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Topics In the News
Russian Bigotry Denounced as Sochi Games Begin
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 02/06/14
Last updated on: 02/07/14
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As the Sochi Olympic Games began on February 6, 2014, Russia's pogrom against its glbtq citizens were denounced by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and in demonstrations around the world, including a protest at the Russian Consulate in New York City. If the Games have served to spotlight the corruption and ineptness of Putin's Russia, they have also served to highlight the nation's homophobia.

In Sochi itself, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned attacks and discrimination against homosexuals in a speech to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

As Stephen Wilson reported for the Associated Press, Ban said "We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people. We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face."

Ban noted that Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter enshrines the IOC's opposition to any form of discrimination. "The Olympics show the power of sport to bring together individuals regardless of age, race, class, religion, ability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity."

Glbtq ally and former Minnesota Vikings kicker Chris Kluwe urged Olympic athletes to use their platform to speak out against homophobia. In an op-ed in the Guardian, Kluwe denounced the "abysmal excuse of 'Olympic Spirit' we seem determined to celebrate this year, despite all the hate and stupidity and human rights violations they represent."

Noting that the IOC has threatened to disqualify athletes who protest, and acknowledging the price he paid for speaking out against homophobia, Kluwe nevertheless urges the Sochi competitors to speak up. "The world will pay attention, and take notice. Stay silent, keep your head down, count the money and endorsements? The world will pay attention, and take notice. Either way, you're the one who has to live with what you did or didn't do."

Expressing hope that Olympic athletes will speak out at Sochi on glbtq issues, he concludes by reminding them, "The world is watching. The platform is yours."

Meanwhile protesters in cities around the world targeted both Russia's law against gay "propaganda" and major Olympic sponsors that have not spoken out against the law, which has criminalized almost any public expression of support for gay rights and has encouraged violence against gay people.

As David Crary reported for the Associated Press, several dozen protesters gathered in front of a McDonald's restaurant in Paris and chanted, "No, no to Russia's anti-gay law." The fast-food chain is one of 10 top sponsors for the Sochi Games.

In response to the criticism of their sponsorship of the IOC, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and Visa issued statements declaring their opposition to discrimination, but did not mention the Russian law in particular.

In contrast to their cautious approach, three sponsors of the U.S. Olympic Committee spoke out explicitly against the Russian law.

A spokesman for AT&T said "Russia's law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families, and it's harmful to a diverse society." DeVry University and Chobani issued similar statements.

Other U.S.O.C. sponsors, such as TD Ameritrade, the Kellogg Co., United Airlines, BP, Nike, Hilton Worldwide, and Citigroup issued more general statements of support for "Olympic values" and gay rights.

"AT&T has broken the ice," said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives for Human Rights Watch. "Top sponsors of the Olympics like Coke, GE, McDonald's and Visa are going to have to follow suit--they are very much on the wrong side of history in refusing to use their leverage with the International Olympic Committee to ask for reform and to defend LGBT Russians."

Google took a stand for athletes, gay, straight, or otherwise, with a new doodle on the Internet search engine's web site. Beneath illustrations of several winter sports in the colors of the rainbow flag is quoted Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter: "The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."

The doodle is clearly a response to Putin's discriminatory legislation.

Protests also took place in London, Jerusalem, Berlin, and New York, among other places. The advocacy group All Out said that it had planned 20 demonstrations.

In Jerusalem, Israeli activists protested in front of Israel's President Shimon Peres' residence as he was hosting Dmitry Kiselyov, head of Russia's largest news agency.

In St. Petersburg about a dozen Russian activists protested the law by unfurling banners reading "Berlin 1936 = Sochi 2014," referring to the Olympic Games held in Nazi Germany. Perhaps fearing further negative publicity, authorities initially made no arrests. However, later at least four protesters were taken into custody.

In London, about 150 people rallied outside Prime Minister David Cameron's office.

In New York, more than 100 members of Queer Nation demonstrated outside the Russian Consulate on Manhattan's East Side.

As Towleroad reported, Queer Nation member Ken Kidd said, "We've focused on the IOC and how holding the Olympics in Sochi goes against everything in its charter. We've focused on NBC and major Olympic sponsors like Coke and McDonalds, who pay lip service to equality while profiting from inequality and ignoring Putin's human rights atrocities. Now we're once again laying our message right on Putin's doorstep. The whole world is watching--literally. Putin can't hide his pogrom behind the sports page."

The video below captures the Queer Nation demonstration.

Human Rights Watch has released a disturbing video documenting the violence against gay people in Russia that has erupted in the wake of the anti-gay law.

The Russia Freedom Fund, which aims to raise a million dollars by the end of the Olympics to support LGBT Russian activists, has issued a video produced by filmmaker Michael Rohrbaugh that also condemns the violence visited upon gay people in Russia. It depicts gaybashing as an Olympic sport.

On a lighter note, but with the same devastating effect, YouTube channel Eyrock posted a video that pretends to be a Facebook album of images associated with Vladimir Putin.

In the video below, Secretary-General Ban speaks out against violence against glbtq people.

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