February 27, 2014 at 7:53 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Post-Olympic concerns over Russia LGBT rights record remain

Russia, Vladimir Putin, Sochi, Winter Olympics, Dupont Circle, gay news, LGBT, Washington Blade

Several gay rights advocates gathered at Dupont Circle on Feb. 22 to bring attention to the treatment of LGBT people in Russia. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Outrage over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record once again overshadowed the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as they came to an end on Feb. 23.

More than 20 activists gathered in Dupont Circle on Feb. 22 to protest anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in Russia. Nearly three dozen Queer Nation members protested the U.S. Olympic Committee’s final “Road to Sochi Tour” event at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal on the same day the games ended.

Bob Costas criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin over his government’s gay rights record and a host of other issues during NBC’s primetime coverage of the Olympics on Feb. 21. These include the Kremlin’s support of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who remains in hiding after pro-government snipers last week killed dozens of protesters in Kiev, the country’s capital.

“The Sochi games are Vladimir Putin’s games from their inception to their conclusion and all points in between,” said Costas. “If they are successful on their own as appears to be the case, than at least in some corners it will help to burnish the image of a regime with much of the world takes significant issue. No amount of Olympic glory can mask those realities; any more than a biathlon gold medal, hard-earned and deeply satisfying as it is, can put out the fires in Kiev.”

Anti-gay lawmakers disrupt Moscow gay games

A number of Russian LGBT rights advocates with whom the Blade has spoken in recent weeks remain concerned authorities will expand their enforcement of the country’s controversial law banning gay propaganda to minors now that the Olympics have ended.

Elena Kostynchenko is among the 10 LGBT activists who were detained just before the games’ Feb. 7 opening ceremony as they tried to sing the Russian national anthem holding rainbow flags near Moscow’s Red Square. She told the Blade during a brief interview from the Russian capital on Tuesday she is “sure” the Kremlin will further crackdown on LGBT rights now that the games are over.

“I’m sure of it,” said Kostynchenko, adding she feels authorities will also target others who speak out against the Russian government. “They are all going to have to [worry] about something after the Olympics.”

More than 300 people from across Russia and 11 other countries are expected to take part in the Russian Open Games that are scheduled to take place in Moscow through March 2.

Elvina Yuvakaeva of the Russian LGBT Sports Federation, which organized the event alongside other Russian LGBT advocacy groups, said four venues that had agreed to host the games suddenly cancelled their agreements. The hotel where the Russian LGBT Network had planned to hold a forum also abruptly cancelled the scheduled event.

St. Petersburg Legislative Assemblyman Vitaly Milonov, who spearheaded his city’s gay propaganda ban that inspired the law Putin signed last June, denounced the Russian Open Games. The lawmaker also urged Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin to cancel the event.

Retired Olympic diver Greg Louganis is among those who attended the opening of the Russian Open Games on Wednesday, but reports indicate a bomb threat disrupted them. Moscow police reportedly refused to investigate the incident and local restaurants refused to serve the participants.

“It is far beyond attempts to disrupt events by homophobic groups, but a targeted and strong decision of the authorities to not let public LGBT events happen through exerting pressure on venue owners,” said Anastasia Smirnova, an LGBT activist whom St. Petersburg police arrested alongside three others on Feb. 7 as they tried to march with a banner in support of a campaign to add sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause.

The Federation of Gay Games has posted a petition to Change.org that urges Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, not to attend next month’s 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games if authorities do not allow the Russian Open Games to take place.

“The Russian Open Games do not violate the [gay propaganda] law in any way,” Marc Naimark of the Federation of Gay Games told the Blade on Tuesday. “But there is clearly pressure from political sources to prevent the event from happening.”

Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First told the Blade earlier this month during an interview from Sochi that Russian LGBT advocates also remain concerned lawmakers will once again consider a proposal that would allow authorities to take children away from their gay parents because of their sexual orientation. He met with Smirnova, Russian LGBT Network Chair Igor Kochetkov and Maria Kozlovskaya of “Coming Out” on Feb. 6 before traveling to the Black Sea resort city.

“Everyone’s always anticipated that coming back after the Olympics,” Gaylord told the Blade from Sochi. “We haven’t really heard much about that specifically. We’re still operating under the assumption it’s still something we go to be thinking about.”

LGBT Russians ‘will not be forgotten’

Gaylord told the Blade the Russian LGBT rights advocates with whom he and his Human Rights First colleagues have met remain “worried” their U.S. and European counterparts will forget about their plight because the Olympics are over. Ulrika Westerlund of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, who was detained alongside Kostynchenko and other activists in Moscow on Feb. 7, said she has “also heard this concern from many of our Russian contacts.”

The Human Rights Campaign last December announced a $100,000 donation to the Russia Freedom Fund. HRC also raised money for the Russian LGBT Sports Federation during an opening ceremony viewing party it hosted in Northwest Washington.

“Our plan is to proceed in conjunction with the activists on the ground in Russia with whom we’ve been working,” HRC spokesperson Michael Cole-Schwartz told the Blade on Monday.

COC Nederland, a Dutch LGBT advocacy group, has organized a number of events over the last year to highlight the Kremlin’s gay rights record. These include a protest against Putin that took place outside his meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Amsterdam last April.

The organization was also critical of the International Olympic Committee’s decision to award the 2014 Winter Olympics to Russia in spite of the Kremlin’s controversial human rights record.

“We have been able to generate a lot of support in the solidarity actions we have organized in the run up to Sochi,” COC Nederland Executive Director Koen van Dijk told the Blade on Wednesday. “We are confident that the plight of our brothers and sisters in Russia will not be forgotten.”

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

1 Comment
  • The more I read about Russia the more it reminds me of the US during the 1950s. Gays having no rights, invisible and talking of them taboo. Police harassing them and turning a blind eye to assaults on them. Even thirty years ago here, having homophobes drive by gay bars to yell slurs and threaten violence happened often and gays were often bashed.

    It’s also amazing how racial intolerance is prevalent and blatant in Russia! Blacks and Asians are often targets of violence and murder. This seems to get little notice by the world, and perhaps in the fight for justice and equality for gay people this should be also condemned to shame Russia further! Putin likes to paint himself and Russians as tolerant of gays but also highlighting their dismal record on race relations should draw more allies and condemnation of that nations regime and attitudes! Their government and police force seem to do little if anything against it if not participate in it. They should be cracking down on the neo-Nazi hooligans with a zero tolerance policy instead of targets gay people who are a far greater threat.

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