February 16, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Former Italian parliamentarian arrested at Olympics

Queer Nation, New York City, New York, Russia, Sochi, homophobia, Winter Olympics, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian police on Sunday arrested a former Italian parliamentarian who unfurled a rainbow flag with a pro-gay slogan at the Olympics. (Photo courtesy of Queer Nation NY)

Reports indicate Russian police have arrested a transgender former Italian parliamentarian who unfurled a rainbow flag at the 2014 Winter Olympics that contained a pro-gay slogan.

Eurosport.com reported Irma Battaglia of the Gay Project, an Italian LGBT advocacy group, said Vladimir Luxuria told her during a telephone call that authorities in Sochi took her into custody while holding a flag that said “gay is ok” in Russian. Luxuria earlier on Sunday posted a picture to Twitter that showed her with a rainbow-colored fan at the games.

“I am in Sochi,” tweeted Luxuria in Italian. “Greetings with the colors of the rainbow, in the face of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”

Eurosports.com reported Luxuria told Battaglia the officers who arrested her were “brutal and aggressive.” She also said none of them spoke English.

Luxuria’s reported arrest took place nine days after authorities in Moscow and St. Petersburg took 14 LGBT rights advocates into custody hours before the 2014 Winter Olympics officially opened.

Elena Kostynchenko, who is one of the 10 activists arrested near Moscow’s Red Square on Feb. 7 as they sang the Russian national anthem while holding Russian and rainbow flags, told the Washington Blade after her arrest that officers beat one activist and choked another while they were at a local police station. Kostynchenko said authorities also threatened to sexually assault her and another female advocate before they released them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month those who protest his government’s LGBT rights record during the Olympics would not face prosecution under his country’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors. The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly said it has received assurances from the Kremlin that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination while in Sochi for the games.

Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, highlighted the campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s non-discrimination clause while in Sochi between Feb. 4-9.

David Pichler, a gay U.S. diver who competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics and 2000 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney, left the Black Sea resort city on Feb. 11 after spending five days at the games with two Human Rights First staffers. The group met with Anastasia Smirnova and two other Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg on Feb. 6 – one day before authorities took Smirnova and three other advocates into custody as they tried to march with a banner that highlighted support for the Principle 6 campaign.

A spokesperson for the 2014 Winter Olympics Organizing Committee on Monday referred the Blade to an Associated Press story that said Sochi police officials denied Luxuria’s claims she was arrested.

“We’ve talked to police and they have told us there is no record whatsoever to any detention or arrest,” said Alexandra Kosterina of the Sochi organizing committee, during an Olympics press briefing as the AP reported.

Luxuria served in the lower house of the Italian Parliament from 2006-2008.

Battaglia told the Blade authorities released Luxuria late on Sunday after Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino personally intervened. The activist added the former parliamentarian plans to wear a rainbow-colored suit on Monday at the Olympic Village and at a hockey game to protest against Russia’s anti-gay laws and speak out against the arrests of Smirnova and the 13 other LGBT rights advocates before the opening ceremony.

“We are all proud of her strength and courage,” Luca Possenti of Famiglie Arcobaleno, a group that advocates on behalf of Italian LGBT parents and those who want to have children, told the Blade on Sunday. “We know that she consciously decided to protest this way against the shameful anti-gay laws and we will support her in any way.”

The Blade’s attempts to speak with Luxuria have thus far proven unsuccessful.

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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