Undeniably, 2013 was a landmark year for LGBT rights in the United States, yet as we celebrate the many victories at home for LGBT citizens, other countries are not faring as well. And as the world comes together on the Olympic stage, all eyes are on Russia, which is currently undergoing a homophobic renaissance under President Vladimir Putin’s ban on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.”
In June, Russia passed legislation criminalizing all conduct supporting, encouraging or positively portraying the LGBT orientation. This broad law was purportedly enacted to protect the well-being of minors, making it illegal to distribute information on gay rights or even suggest that homosexual relationships are equal to their heterosexual counterparts. A law was even passed in August that banned gay Pride celebrations in the Russian capital of Moscow for the next 100 years!
The international outcry that followed has been tremendous, especially heading into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. President Obama even met with Russian gay-rights activists in September and stated that he would keep pressuring Russia to respect human rights. In a sign of solidarity, Obama will not be attending the Olympics in Sochi, and he has responded further by naming several notable out athletes — Caitlin Cahow and Brian Boitano — as the official U.S. delegates for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics. Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House aide Rob Nabors and the U.S. ambassador to Russia will round out the U.S. delegation to the Sochi games.
Currently, there are only six “out” athletes participating in the Winter Olympics: Slovenian cross-country skier Barbara Jezersek, Canadian speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, Dutch speedskaters Ireen Wust and Sanne van Kerkhof, Dutch snowboarder Cherly Maas and Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff. Brockhoff is part of a group of 52 current and former Olympic athletes, including lesbian tennis star Martina Navratilova and gay diving gold medalist Greg Louganis, who are calling on Russia to repeal its gay propaganda laws, citing Principle 6 of the International Olympic Committee charter, which states that any form of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise goes against the Olympic charter. Brockhoff has publicly stated that she will wear Principle 6 gear at the Olympics to protest the IOC, a loophole that will hopefully keep her and other athletes safe.
Many in Russia are finding it hard to stay safe. Hate crimes, especially against LGBT youth, have skyrocketed since the law’s passing, and arrests of LGBT citizens and protesters have become commonplace. A Russian man was even arrested last month for unfurling a rainbow flag during an Olympic torch relay. Public opinion on homosexuality in Russia continues to be among the worst in the world, with a national survey last year revealing that 74 percent of Russian citizens believe LGBT people should not be accepted by society, while 90 percent supported the gay-propaganda legislation.
LGBT hate crimes are not localized to Russia, as Brazil, having legalized gay marriage last year, saw on average one LGBT citizen murdered every 26 hours and, sadly, that statistic isn’t slowing down in 2014. Moreover, the Supreme Court of India held that same-sex marriage should be criminalized, overturning a 2009 decision that such criminalization was unconstitutional. Uganda passed a law criminalizing same-sex relationships and seeking extradition to punish its LGBT citizens. Thankfully the death penalty was removed from the legislation (known as the “Kill the Gays” bill) before it was signed into law, yet it remains an international civil-rights travesty. And Nigeria, potentially the most dangerous place in the world right now for LGBT individuals, passed a law last month outlawing gay marriage and all “gay associations,” with penalties of up to 14 years in prison for violators, creating a McCarthy-like witch hunt for LGBT citizens throughout the nation. Most recently, a gay man in Nigeria, convicted of sodomy, was whipped 20 times for his crime, a reduction in sentencing from execution by stoning that is still allowed in a quarter of Nigeria’s 36 states.
The Olympics are meant to bring the world together — uniting the best athletes to represent the culture, history and flag of their nation. How are we supposed to enjoy the 2014 Winter Olympics knowing that my gay brothers and lesbian sisters aren’t safe competing in Russia? Putin has stated that gays at the Sochi Olympics won’t be arrested if they “leave children alone.” In my opinion, the only propaganda that needs to be stopped is Putin’s.
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