Growing outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record threatens to overshadow the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in the country in February.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in June signed a broadly worded law that bans gay propaganda to minors under which individuals will face fines of between 4,000 and 5,000 rubles ($124-$155.) Government officials would face fines of between 40,000 and 50,000 rubles ($1,241-$1,551,) while organizations could face penalties of up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) or suspension of their activities for up to 90 days.
Foreigners who violate the law would face up to 15 days in jail and deportation from the country.
A second law that Putin signed in July bans same-sex couples and anyone from a country in which gays and lesbians can marry from adopting Russian children. A 2012 statute requires LGBT advocacy organizations and other groups that receive funding from outside Russia to register as “foreign agents.”
These laws have come into effect against the backdrop of increased anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in the country.
Two men near Volgograd in May allegedly sodomized a man with beer bottles before killing him after he reportedly came out to them. Authorities on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s Far East said three men stabbed and trampled a gay man to death a few weeks later before they set his car on fire with his body inside.
Police in May arrested 30 LGBT rights activists who tried to stage a Pride celebration outside Moscow City Hall. Authorities in June detained dozens of LGBT advocates who sought to hold a similar gathering in St. Petersburg
Officials in Murmansk in July arrested four Dutch LGBT rights activists who were filming a documentary about gay life in Russia.
Reports of ultra-nationalists torturing gay Russian teenagers whom they met though fake accounts they created on a Russian social media network continue to emerge.
Gay crackdown prompts calls to boycott Olympics
Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein in July called for a boycott of the Sochi games.
Author Dan Savage and LGBT rights advocates Cleve Jones are among those who have called for a boycott of Russian vodka. Gay bars in Chicago, New York and Seattle stopped serving Stoli and other brands, but D.C. establishments have not backed the boycott.
Andy Cohen on Aug. 14 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. The Miss Universe Organization said in an Aug. 20 statement it is “deeply concerned” over the gay propaganda ban and anti-LGBT violence in Russia.
“Both the law, as well as the violence experienced by the LGBT community in Russia are diametrically opposed to the core values of our company,” the statement read.
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.
Retired tennis champion Billie Jean King, who came out in 1981, told the Blade on Monday she feels individual athletes themselves should decide whether to compete in Sochi.
“They should get the vote,” she said. “This is the Olympics. This is about the athletes and the fans, so it’s a really hard call.”
Gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup in July announced he will wear a Pride pin in Sochi if he qualifies for the Olympics.
“It’s been a positive reaction so far,” he told the Blade on Monday during an interview from Calgary, Alberta, where he continues to train. Outsports.com and other LGBT sports groups and others have backed a fund that seeks to raise at least $15,000 to help Skjellerup qualify for the games. “Everybody is behind the idea and are excited to see that I am proud of who I am and that I’m going to show that in Sochi.”
American runner Nick Symmonds earlier this month criticized the gay propaganda ban during an interview with the Russian news agency RIA Novosti after he competed in the men’s 800 meter final at the World Athletic Championship in Moscow. 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.
Figure skater Johnny Weir, whose husband is of Russian descent, told CBS News 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.
Russia to enforce anti-gay law during Olympics
Russian authorities have repeatedly said authorities will enforce the gay propaganda ban during the Sochi games, in spite of repeated 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. The IOC told the Blade those who participate in the games could face disqualification or loss of their credentials if they publicly criticize Russia’s gay propaganda ban while in Sochi.
Green Tregaro wore red fingernail polish during a high jump competition at the World Athletic Championship on Aug. 17 because Swedish athletic officials reportedly asked her to change their color.
“The athletes are always going into countries with laws different than his or her own country,” U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun told RIA Novosti during an Aug. 14 interview. “They’re going to agree with those laws in some ways, they’re going to disagree with those laws in other ways. It’s our strong desire that our athletes comply with the laws of every nation that we visit. This law is no different.”
USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky later sought to clarify Blackmun’s position on the gay propaganda law, saying on his Twitter account on Aug. 16 that it is “inconsistent with fundamental Olympic principles.” He said the organization has also “shared our view with the IOC.”
Skjellerup applauded the Canadian Olympic Committee’s response to the gay propaganda law and Russia’s LGBT rights record. He also plans to march with COC members during this weekend’s Calgary Pride.
“Canada is probably one of the countries that is actually leading the growth of support for their athletes and [against] the atrocity that is going on in Russia at the moment,” Skjellerup told the Blade.
Yelena Isinbayeva, an Olympic pole vault champion, criticized Green Tregaro and Hjelmer during an Aug. 15 press conference after she won her third world title at the World Athletic Championships. Isinbayeva also defended the gay propaganda ban.
“We are Russians. Maybe we are different than European people, than other people from different lands,” she said during the press conference. “We have our law that everyone has to respect.”
Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings defended Isinbayeva’s comments.
“I’m an Orthodox and that says it all,” he said, according to Russian journalist Igor Eronko.
Russian sprinter Kseniya Ryzhova on Aug. 20 dismissed suggestions she and teammate Tatyana Firova challenged the law when they kissed on the medal podium after they won the women’s 4 x 400 meter rally at the World Athletic Championships.
Protests banned in Sochi ahead of Olympics
Putin on Aug. 19 issued a decree that bans demonstrations, protests and other meetings in Sochi “not connected with” the Olympics between Jan. 7 and March 21.
Polina Andrianova of Coming Out, an LGBT advocacy group in St. Petersburg whom authorities fined under the “foreign agents” law, told the Blade she feels the order seeks to stop protests of the gay propaganda ban during the Sochi games.
“It is designed to prevent demonstrations around the propaganda against homosexuality law and other violations of civil freedoms,” Andrianova said.
As for Skjellerup, he told the Blade he is not concerned about any potential repercussions he could face in Sochi over his decision to wear his rainbow pin.
“I’m wearing a pin as an Olympian and it’s an Olympic pin,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any, I guess, illegal activity taking place.”