In three months from now, athletes from all over the world will arrive in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, Russia, for the start of the Winter Olympic Games. We will experience all the requisite Olympic fanfare — the fluttering flags, blaring trumpets, nationalistic tallies of silver and gold. And the host, Russia, will bask in the world’s spotlight. Aerial shots of the futuristic new glass stadium will punctuate footage of an over-the-top opening ceremony that uses hundreds of children and a full orchestra to tell the story of the host nation’s triumphs. It will be the pride of every Russian man and woman.
Except those who are gay or lesbian.
For Russia’s extremely embattled LGBT community, the approaching games are a chance for President Vladimir Putin to distract attention away from a series of discriminatory policies that have even been physically endangering. A recent law passed in June bans the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” and imposes fines for providing information about the gay community to minors.
The law has led to an increase in anti-gay violence and a general atmosphere of fear and intimidation. In early November, two masked men stormed the office of a group in St. Petersburg that works to prevent the spread of AIDS, firing rubber bullets and severely injuring one victim, who lost an eye. Also in early November, in a throwback to KGB days, Russian officials bugged a meeting of LGBT activists and Western human rights organizations, and a state television channel then broadcast the audio as an exposé of the “threat to Russia” posed by “homosexuals who attempt to infiltrate our country.”
The Olympic Charter is a very idealistic document, and it states explicitly that the practice of sport is a human right and that the Olympic spirit is one of “friendship, solidarity and fair play.” The charter’s sixth principle makes it clear that “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with the Olympic Movement.”