August 18, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Russian athletes appear to challenge anti-gay law

Athlete Ally, All Out, IOC, International Olympic Committee, Russia, Sochi, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of All Out and Athlete Ally on August 7 presented a petition with more than 300,000 signatures to the International Olympic Committee that urges it to pressure Russia to end its gay crackdown. (Photo courtesy of All Out)

Two Russian athletes on Sunday appeared to potentially challenge their country’s law that bans gay propaganda to minors during the World Athletic Championships in Moscow.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova kissed as they stood on the medal podium in Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital after they won the women’s 4 x 400 meter relay. The two women have yet to publicly say why they decided to kiss each other, but one of their teammates who was standing next to them on the podium appeared surprised by their public display.

The kiss comes against the backdrop of growing outrage over the gay propaganda ban that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law in June.

American runner Nick Symmonds criticized the statute during an interview with the Russian news agency RIA Novosti last week after he competed in the men’s 800 meter final at the World Athletic Championships. High jumper Emma Green Tregaro and sprinter Mao Hjelmer, who are from Sweden, painted their fingernails in rainbow colors as they competed in the same event.

“I had a suggestion from a friend on Instagram that maybe I could paint my nails in the colors of the rainbow,” Green Tregaro said in a video a Swedish newspaper posted onto its website as the Associated Press reported. “That felt like a simple, small thing that maybe could trigger some thoughts.”

Russia’s gay rights record sparks calls to boycott Olympics

Playwright Harvey Fierstein and other advocates continue to call for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February over the country’s gay propaganda ban and ongoing LGBT rights crackdown.

Andy Cohen last week told E! News he turned down a request to co-host the 2013 Miss Universe pageant that will take place in Moscow in November, in part, because “he didn’t feel right as a gay man stepping foot into Russia.” Donald Trump, who co-owns the pageant along with NBC Universal, did not respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on Cohen’s decision or Russia’s gay rights record.

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, is among those who feel the U.S. should compete in the Sochi games. President Obama, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova and a coalition of LGBT advocacy groups that include Outsports.com and Athlete Ally also oppose an Olympic boycott.

Gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup last month announced he will wear a Pride pin while in Sochi.

Figure skater Johnny Weir, whose husband is of Russian descent, told CBS News earlier this month he is “not afraid of being arrested” while at the Sochi games.

“If it takes me getting arrested for people to pay attention and for people to lobby against this law, then I’m willing to take it,” Weir told the network.

The Russian Interior Ministry last week said authorities will enforce the country’s gay propaganda ban during the Sochi games in spite of the “assurances” the International Olympic Committee said it has received from the Kremlin that the law would not impact athletes who plan to compete in the Olympics. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko defended the statute during a Moscow press conference on Sunday, while asserting the “freedoms of Russian and foreign athletes and guests who come to Sochi will be absolutely protected” as the AP reported.

“We want to protect our children whose psyches have not formed from the propaganda of drug use, drunkenness and non-traditional sexual relations,” he said.

Yelena Isinbayeva, a Russian Olympic pole vault champion, criticized Green Tregaro and Hjelmer during an August 15 press conference after she won her third world title at the IAAF world championships. The AP reported Green Tregaro wore red fingernail polish while she competed in Moscow on Saturday after Swedish athletic officials reportedly asked her to change their color.

“It’s unrespectful to our country; it’s unrespectful to our citizens,” Isinbayeva said as she defended the gay propaganda ban. “We are Russians. Maybe we are different than European people, than other people from different lands. We have our law that everyone has to respect.”

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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