August 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Petition urges IOC to pressure Russia to end gay crackdown

Russia, anti-gay, gay news, Washington Blade

Protesters gathered outside of the Russian Embassy on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

NEW YORK—Gay advocacy groups on Wednesday are scheduled to present to the International Olympic Committee a petition with more than 300,000 signatures that urges it to pressure Russian officials to protect the rights of their LGBT citizens.

The petition that All Out and Athlete Ally will present to IOC officials in Lausanne, Switzerland, stresses the organizations stand “with citizens across Russia who are calling on their government to stop the crackdown against lesbian, gay, bi and trans people that is fueling anti-gay violence” ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February. The group also urges the IOC and other “leaders around the world and within Russia to work to eliminate all anti-gay laws and protect all citizens from violence and discrimination” in the country.

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo; Oakland Raider Chris Kluwe and Greg Louganis, an Olympic diver who was unable to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow after the U.S. boycotted the games, are among those who have endorsed the petition.

“The International Olympic Committee is being forced by Russia to tell athletes to shut up, but instead they are speaking out,” All Out Executive Director Andre Banks said. “Ironically, the global outcry is transforming Sochi into an amazing platform for Russians and athletes to defy the law and speak out. The IOC needs to get ready.”

“We hope the International Olympic Committee responds to All Out’s members and the millions of people worldwide who want Russia to treat all of their citizens with dignity under the law,” Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network, an organization that contains representatives from gay rights groups from across Russia, added.

The IOC said in a July 31 statement it has “received assurances” from “the highest level of government in Russia” the broadly worded gay propaganda to minors ban that President Vladimir Putin signed in June will not affect athletes and others who will travel to Sochi.

The Associated Press on Monday reported the organization is engaged in “quiet diplomacy” with senior Russian officials on the issue. This report comes less than a week after Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told a Russian sports website the gay propaganda law will apply to those who attend the games.

All Out’s petition comes against the backdrop of growing global outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record.

In addition to gay propaganda ban, Putin last month signed a second law that bans foreign same-sex couples and any couple from a country in which gays and lesbians can legally marry from adopting Russian children. LGBT rights groups and other organizations that receive funding from outside Russia could face a fine if they don’t register as a “foreign agent.”

Authorities in the Russian capital in May arrested 30 people who tried to stage a Pride march outside Moscow City Hall. St. Petersburg officials in June took more than 40 LGBT rights advocates into custody who tried to stage their own Pride event.

Authorities in Murmansk on July 21 arrested four Dutch LGBT rights advocates who were filming a documentary about gay life in Russia.

The Russian government last week announced it would investigate whether Lady Gaga and Madonna did not secure the proper visas to enter the country last year. Both singers spoke out against St. Petersburg’s law that bans gay propaganda to minors during their concerts in the city.

Reports of anti-gay violence, hate crimes and even ultra-nationalists torturing gay Russian teenagers whom they meet on local social media networks continue to emerge from the country.

Banks: Calls to boycott Sochi Olympics are ‘premature’

Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein is among those who have urged the U.S. and other countries to boycott the Sochi games. Author Dan Savage and LGBT rights advocates Cleve Jones have also called for a boycott Russian vodka.

A coalition of LGBT sports organizations that includes and Athlete Ally on August 1 announced they oppose a boycott of the Olympics. The Obama administration, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova and Russian LGBT rights advocate Nikolai Alekseev are among those who also oppose calls to boycott the Sochi games.

Banks told the Washington Blade during an interview in his lower Manhattan office on August 2 that he feels calls to boycott the Sochi games are “premature.”

His group continues to work with Coming Out, a St. Petersburg LGBT advocacy group that was fined 500,000 rubles or slightly more than $15,000 for violating Russia’s “foreign agents” law that took effect in 2012. All Out is also working with the Russian LGBT Network.

“What we’re hearing from the groups inside Russia is we should use this opportunity to speak up and to speak out and to challenge the law as opposed to basically punishing Olympians for this law that they had nothing to do with,” Banks said.

Banks added the games provide an opportunity for the U.S. and other governments and international human rights organizations to speak out against Russia’s LGBT rights record in a way he feels the Russian government cannot ignore.

“The Sochi Olympics create this opportunity where actually everyone — these many kind of stakeholders — have an opportunity to say something at the same time about these laws in a way that can’t be ignored,” he said. “There’s an opportunity for the U.S. to take a more aggressive position than they have taken up to now.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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