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World Cup draws attention to Russia’s anti-LGBT policies

Arrests, harassment, beatings reported

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2018 World Cup, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian LGBT Sports Federation President Alexander Agapov holds a rainbow flag during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the World Cup. (Photo courtesy Agapov)

Russian LGBT Sports Federation President Alexander Agapov was at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on June 14 for the first game of the 2018 World Cup.

A picture that Agapov sent to the Washington Blade shows him holding a rainbow flag during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech. Apagov on July 2 said during a Facebook Messenger interview that a group of men from the North Caucasus region were the only people who “weren’t happy with the flag.”

“At the stadium everything was quite fine,” said Apagov.

Russia is hosting the World Cup against lingering criticism over a host of issues that include its LGBT rights record, the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Moscow Times last month reported Cossacks — paramilitary groups that have previously targeted LGBTI and feminist groups — were planning to report to the police same-sex couples who are kissing during the World Cup in Rostov-on-Don.

Russian police on June 14 arrested Peter Tatchell, a prominent British LGBTI rights advocate, as he protested against Russia’s human rights record outside the Kremlin. Media reports also indicate a gay couple from France who traveled to St. Petersburg for the World Cup was attacked.

Apagov told the Blade he questions whether the couple’s sexual orientation motivated the attack.

“I tend to think this was fake news,” he said.

The Fare Network — an organization that fights against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, disability and other factors in soccer — has opened two Diversity Houses in Moscow and St. Petersburg for World Cup fans with FIFA’s support. These Diversity Houses have also hosted meetings, presentations and other events with Russian human rights organizations.

Fare Network Eastern Europe Development Officer Pavel Klymenko on July 2 confirmed to the Blade during a telephone interview from Moscow the landlord of the building in which the St. Petersburg Diversity House was located told his organization the night before it was scheduled to open that it had to move. Klymenko added the Fare Network has not “had any issues” in their new location in the city.

Andrea Ayala, executive director of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, a Salvadoran advocacy group known by the acronym ESMULES, visited the FARE Network’s Diversity House in Moscow while she was in Russia for the World Cup.

Ayala told the Blade during a WhatsApp interview from Nizhny Novgorod that she met a transgender Russian woman, a Russian woman with HIV, a pansexual woman and a woman from Chechnya. She added she did not feel “safe openly showing her diverse sexuality” outside the Diversity House.

“It was very shocking for me,” said Ayala, referring to the Russians she met. “The bravery of these people is really admirable.”

Putin in 2013 sparked worldwide outrage when he signed a law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors in Russia. The Kremlin has also faced criticism over its response to the anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya that Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, broke in 2017.

Elena Kostyuchenko, who is a Novaya Gazeta reporter, is among the 10 LGBTI activists who were arrested in Moscow’s Red Square as they sang the Russian national anthem before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics that took place in Sochi. A bomb threat, a smoke bomb that was detonated during a basketball tournament and venues that abruptly cancelled events are among the disruptions the Russian LGBT Sports Federation faced when it held the Russian Open Games in Moscow a few weeks later.

The Russian government did not respond to the Blade’s requests for comment for this story.

A FIFA spokesperson in response to the Blade’s question about Cossacks in Rostov-on-Dan said the organization has “a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination.” The spokesperson specifically pointed to Article 4 of the FIFA Statute.

“Non-discrimination, gender equality and stance against racism discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin color, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion,” it reads.

FIFA on June 20 fined Mexico $10,000 after its fans used an anti-gay chant during a match against Germany. FIFA in recent years has also fined Chile, Honduras and other countries for similar fan conduct.

“FIFA is committed to fighting all forms of discrimination in football, including homophobia,” a FIFA spokesperson told the Blade in 2017.

Ayala defended FIFA’s efforts combat discrimination.

“I think FIFA is beginning to focus more on diversity,” she told the Blade.

The Russian LGBT Sports Federation and the Fare Network are also hoping to work with the Russian Football Union to address homophobia and other forms of discrimination in Russian soccer.

“We’re trying to influence them to work more seriously on the issues of discrimination,” said Klymenko.

Agapov told the Blade he met with Russian Football Union representatives a few months ago. Agapov said he “had a very good impression and expected a lot of support from them.”

“But when I asked for support…they said not this time because this topic is too specific in Russia to support our football festival,” he added.

The Russian Football Union did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Klymenko said the World Cup “feels like a bit of a bubble, a breath of freedom” for Russians. He expressed concern the Kremlin will once again target LGBTI activists, among others, once the World Cup ends.

“Obviously our biggest worry is when the World Cup is over, the situation will go back to normal,” said Klymenko.

Apagov agreed, noting his organization’s events are “now supervised” by Russia’s Federal Security Services. He pointed out to the Blade they “caused problems for us” during the Russian Open Games.

“They are interested in the high-profile guests’ security,” said Apagov. “That’s normal and true, but remembering all the troubles we had in the past with the police and so-on, I don’t think we can feel safe when the World Cup is over.”

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New York Rangers forgo Pride jerseys and stick tape for team Pride night

NYC Pride organizers responded to omission

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Out Broadway star and actor Michael James Scott prepares to sing the National Anthem at the opening of the NY Rangers Pride Night 2023. (Photo Credit: The New York Rangers/NHL)

New York LGBTQ Rangers fans were disappointed after the National Hockey League team forwent wearing the team’s special warm-up jerseys and using Pride stick tape during the team’s 7th annual Pride Night Friday.

The Rangers had promoted Friday night’s Madison Square Garden home game against Vegas Golden Knights, saying players “will be showing their support by donning pride-themed warm-up jerseys and tape in solidarity with those who continue to advocate for inclusivity.”  But ultimately the team wore their “Liberty Head” jerseys in warmups instead.

After the game, a 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, the Rangers released a statement: “Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night. In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”

In an emailed statement to the Washington Blade Sunday Dan Dimant, media director for NYC Pride | Heritage of Pride, Inc. said:

“In recent years, numerous National Hockey League (NHL) franchises including the New York Rangers have introduced a series of ‘Pride Nights’ to engage the LGBTQ+ community. NYC Pride has been honored to take part in these celebrations, including as recently as last night at Madison Square Garden.

NYC Pride was not made aware in advance of our participation in last night’s ceremonial puck drop that Pride jerseys and rainbow tape would not be worn as advertised. We understand and appreciate that this has been a major disappointment to the LGBTQ+ community in New York and beyond. We are communicating these concerns with NY Rangers and NHL leadership as we continue to discuss the ways these organizations can work toward inclusion.

NYC Pride has a duty to both support our partners and hold them accountable. We are committed to continuing our relationships with the NY Rangers and the NHL and maintaining substantive dialogue with them about meaningful allyship with the LGBTQ+ community.”

ESPN reported that the team’s annual Pride Night was celebrated throughout the game in other ways. Fans were given a pride-themed fanny pack as a giveaway. The exterior and interior lights at Madison Square Garden were illuminated in rainbow colors. The Rangers also made a charitable donation to the Ali Forney Center on Pride Night, the largest agency dedicated to LGBTQ homeless youths in the country.

ESPN noted that Andre Thomas, co-chair of NYC Pride and Heritage of Pride, participated in the ceremonial puck drop.
(Photo Credit: The New York Rangers/NHL)

The Rangers’ Pride Night was held 10 days after Ivan Provorov, the alternate captain for the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, opted out of participating in the team’s Pride Night charity event before the game Tuesday, claiming a religious exemption based on his Russian Orthodox faith.

Provorov, 26, was the only member of the Flyers to not take part in the pre-game exercise on the ice. A video tweeted by the team’s official account shows the rest of the players wore special Pride Night-themed black jerseys with the traditional Flyers logo on the front and rainbow-colored names and numbers on the back; many of the players practiced using hockey sticks wrapped in rainbow-colored tape known as Pride tape. Both the sticks and the jerseys were auctioned off after the game with the Anaheim Ducks, to raise money for local LGBTQ charities. 

The defenseman, who was born in Russia, told reporters after their victory, “I respect everybody and respect everybody’s choices,” adding that he declined to take part in the warmup “to stay true to myself and my religion.” 

After Provorov opted out of participating in the Flyer’s Pride Night charity event the NHL put out a statement that said players can decide which team and league initiatives to support.

“Hockey is for Everyone is the umbrella initiative under which the league encourages Clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets, and to work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans,” the league said. “Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with League counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”

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Out NFL star Carl Nassib is dating former Olympian Soren Dahl

The National Football League’s first out gay player confirmed his relationship with Olympic swimmer Søren Dahl on Instagram

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Søren Dahl and Carl Nassib via Nassib/Instagram

After months of internet speculation and Instagram snaps, it’s official: Carl Nassib and Søren Dahl are a couple. Last weekend, the NFL player posted an Instagram story featuring a photograph of himself with his arm around the Danish swimmer.

Dahl, who competed in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, is seen wearing a Buccaneers jersey with Nassib’s number 94, and the linebacker has his arm around Dahl’s waist. 

Although there have been a series of snapshots since last summer featuring Nassib and Dahl together on the beach, in a club, and at the gym, this is the first one in which Nassib wrote something to clarify they are dating: “Kicking off 2023 with my man and a trip to the playoffs,” he captioned the photo. Until now, Nassib has been extremely private about his personal life.

Queerty noted Dahl also posted a few pictures on Instagram on Jan. 2, including that same photo, with the caption, “Always Big Boy Season.” From the background and location, it appears this was taken outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., home of the Bucs. 

This will be the second playoff season for Nassib, the first active NFL player to come out as gay. He made the playoffs with the Las Vegas Raiders last year, and this year he’s with Tom Brady and the Bucs. Their postseason game date and opponent will be announced in just days, but first they’ll take on the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday, already having clinched the No. 4 seed and the NFC South title. 

Dahl swam for Denmark in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay in 2016’s Olympic Games. Prior to that, he competed for North Carolina State and was a two-time NCAA champion swimmer, winning titles in the 4×100 free and 4×200 free relays. Sometime around 2018, he moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to pursue his master’s degree in Strategic Communication at Texas Christian University. After graduating in 2020, Dahl moved to New York City. 

In 2021, he shared the story with followers of his TikTok account of how a former swimming coach called him the “F-word” and told him he’d “never become a good swimmer” if he were to come out as gay. The video then shows Dahl sporting a big smile and photos from his time swimming at the Olympics. 

@kingkoper0 Get on my level fckrrr🖕🏼 #olympics #gayathlete #representation #homophobic #sports #gay ♬ Touch It Clean – Remix – Dj Raulito

Although they dedicated themselves to different sports and were born in different countries, Nassib and Dahl are the same age, 29, celebrating birthdays just months apart. 

Ever since coming out, Nassib has stepped up to help LGBTQ+ youth by raising money for The Trevor Project, for two years now: He’s matched all donations to the organization up to $100,000. The group operates a crisis lifeline and provides resources to young people struggling with coming out, and also supports important research into the lack of affirming situations across race, identity and age groups.

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Brittney Griner plans to play in upcoming WNBA season

Phoenix Mercury center returned to U.S. on Dec. 9

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Brittney Griner (Screen capture via Russian State Media)

WNBA star Brittney Griner in her first public comments since she returned to the U.S. said she will play in the league’s upcoming season.

“I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote and posted for me in person soon,” said Griner in a post on her Instagram page.

Russian customs officials in February detained Griner at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. A court later convicted her of importation of illegal drugs and sentenced her to a 9-year prison sentence in a penal colony.

President Joe Biden on Dec. 8 announced Russia had released Griner in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S. Griner returned to the U.S. the following day.

Griner’s Instagram post contains pictures of her arriving at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio and hugging her wife, Cherelle Griner.

“It feels so good to be home,” said Brittney Griner. “The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.”

“I am grateful to each person who advocated for me, especially my wife, Cherelle Griner, my family, Lindsay Kagawa Colas and Casey Wasserman and my whole team at Wasserman, Vince Kozar and the Phoenix Mercury, the players of the WNBA and my entire WNBA family, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, my Russian legal team Maria Blagovolina and Alex Boykov, the leaders, activists, and grassroots organizations, Gov. Richardson and Mickey Bergman of the Richardson Center, the Bring Our Families Home Campaign, Roger Carstens and the SPEHA team, and of course, a special thank you to President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary Blinken and the entire Biden-Harris administration,” she added. “President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too. I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole.”

Brittney Griner in her post also wrote that as she begins to “transition home to enjoy the holidays with my family, I want to acknowledge and thank the entire PISA staff and medical team at the San Antonio Fort Sam Houston Base.” 

“I appreciate the time and care to make sure I was okay and equipped with the tools for this new journey,” she said.

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