December 1, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
IOC president meets with Russian LGBT athletes, activist

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)

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on Nov. 30 met Russian LGBT athletes and advocates amid continued criticism over the Kremlin’s gay rights record ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Elvina Yuvakaeva and Konstantin Yablotskiy of the Russian LGBT Sports Federation and Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network met with Bach in Paris where he was attending the 100th anniversary of the International Fencing Federation. Emy Ritt and Marc Naimark of the Federation of Gay Games; IOC Director of Communications Mark Adams and Bach’s incoming chief-of-staff, Jochen Faerber, also attended the meeting that lasted more than an hour.

Yuvakaeva, Yablotskiy and Smirnova discussed their desire to have a so-called Pride House for LGBT athletes and their supporters during the games that are scheduled to begin in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7. They also raised concerns over the implementation of a vaguely worded law that bans gay propaganda to minors during the Olympics.

The IOC flew the three to Paris for the meeting.

“We expressed our desire for a safe space for LGBT people at the Sochi Games,” Yablotskiy said in a press release the Federation of Gay Games sent to the Washington Blade after the meeting. “At the Vancouver and London Olympics, Pride Houses were organized by the LGBT sports community, but in Sochi, our government has banned such initiatives. We still hope that the IOC will be able to intervene to demonstrate its commitment to sport for all and to the values of the Olympic Charter.”

Smirnova specifically criticized Russia’s gay propaganda law in a letter written on behalf of Russian LGBT rights activists that she gave to Bach.

“We believe that this legislation and the environment infringe and debase the Olympic values,” she wrote. “The IOC is in the unique position of both power and responsibility to ensure that the Winter Olympics 2014 do not embrace discrimination and violence against LGBT persons.”

The letter called upon the IOC to “publicly express support for those in the Olympic movement who speak up for basic human rights of LGBT persons.” It also urged the Olympic body to not only condemn Russia’s anti-LGBT laws, but to create a Pride House in Sochi.

“We are aware of and are gravely concerned with the fact that the IOC does not acknowledge the urgency and necessity of this action, reiterating and endorsing vague assurances by the Russian government of non-discrimination at the Sochi games,” the letter reads. “While we appreciate your assurance that the IOC is committed to non-discrimination, we believe that everyone in the Olympic Movement should have a clear and well-informed understanding of the legal implications that exist in Russia in relation to the basic rights of LGBT individuals.”

Bach in September stressed before the lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece that Olympic values include “respect without any form of discrimination.”

He took part in an Oct. 28 press conference in Sochi during which Russian President Vladimir Putin said gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games. Other Kremlin officials had previously said authorities plan to enforce the propaganda law during the Olympics.

Smirnova said Bach declined to meet with Russian LGBT rights advocates while in Sochi.

“It’s good to hear that equality advocates are continuing the fight for non-discrimination at the Olympics,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) told the Blade after Bach met with Yuvakaeva, Yablotskiy and Smirnova. “I hope that, by this continuing and relentless lobbying efforts by so many, the [IOC] will realize that this issue cannot and will not be swept under the rug. We can all continue to do more to alert officials that the concerns of the LGBT community must be addressed.”

Naimark told the Blade on Monday during an interview from Paris that the IOC has not responded to a campaign the Federation of Gay Games launched in 2010 in support of amending the Olympic charter to ban anti-gay discrimination.

“To go from that to a face-to-face meeting with the president of the IOC is a huge step,” said Naimark as he discussed the Nov. 30 meeting. “Thomas Bach is to be praised.”

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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