Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, has been granted a visa for travel to Russia where he intends to raise awareness for LGBT rights during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held from Feb. 7-23.
Athlete Ally has partnered with the Principle 6 campaign, which uses the language of the Olympic Charter to allow athletes and fans to speak out against discrimination during the Sochi Games without violating Russian anti-gay laws or the Olympic ban on political speech.
Principle Six is based on a convention of the IOC charter that states that any form of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with the Olympic movement.
On Jan. 21, the first Sochi-related anti-gay arrest occurred when a Russian gay rights advocate waved a rainbow flag during the Olympic Torch relay.
The Blade caught up with Hudson Taylor, a straight ally, wrestling champion and coach (at Columbia University), before he departs for Russia.
WASHINGTON BLADE: What was the thought process behind planning a trip to Sochi?
HUDSON TAYLOR: I think Sochi gives us an enormous opportunity to raise awareness about what’s going on in Russia. And, what better way to do that than to be actually on the ground and ensure that this is a conversation that is taking place. I talked to the Athlete Ally board and weighed the risk and reward of going and I think we all agreed that the importance of the moment made it such that I needed to go.
BLADE: With all the vague guidance and broad interpretations coming from Russia, where is the line between raising awareness and staging a protest?
TAYLOR: For the Principle Six campaign we thought long and hard about the appropriate line. We are trying to make sure that athletes know that they can show support for Principle Six or the Olympic Charter. This is a way to show the world that discrimination has no place in sports and that the Olympic charter is opposed to what is going on in Russia. As long as we stay true to what the Olympic movement and the Olympic values are all about, we shouldn’t violate Russian law and we shouldn’t put athletes in a position to violate the Olympic Charter.
BLADE: Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter is written for the specific purpose of eliminating advertising, demonstrations and propaganda from the stadiums, venues and other competition areas. Since the athletes won’t be able to wear Principle 6 clothing at their venues, what is the plan for exposure of the clothing line?
TAYLOR: Where we have an opening to raise awareness is on how athletes speak out across social media. My hope is to engage athletes to wear Principle 6 clothing or to tweet photos of the language of Principle 6 out to their fans. It’s a great opportunity because social media is technically not an Olympic venue and it can be used to reach every corner of the world.
TAYLOR: All of the profits will be donated to All Out and Athlete Ally. We in turn will be donating the proceeds to Russian-based LGBT organizations.
BLADE: What about the new hand gesture that has been popping up on social media? It consists of the peace sign on one hand and laying the pointer finger of the opposite hand on top of it to form a triangle. Will that be considered propaganda?
TAYLOR: The more opportunities an athlete has to speak out, the better. I think the hand gesture would definitely be construed as propaganda if it is used in the venues or on the medal stands. However, it is another viable and alternative way to speak out by posting it on social media.
BLADE: What will your itinerary consist of during your trip to Sochi?
TAYLOR: I will be in Sochi from Feb. 3-9 and I imagine that most of it will consist of reporting and commentating within the Olympic venues. I will probably take a day to visit one of the protest zones just to see what is going on and to ensure that I can report on it.
BLADE: The visa process for the Sochi Olympics is incredibly stringent. Were you concerned about your visa being approved?
TAYLOR: At first, when the multiple layers of the visa process were announced by the Embassy of the Russian Federation, there was certainly a cause for concern. Now that some security risks have appeared I think people are OK with the hoops and hurdles you have to go through to be on the ground in Sochi.
BLADE: Have the recent terrorist video threats changed anything for you in terms of keeping yourself safe in Sochi?
TAYLOR: In everything I will be doing in Sochi, there will be a risk and reward calculation. We will figure out a way not to expose myself or the organization to any unnecessary risks while giving the appropriate attention to the human rights issues in Russia and how it is affecting the LGBT community there.
BLADE: What about the comments made by Putin linking the gay community to pedophilia? Do you think those comments will make the gay rights advocates more aggressive in their protests?
TAYLOR: For advocates who are passionate about these issues, it will certainly stoke a fire in them, especially in an Olympic situation where athletes under the age of 18 will be competing and who may in fact be LGBT. Putin’s comments only exacerbate or incentivize people to speak out against it. The stark contrast of how Putin sees the LGBT community versus how the rest of the world sees them will be very evident during the Sochi Games.
BLADE: How hard will you be trying to get into the NBC Studios to chat with Bob Costas?
TAYLOR: Very hard (laughing). When you look at what athletes have the ability to do in terms of raising awareness, one area is social media and the other is the responses they give to the journalists who ask the questions. We will make sure that we are aware of all the journalists on the ground and have their contact information so that we can make ourselves available should they have an interest in covering this topic.
BLADE: Will you be attending any of the competitions?
TAYLOR: I will be attending the opening ceremonies but do not plan on buying any tickets to the sporting venues. While I am on the ground in Sochi, it will be important to keep an eye out for the statements and actions that are happening in cities around the world. I think a lot of people will be demonstrating and coming together to support the LGBT community. It will be pretty amazing to watch.
BLADE: Good luck Hudson. Be safe.