I've debated quite a bit whether to write a post about the ridiculous government-sanctioned homophobia occurring in Russia since the enactment of anti-gay propaganda laws that make it a crime to spread "homosexual propaganda" to minors. These laws, which have already led to arrests of Dutch tourists promoting equality, are causing many to urge the United States to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, and has led gay activists to call for a boycott of Russian-made Stolichnaya vodka.
The U.S. Olympic Committeeand NBC, which has broadcast rights to the 2014 gameshave tried to have their cake and eat it, too, saying they'd monitor the situation to ensure the safety of U.S. athletes, particularly LGBT athletes, as well as decide how to report on these human rights violations. But today, Russia upped the ante a bit.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko warned today that athletes and visitors will not be given any special exemptions around the anti-gay laws. Mutko's statement comes a day after the U.S. Olympic Committee released a letter recalling the Olympic Charter's prohibition on discrimination of any kind. The letter also promised that the U.S. Olympic Committee would work closely with the IOC and U.S. State Department to ensure the safety of "every American in Sochi." Additionally, Russian politician Vitaly Milonov said that openly gay athletes and supporters at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games may face arrest under these laws.
The IOC previously secured assurances from "the highest level" of Russian government that LGBT athletes and vistors would be able to attend the Sochi games unmolested, but they've yet to comment on Mutko's statement, which said:
"The law talks not about banning a non-traditional orientation but about other things, about propaganda and implicating minors...Competing in the Olympics is a dream for most athletes, and knowing that you'll finally have the chance to represent your country and compete against the world's finest athletes must be one of the most incredible achievements. Some out athletes, including figure skater Johnny Weir and New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup have said a boycott of the games is not the answer.
"No one is banning a sportsman with a non-traditional sexual orientation from going to Sochi. But if he goes out onto the street and starts to make propaganda, then of course he will be brought to responsibility.
"As a sportsman, he should respect the law of a country. Come (to Sochi), but don't get young people involved, don't make propaganda. This is what we are talking about."
Skjellerup commented, "I think visibility is the best possible solution, as opposed to hiding away and not attending." He went on to explain, "For me it’s less about taking a stand and more about just being myself...I have no interest in going back into the closet in Sochi...This is not about defiance. This is me standing up for what I believe in." Skjellerup has said that he plans to wear a rainbow pin during the Sochi games which, under Russia's laws, could get him arrested.
It's time for the U.S. to take a stand. We're all too quick to condemn people like Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden as treasonous traitors, yet is our country willing to turn a blind eye to the potential mistreatment of LGBT athletes and others? Where is the outrage of the U.S. in this instance?
I don't know whether boycotting the Olympic games will actually accomplish anything. I do know that we, as well as the IOC, need to serve as a barrier to discrimination and mistreatment, or the Olympic spirit means nothing. But more importantly, I echo the words of openly gay Danish actor Christian Vincent, who recently recorded a video called, "Dear Russia: It's Not Okay."
It's not okay.