Winter Olympics cast spotlight on bigotry

Submitted by Matthew on 22 January, 2014 - 9:11

The staging of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea city of Sochi has cast a spotlight on anti-gay bigotry in Russia — in its “legal” and “popular” forms.

In June 2013, the Russian Duma (Parliament) unanimously voted through an amendment to Article 5 of the Federal Law on the “Defence of Children from Information Causing Harm to Their Health and Development”.

The stated purpose of the amendment is to protect children from “information which propagandises a denial of traditional family values and non-traditional sexual relations.” Non-traditional relations are defined as “relations not conducive to procreation.” Earlier versions of the wording were more straightforward and simply referred to “protecting children from homosexual propaganda.”

Russian individuals and organisations found to be in breach of the amendment can be subject to a fine of up to one million rubles (around £18,000). Organisations can also be shut down for up to 90 days. Heavier penalties can be imposed where such “propaganda” has been disseminated by the media or through the internet. Foreigners who breach the amendment can also be imprisoned for up to 15 days and deported from Russia.

The vagueness of the wording makes the amendment a licence to ban all Gay Pride marches and protests in defence of LGBT rights — in case such events are witnessed by minors. The same vagueness means that any material in defence of LGBT rights which is posted on the internet or discussed in the media could also attract criminal charges — because minors might come across such material.

Well before 2013, similar laws had already been adopted by a number of regional parliaments. Ryazan, Arkhangelsk, Kostroma, Krasnodar, Novosibirsk, and St. Petersburg have all passed laws making it illegal to speak in public or publish articles about being LGBT. In June 2012, Moscow City Council banned Pride marches for 100 years. Sochi itself also has anti-gay laws on the local statute book.

LGBT rights groups have rated Russia as the worst country in Europe — 49th out of 49 — for LGBT rights.

But this is still not enough for the most prominent anti-LGBT elements in Russian society: right-wing nationalist politicians and the Russian Orthodox Church. (And Stalinist nostalgics: homosexuality was outlawed by Stalin in 1934, and decriminalised by Yeltsin in 1993.) In July 2013, the Russian government enacted new laws banning the adoption of children by gay and lesbian couples in foreign countries, and the adoption of children by unmarried couples in countries which permit same-sex marriages. Duma member Aleksei Zhuravlev has also proposed amendments to the Russian Family Code under which children would be taken away from their parents if one or both of them had a “non-traditional” sexual orientation.

On 10 January, Russian Orthodox Church spokesperson Vsevolod Chaplin called for a referendum on banning all gay relationships, claiming that such a ban would be a democratic act in the light of opinion polls indicating that over 50% of Russians regard homosexuality as a crime or an illness. Chaplin’s comments are consistent with those expressed by the head of the Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, who claimed last year: “This (legal rights for gays) is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything in our powers to ensure that sin is never sanctioned in Russia by state law, because that would mean that the nation has embarked on a path of self-destruction.”

An attempt to stage a Pride march in St. Petersburg last year was attacked by Russian nationalists. According to the local LGBT rights group Coming Out, LGBT people in the city have also been harassed by police, evicted from their apartments and sacked from their jobs. In Volgograd a man was beaten to death after having come out to his friends. LGBT campaigners in Moscow protesting against last year’s anti-LGBT legislation were attacked by counter-protestors wielding icons and crosses.

With increasing frequency, homophobes are using on-line dating sites to meet with gay men, who are then subjected to video-recorded humiliation and beatings.

Although there have been some calls for a boycott of the Winter Olympics and of “Russian” products such as Stoli Vodka (exports of which are produced in Lithuania, not Russia), Russian-based LGBT groups are opposed to a boycott.

Advancing slogans such as “Speak Up, Don’t Walk Out” and “Don’t Boycott the Olympics — Boycott Homophobia”, they are calling on LGBT activists and supporters to take the opportunity of the Olympics to:

“Join LGBT people, their families and allies in Russia in solidarity and taking a firm stance against the disgraceful human rights record in this country … (and) send the strongest message possible by involving athletes, diplomats, sponsors and spectators to show up and speak up, proclaiming equality in the most compelling ways.”

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