January 17, 2014 at 8:00 am EST | by Kevin Naff
Standing up to Putin’s anti-gay crusade
Vladimir Putin, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian President Vladimir Putin is public enemy No. 1 for LGBT people as he continues an assault on gay Russians. (Photo courtesy of www.kremlin.ru)

The news from Russia keeps getting worse as gays flee the country fearing for their safety, just as hordes of international tourists prepare to descend on Sochi for the Winter Olympics next month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a de facto dictator, is cynically using anti-gay animus to distract the nation’s attention from his own domestic failures. Putin in June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors. The law is so vaguely written that in Russia it’s now illegal for gay couples to publicly display affection or even hold hands. The law can also be interpreted to bar broadcasting news stories about LGBT people, which could prove tricky for NBC as it gears up to cover the Olympics.

A second statute bans foreign same-sex couples and any couple from a country in which gays and lesbians can legally marry from adopting Russian children. And LGBT advocacy groups are among those that face fines under a 2012 law that requires NGOs that receive funding from outside Russia to register as a “foreign agent.”

All of this amounts to an all-out assault on the liberty and safety of LGBT people in Russia and American corporations must act to avoid complicity in these atrocities — starting with NBC, which owns the U.S. broadcast rights to the Winter Games. The Olympics are so important to NBC’s fortunes that NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke went so far as to announce, “The soul of this company is the Olympics.”

That doesn’t bode well for a tough approach to covering the anti-gay push. Bob Costas, who will head NBC’s primetime coverage, said he wants to interview Putin and suggested that NBC would address the issue. NBC’s journalists must shine a bright light on Putin’s attacks on gays.

In this issue of the Blade, you’ll find the heartbreaking stories of several gay men forced to flee Russia. It’s not just the anti-gay law that’s the problem — it’s the hatred and violence that it encourages against anyone who publicly comes out.

Arkady Gyngazov, former manager of a Russian gay nightclub that has been attacked several times over the last few months, told the Blade last week he plans to seek asylum in the United States.

Arkady Gyngazov, Russia, Moscow, gay news, Washington Blade

Arkady Gyngazov arrived in D.C. last month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“I’m not going to go back to Russia because I feel my safety, even my life, is threatened,” he said.

President Obama has so far admirably stood up to Putin, canceling a planned September meeting with him and, more recently, boldly naming Billie Jean King and two other gay athletes to the U.S. delegation to Sochi. A host of world leaders is skipping the games at least partly in protest of the anti-gay crusade. And leaders from left and right, including Sen. John McCain, have assailed Putin’s actions.

But so far all the criticism hasn’t been enough to change the law. And that’s why it’s now incumbent on NBC to allow its journalists to do their jobs next month. Sunshine is the best antiseptic and NBC is in a unique position with its unfettered access to Sochi, to Russian public officials and to the athletes to expose what’s happening to gays under Putin’s dictatorship. American corporate interests and profits must not get in the way of covering the big story. The very lives of gay Russians likely depend on it.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

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