August 2, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT sports groups oppose Olympics boycott

Russia, anti-gay, gay news, Washington Blade

Protesters gathered outside of the Russian embassy in Northwest D.C. on July 31. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

A coalition of LGBT sports groups on Thursday announced their opposition to a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, over the country’s gay rights record.

The LGBT Sports Coalition – which includes the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Athlete Ally, Outsports.com, the Federation of Gay Games and former George Washington University basketball player Kye Allums – said in a statement they “stand united against the new onslaught of anti-gay laws adopted by Russia” that include a statute that bans so-called gay propaganda to minors. The group also urged the International Olympic Committee, the Russian government and officials of countries that will send athletes to Sochi to “guarantee the safety of every Olympic attendee before, during and long after” the games.

The LGBT Sports Coalition called upon the Obama administration and particularly Secretary of State John Kerry to “create a plan with other LGBT-friendly nations” to ensure Russia and the more than 70 other countries with anti-gay laws that include the criminalization of homosexuality to repeal them. It urged corporations that do business in Russia to pressure President Vladimir Putin to repeal the statutes.

The LGBT Sports Coalition also said NBC and other media outlets have an obligation to discuss Russia’s anti-gay laws during their coverage of the Sochi games.

The group further recommends that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Rosemary DiCarlo should petition the United Nations to consider sanctions against Russia and other country that criminalize homosexuality.

“Inviting participation is the spirit of the Olympic games,” the LGBT Sports Coalition said. “It is incumbent upon all of these people to ensure that all LGBT Olympians are able to compete openly, proudly and without any negative repercussion.”

The LGBT Sports Coalition released its statement less than a day after Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told the Russian sports website R-Support that athletes and others who travel to Sochi will be subject to the country’s anti-gay propaganda law. His comments come in spite of the International Olympic Committee’s assurances it said it received from “the highest level” of the Russian government that authorities would exempt foreigners from the statute while in the country for the games.

Those charged under the anti-gay propaganda law that Putin signed in late June will face a fine of between 4,000 and 5,000 rubles ($124-$155.) Government officials would face a fine of between 40,000 and 50,000 rubles ($1,241-$1,551.)

Organizations will face a fine of up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) or suspension of their activities for up to 90 days, while foreigners will face up to 15 days in jail and deportation.

Putin last month signed a second law that bans foreign same-sex couples and those from countries that allow gays and lesbians to marry from adopting Russian children.

LGBT rights groups are among those that face fines under a 2012 law that requires non-governmental organizations that receive funding from outside Russia to register as a “foreign agent.”

LGBT activists remain divided over boycott calls

Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein, author Dan Savage and activist Cleve Jones are among the growing number of LGBT rights advocates who have called for a boycott of the Sochi games and Russian vodka.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on July 26 said the U.S. opposes any effort to boycott the Olympics.

Gay Olympic diver Greg Louganis, who was unable to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because then-President Jimmy Carter boycotted them over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the year before, told Frank Bruni of the New York Times on July 28 that athletes should have the opportunity to compete in the Sochi games. Retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova; Russian LGBT rights advocate Nikolai Alekseev and gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skejellerup, who plans to wear a rainbow pin during the Olympics, are among those who also oppose a boycott.

“It’s more effective to get in people’s faces and prove them wrong rather than run away,” Navratilova told the Washington Blade during an interview in June after the Russian lawmakers approved the gay propaganda ban in a unanimous vote. “To me a boycott kind of runs away from the problem.”

Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder of Outsports.com, referred to Louganis’ inability to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow as he discussed his opposition to a boycott of the Sochi games with the Blade earlier this summer.

“The Olympics are supposed to be apolitical,” he said. “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.”

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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