, Washington Blade, sports

Martina Navratilova (Photo courtesy of John Wright Photo)

Retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova on Monday blasted Russian lawmakers who unanimously passed a bill last week that would ban the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors.

“It is kind of frightening that people could agree that much on that,” she told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from Paris, noting the 436-0 margin by which the measure passed in the Russian Duma. “It just goes to show how totalitarian that country is because you can have a vote on that.”

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) under the proposal. 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.

Navratilova criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin who has said he will sign the measure into law.

“I feel like Putin’s just trying to go against whatever the West is doing,” she said. “If the West would be bad about gays, he would have gay marriage, but because the West is good with the gays — or getting better, he goes the other way.”

Navratilova, who won more than two-dozen Grand Slam singles and doubles titles during her professional career that spanned nearly four decades, in 1981 became one of the first professional athletes to come out as gay.

She spoke with the Blade amid growing calls that athletes boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

She said Russia shouldn’t “have gotten the Olympics in the first place,” but stressed she “never believed in boycotts.” She referenced the gay advocacy groups who boycotted Colorado after voters in 1992 approved a constitutional amendment that barred the state from enacting anti-gay discrimination laws to further prove her point.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in 1996 in the Romer v. Evans decision.

“It’s more effective to get in people’s faces and prove them wrong rather than run away,” Navratilova said. “To me a boycott kind of runs away from the problem.”

She was also at the men’s final at the French Open earlier this month when opponents of France’s same-sex marriage law interrupted the match between Spanish tennis players Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer. Navratilova said the shirtless protester who ran onto the court with a flare in his hand near Nadal reminded her of the man who stabbed Monica Seles during a German tennis match in 1993.

“You’re like holy shit, you’re still not safe on the tennis court,” she said. “On top of that, it’s these asshole protesters who have nothing better to do but complain about gay people having the same rights as they do.”

Navratilova also recalled seeing some of the more than 100,000 people who marched against France’s same-sex marriage law in Paris on May 26 — three days before the first gay couple legally tied the knot in the country.

“I couldn’t believe the masses of people who were out protesting against something that doesn’t affect them in any way,” she said. “To really see real people that are so emotionally invested in denying you equality is really disconcerting.”

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

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