By Aditya Garg
As the Sochi Olympics draw closer, controversy over the recent restrictions on the rights of LGBT individuals in Russia has enraged much of the world. In June 2013, Russia passed a law banning the promotion of “non-traditional” sexuality to minors — a measure widely seen as forbidding public expression of gay-rights sentiment.
However, in a statement to the BBC television program Panorama, Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov said homosexuals are welcome at the Games as long as they “respect Russian law” and “don’t impose their habits on others.”
Nevertheless, the wide reach of the law and the potential for reprimand has worried many around the world. While the punishment varies depending on circumstances, those found violating the law could be fined up to $5,000 and/or imprisoned for 15 days.
In an interview with The Guilfordian, Deputy Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign Charlie Joughin explained, “with no specifics or clarity as to what is a violation of the law, Russian officials can, and do, construct circumstances to target or harass LGBT people and equality supporters for simply living their lives.”
The Russian government and International Olympic Committee, on the other hand, have repeatedly stated that the law will not pose any harm for Olympic visitors.
“The IOC has received strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the Games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation” said International Olympic Committee Head of Media Relations Emmanuelle Moreau in a statement sent to The Guilfordian. “President Putin himself offered assurances that there will be no discrimination against gay people during the Games.”
But many remain skeptical.
“Despite any assurances, we know that they will face a hostile environment, “said sophomore Cara Messina, secretary of Guilford PRIDE. “It will certainly be much harder to enjoy the festivities.”
Tensions have especially escalated in recent days as the threat of a possible terror attack surfaced. Despite such risks, Roberta Skylar, director of communications for the international gay and lesbian human rights commission, encourages LGBT individuals to attend.
“The question of whether it is worth risking their lives for the cause is definitely very personal,” said Skylar in a phone interview with the Guilfordian. “However, it is important that people come to the Olympics and show solidarity in this movement.”
Messina and Joughin expressed similar sentiments, though Joughin also cautioned travelers to “educate themselves on the laws in Russia and use good judgment while there to ensure their visit is safe and enjoyable.”
President Obama, who has widely criticized the Russian law and will not be attending the games, has included three openly gay athletes — Billie Jean King, Caitlin Cahow, and Brian Boitano — as part of the U.S. Olympic Delegation.
These are a few of the many athletes incensed by Russia’s discriminatory law.
Gay Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff told Australia’s Courier-Mail newspaper that she certainly plans on criticizing Putin and his policies.
“After I compete, I’m willing to rip on his a–,” Brockhoff told the newspaper. “I’m not happy and there’s a bunch of other Olympians who are not happy either.”
Brockhoff is one of many Olympians planning to wear the P6 logo– a reference to Principle Six of the Olympic Charter that states any form of discrimination “is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”
Certainly, the Sochi Olympics are shaping up to be among the most geopolitically charged Olympics in recent history. While we have no way of predicting how LGBT individuals will be treated, the games will surely pose unique circumstances for all involved.
As Skylar commented, “the important thing is that we don’t stop looking after the Olympics — we cannot forget Russia.
“Instead, we should work to make sure that the spotlight remains on this issue.”