Originally reported on SensibleReason.com on October 9, 2013
In June 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that banned the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” towards minors. The bill is seen by many, both in and outside of Russia, as an attack on the Russian LGBTQ community. The bill has created great controversy in Russia and throughout the world, especially as athletes from around the globe prepare to travel to Russia for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi, Russia this February.
Swirling around this issue are various debates on how this law will be applied to international athletes and visitors during the Olympics. Even in the face of controversy and international condemnation comes another proposed anti-Gay bill from the Russian Duma (Russia’s parliament), a bill that would deny gay and lesbian couples the parental custody of their own children. The bill seeks to remove children from the custody of parents who are deemed to be “neglectful, cruel, violent, and/or degrade their children’s human dignity.” Alexei Zhuravlev, the author of the bill, has been quoted saying that homosexuals “corrupt” their children and harm their development. Referencing researcher Mark Regnerus’ widely discredited study, he firmly believes that gay people are more likely to be unemployed, have sexually transmitted diseases, and are often “addicted to suicide,” which further puts their children in harms way. Alongside homosexuality, other grounds for the dismissal of parental rights under the bill include alcoholism, drug abuse, and insanity.
Earlier last month the Associated Press reported that “Alexei Zhuravlev referred to the earlier law and said that homosexual ‘propaganda’ had to be banned not only in the public space ‘but also in the family.’”
Zhuravlev’s bill will go up for discussion in February, the same month that Russia will host the Olympics.
As debate of the laws within the international community ensues, one question keeps reappearing: how will this affect those at the Olympics this winter?
While top officials of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said they are “fully satisfied” that the anti-gay laws banning “homosexual propaganda” will not affect athletes, fans, and media and have given Russia the final approval for the Olympics, others are not too sure.
Thus far, the Russian government has enacted strict regulations, banning all protests around the Olympic Games and deporting foreign visitors that were found protesting against the law.
The IOC has taken action on its own by reminding and warning athletes that those who protest the law at any event related to the Olympics are subject to theOlympic Charter’s Rule 50, which states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” What does that mean? Any athlete who represents the LGBTQ community in any way, such as painting their fingernails in a rainbow design or wearing rainbow pins or flags, as many have already committed to doing, could face punishment by the IOC.
Although many governments have spoken out against the discrimination in Russia, no country has yet to pull out of competing at Sochi this February. Top Olympic federations, including the United States and Canada, have also urged their athletes to take heed to the warnings and refuse the temptation to protest.
U.S. Hockey Director Brian Burke agreed that countries shouldn’t plan to boycott, saying that boycotting only “punishes the athlete.” Instead, he’s looking towards the future.
“My call on the (International Olympic Committee) and the U.S. Olympic Committee is to make sure Russia is not awarded an international competition of any kind until these laws are repealed,” Burke said. ”People forget – or if they are not aware – that when the IOC granted these Games to Sochi, these rules were not on the book. They are relatively recent. It has to change. It’s wrong. I don’t think that when you go into a host country you should dictate what they do, but this is a basic human right that is being trampled and it has to change. Until it does, in my mind, no federation should be granted any games of any kind – any competition of any kind – in Russia.”
Other organizations are looking at the here and now, planning protests that they intend to carry forward during the Olympic Games.
All Out, New York based advocates for equality around the globe, said that they will pressure sponsors and governments to speak out against Russia and defend the Olympic principle of nondiscrimination.
Activists in Moscow have also pledged to hold a gay-pride parade in Sochi on the opening day of the Olympics. Other athletes, such as gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup and Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro, continue to verbalize their discontent with Russia’s new laws and have said that they will don some sort of LGBTQ symbol during the Games.
And on Saturday, peaceful protesters in Athens, Greece sat on the steps of the Acropolis Museum holding pro-Gay propaganda and banners as the Olympic flame started its journey from Greece to Russia.
If Russia does indeed take action against international protesters, athletes and visitors alike, it could sour international relationships between Russia and the governments of those prosecuted and call for further action by human rights organizations across the globe.