U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) on Monday criticized Russia’s LGBT rights record during a Center for Global Equality reception on Capitol Hill.
“I strongly believe that every person deserves to live a life that is free from persecution and harassment and I am committed to guaranteeing the full enjoyment of universal rights for all members of LGBT community,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Unfortunately, the situation in Russia for the LGBT community has been rapidly deteriorating.”
The Florida Republican criticized the Kremlin for passing a law that bans gay propaganda to minors and other laws she maintains “restrict free speech and free association of LGBT individuals.” Ros-Lehtinen also blasted Russian lawmakers who are reportedly seeking to remove children of gay and lesbian parents from their homes.
“The actions of an increasingly hostile Russian government takes the country far backwards in time, just as much of the world is moving forward towards tolerance and equality,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “No government ought to be able to dictate who we love. And no government ought to be able to use children as pawns to punish those who are different.”
Cicilline, who is gay, categorized the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record as “one part of a much bigger human rights problem” in the country.
“It was really sponsored or authorized or approved by government actors in a really profoundly different way,” Cicilline said. “We see experiences like this around the world where organizations or individuals are engaging in bad behavior, but this I think was very different and I think really requires our full attention.”
The Center for Global Equality reception took place against the backdrop of mounting outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record that threatens to overshadow the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.
Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein is among those who have called for a boycott of the Sochi games. Author Dan Savage, Cleve Jones and other LGBT rights advocates have called for a boycott of Russian vodka.
President Obama, who met with two Russian LGBT rights activists last month during the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, is among those who oppose any effort to boycott the Sochi games. He, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have repeatedly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government over its LGBT rights record.
International Olympic Commission President Thomas Bach on Sunday said before the lighting of the Olympic torch in Greece that Olympic values include “respect without any form of discrimination.”
U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun in August told RIA Novosti, an online Russian newspaper, that American athletes should comply with the laws of the countries in which they compete. USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky later sought to clarify Blackmun’s comments by tweeting Russia’s gay propaganda law is “inconsistent with fundamental Olympic principles.”
Sandusky added in the same tweet that the USOC has “shared our view with the IOC.”
LGBT rights advocates in the U.S. and around the world last week expressed outrage after IOC Coordination Commission Chair Jean-Claude Killy appeared to suggest the statute does not violate the Olympic Charter.
Ros-Lehtinen, who met with Russian LGBT rights advocate Igor Kochetkov and two other gay activists from Ukraine and Georgia last month, criticized the USOC during a brief interview with the Washington Blade after she spoke at the Council for Global Equality reception.
“The U.S. Olympic Committee has been complicit in this act of aggression because they say we respect Russia’s right to do this,” the Florida Republican said. “That is not worthy of Olympic standards.”
Ros-Lehtinen and gay California Congressman Mark Takano continue to seek additional signatories for a letter they plan to send to the USOC that asks it to explain the steps it plans to take to ensure the safety of American athletes who plan to compete in the Sochi games. She applauded both Obama and Kerry for publicly criticizing Putin over his government’s LGBT rights record, but she suggested to the Blade they can do more to respond to concerns over athletes and others who will travel to Russia for the games.
“It’s up to the U.S. to step up,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “[It is] time to step up and tell Putin what you think so he knows that the eyes of the world are upon Russia.”
The USOC did not immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on Ros-Lehtinen’s criticisms.