Anti-Gay Laws at the Sochi Olympics

By Nikki Rita
Student Writer

SOCHI, Russia – At the end of June 2013, Russia signed a law that prohibited the promotion of nontraditional sexual relationships to minors. This meant no gay pride parades, no homosexual discussion among teenagers—nothing where children could see or learn about the LGBT community.

Controversy was immediate. Not only did this affect those in Russia’s LGBT community, but those in other countries supporting gay rights, and particularly the gay athletes that would be competing in Sochi, Russia in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

That was eight months ago, where athletes and spectators feared discrimination and possible arrest and supporters declared a boycott against watching the games. Now, with the Olympics fully underway and with no disruption of any sort so far, the controversy seems to have faded into the background.

But you have to give the LGBT community and its supporters more credit than that.

Germany’s team arrived decked out in rainbow design parkas, which they have worn for the duration of the games. Greece was given attention for their rainbow gloves in which each finger is a different color of the rainbow. Even Russia’s volunteer staff is decked out in rainbow-themed uniforms.

Despite this rather passive protest, there has been little expectation of athletes publicly opposing the anti-gay law during the Olympics. However, there are high hopes for an event after the games. Known as the Russian Open Games, this sports festival is to be held for five days in Moscow to protest the law. So far, more than 250 athletes from 11 countries have signed up to be there. According to NBC News, “The Russian Open Games are designed to show the world that ‘we are normal people,’ said Konstantin Yablotsky, president of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation, a non-government group. ‘We are good people. We play sports. We win medals.’”

While the athletes are not pushed to make a statement, many companies have been speaking up in support of the LGBT cause. Urged on by protesters, several U.S. sponsors, such as AT&T and Chobani, issued statements of anti-discrimination although none actually targeted the Russian laws.

According to Mercury News, Andre Banks, executive director of AllOut, a protesting organization, is working to call for the International Olympic Committee to ban countries from bidding to host the games unless they show they do not discriminate against gays.

It is nice to see that, despite this glaring problem, there is still a focus on the sports. While the Olympics are often a big public relations pitch for the hosting country, the overall significance is top athletes from around the world training for four years to bring home a medal for their country. The games in and of themselves have nothing to do with a person’s sexuality, but having an athlete’s performance threatened because of their concern for their well-being is not fair. Russia’s Open Games seems like the most peaceful and most demonstrative choice for athletes and supporters alike to express their aversion to the anti-gay laws and push towards equality.

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