October 30, 2013 at 1:27 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Putin: Gays will not suffer discrimination during Olympics
Queer Nation, Vladimir Putin, Russia, Sochi, Olympics, Times Square, gay news, Washington Blade

Queer Nation members protest outside a U.S. Olympic Committee press conference in Times Square on Oct. 29. (Photo by Scott Wooledge)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 28 said gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi.

“On my own and on your behalf, I have assured Mr. (International Olympic Committee) President (Thomas Bach) that we will do our best, and our athletes and fans will do their best too, so that both participants and guests feel themselves comfortable at [the] Sochi Olympics regardless of their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation,” Putin said during a Sochi press conference that Bach attended, as the Associated Press reported. “I would like to underline that.” 

Putin’s comments come amid lingering outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record that threatens to overshadow the Sochi games that will take place in February.

Putin in June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors. A second statute 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 advocacy groups are among those that face fines under a 2012 law that requires non-governmental organizations that receive funding from outside Russia to register as a “foreign agent.”

“It is hard to imagine how people can be welcomed equally regardless of sexual orientation when such a law… is in place,” Russian LGBT rights advocate Anastasia Smirnova said during an Oct. 29 conference call with reporters that All Out hosted as she discussed Putin’s comments and the gay propaganda law he signed.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and more than three dozen other members of Congress earlier in October asked U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun to outline how he plans to ensure the safety of gay American athletes who plan to compete in the Sochi games

Author Dan Savage and playwright Harvey Fierstein are among those who have called for a boycott of the Sochi games over Russia’s LGBT rights record.

Two dozen members of Queer Nation, an LGBT advocacy group, on Tuesday protested outside a Times Square press conference at which the U.S. Olympic Committee officially launched a 100-day countdown to the Sochi games. Activists with the same organization in September interrupted the Metropolitan Opera’s opening night gala to protest Russia’s gay rights record.

“The USOC and the international community should not legitimize Russia’s violations of fundamental human rights by holding the games in that country,” Queer Nation member Duncan Osborne said.

Blackmun on Oct. 11 said Russia’s gay propaganda law is “inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the Olympics and Paraolympic movements.” The USOC Board of Directors the day before voted to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy.

The IOC has repeatedly maintained it has received assurances from the Kremlin that the gay propaganda ban will not affect athletes and others who plan to travel to Sochi, even though Russian officials have previously said the statute will apply to those who go to the games. Bach in September stressed during a speech he delivered in Greece before the lighting of the Olympic flame that Olympic values include “respect without any form of discrimination.”

Bach is scheduled to meet with Russian LGBT rights activists at the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, this week. Smirnova said he declined to meet with them during his most recent trip to the Olympic host city.

“It is a shame that despite the advanced notice, the president couldn’t find the time to meet with representatives of the coalition of LGBT organizations,” she said.

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

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