Russia has a law prohibiting the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” around minors, and these laws make it against the law for gays to exhibit public displays of affection, such as holding hands or using public symbols such as a rainbow flag. This begs the question as to what will happen in the 2014 Winter Olympics if gays who are athletes or fans show up in St. Petersburg.
Those Russians who violate the law can go to jail and pay hefty fines; foreigners can also be deported. This week, Vitaly Milonov, the author of the law in question, told the Interfax news agency that the law will be used when the Olympics come to Russia and foreigners will also be subject to it. Milonov reportedly said, “If a law has been approved by the federal legislature and signed by the president, then the government has no right to suspend it. It doesn’t have the authority.”
Although Milonov is only a regional lawmaker, he has been the champion of the battle against homosexuality in Russia. He said he would fine Madonna last year after she criticized the law when she gave a concert in St. Petersburg.
Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee said that it has spoken to the Russian government; the committee thinks Russia will not act with any severity. The IOC emailed ABC News, “This legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi. The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”
The IOC has sent a message to American athletes warning them:
We do not know how and to what extent they (the laws) will be enforced during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. We are doing what they can to ensure the safety of all Americans at the Games. We are aware of these laws and are engaged in active discussions with the International Olympic Committee and the US State Department about how we can ensure that every American in Sochi, especially our athletes, are safe and secure,” the letter continues.
New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup is planning a protest; he has said he will wear a rainbow pin during the games.
Anti-gay laws are not new to Russia; in the Soviet Union homosexuality was illegal until it was decriminalized in 1993 and homosexuals were forced into psychiatric wards until 1999. Anti-gay sentiment has risen in recent months; gay men have been lured into meeting anti-gay activists then publicly humiliated on camera. These videos have been filed on the internet under the hashtag “Occupy Pedophilia.”
Human Rights Campaign and other groups are urging NBC, which is showing the Games, to speak about the anti-gay campaign during the Games. Mark Lazarus, the head of NBC Sports, told the Guardian that if the law affects the Games, “We will make sure we are acknowledging it and recognizing it.”