Nel's New Day

August 15, 2013

Olympics Endanger LGBT Athletes, Tourists

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:20 PM
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260px-Stamps_of_Russia_2012_No_1559-61_Mascots_2014_Winter_OlympicsUsually the Winter Olympics is a sort of ho-hum event, fascinating only those people who enjoy watching athletes in the featured winter sports. This time, however, the upcoming XXII Olympic Winter Games, scheduled February 7-23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia, has drawn a great deal of publicity almost six months in advance. It’s not the trio of mascots—Polar Bear, European Hare, and Amur Leopard—although they are very cute. It’s the politics of the event that is taking center stage.

Two months ago, three days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his divorce, Russia passed a “family values” law against the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” (aka propaganda from “the gays“). Law defenders claimed that this meant “relations not conducive to procreation,” but, as usual when procreation is considered in laws, it will not be applied to opposite-sex couples who cannot or choose not to have biological children. Fines of up to $31,000 will be levied for providing information about the LGBT community to minors, holding gay pride events, speaking in defense of gay rights, or equating gay and heterosexual relationships. Foreigners can be detained in jail for 15 days and then deported.

This is where the problem becomes that belonging to the entire world. The law applies to foreigners and media organizations as well as Russians.

A few protesters demonstrated what any LGBT people can expect in Russia. When they staged a kiss-in, they were assaulted by a mob—and then arrested by the police. Russia has always been hard on LGBT supporters: when Madonna announced her belief in equal rights for all at a concert, she got in trouble with the law. Conservative organizations argued that she would increase the divorce rate, bring down the birthrate, and hurt the country’s ability to maintain its army. Putin declaimed no anti-gay discrimination in Russia and then also blamed the dropping birthrate on “homosexuals.”

Russia has no official numbers on anti-gay crime in the country, but the Russian LGBT Network reports that the number of physical attacks and verbal aggression against LGBT people has accelerated since initial parliament debate on the law. A spokesperson for Kaleidoscope Trust reported that the increasing level of violence is both spontaneous and premeditated.

LGBT acceptance has decreased in the past six years. To show the danger to LGBT people in Russia, whether visitors or residents, Dmitri Kisilev, anchor of the state-controlled news show, said that homosexuals’ hearts should be buried in the ground or burned after an automobile accident “as unsuitable for the continuation of life.”

Russia’s interior minister has confirmed that athletes will not be exempt from the anti-gay law, contrary to the statement issued by the International Olympic Committee. Previously, the IOC had claimed that the law would not affect competitors, officials, journalists, and spectators. Now the IOC states that it will punish athletes who make a political statement citing that Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter bans political and religious demonstrations at Olympic venues.

Thus far, the IOC has not said anything about its “fundamental principle of Olympism” stating 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 belonging to the Olympic movement.” This principle would exclude Russians from participating.

Hundreds of people demonstrated against Russia’s law in London and the IOC’s lack of interest in the issue, and Germany’s Development Minister Dirk Niebel said:

“We must make clear when in contact with Russian politicians that this collapse in fundamental democratic values is not acceptable, and that Russia is moving towards becoming a flawless dictatorship.”

Sweden has seen a series of actions against the Russian law, including the re-painting of a crosswalk in front of the Russian embassy.

NBC will have a high profile at the Sochi 2014 Olympics because it will be broadcasting the events. The organization sent a reassuring memo to its employees on Friday, stating that NBC will take steps to ensure their safety at the Winter Olympics. They didn’t say what steps the corporation would take. The news media will also have trouble in how to deal with the Russia hate law during the actual Olympics. In the past they covered Salt Lake City’s bid-rigging scandal, Athens security concerns, and China’s bad human-rights record. The question is what NCB, having paid $775 million to get the gig, will do in a foreign country where they can be put in jail if they talk about LGBT concerns.

sweden protest

The arrest of four Dutch filmmakers on July 21, three weeks after Putin signed the bill into law, shows what journalists might expect if they even mention LGBT. After beating one of them, 33-year-old Kris van der Veen, the police detained all four in jail for over six hours. The filmmakers had met with LGBT activists and were interviewing them in a closed space. There were no minors present, although the film footage showed a 17-year-old gay teen who had told them he was 18.

Leaders such as Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama, who oppose a boycott and ask athletes to perform their best, can do so with impunity. They aren’t the ones who are in danger of being beaten and possibly murdered, just by their presence in Russia.

This issue may cause a change for the IOC. Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives with Human Rights Watch (HRW), said her organization and other like-minded advocacy groups will be lobbying for the IOC to elect a president next month “who’s actually going to enforce the human rights requirements of the Olympic charter.” Last week, HRW reported government abuses in Sochi in its intimidation of those who investigate or spoke out against migrant workers’ abuse, unfair compensation of people forcibly evicted from their homes, and harassment of journalists who are reporting on the preparations.

Russia refused to allow an Olympic Pride House, like the ones at previous Games in London and Vancouver because it would “contradict the foundations of public morality.” Worden said, “This will be the first homophobic Olympics, certainly. That’s without precedent.”

The Sochi Olympics will take place 78 years after the “Nazi Olympics” in Berlin, Germany. The 2014 Winter Olympics may gain its own nickname for violence and repression.

From the United States, however, there is a bit of good news. Scott Lively, head of Defend the Family International, will be tried in a Massachusetts court. A federal judge has ruled that persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a crime against humanity and that the fundamental human rights of LGBTI people are protected under international law. Lively is accused of violating international law by inciting the persecution of LGBT individuals in Uganda.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a lawsuit last year on behalf of Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG). Charges include his leading the Ugandan anti-LGBT movement, advising Uganda’s government on the “Kill the Gays” bill, and conspiring with them for the past decade to persecute LGBT Ugandans.

Lively further spread his hate message by sending “an open letter” to the Russian people and has tried to take credit for the new stringent anti-LGBT laws. “This was one of my recommendation to Russian leaders in my 50-city tour of the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007,” he said. He has also been a regular visitor at the House on C Street in Washington, D.C., home to many highly conservative Congressional lawmakers and and sex scandals.

Over two decades ago, Lively started his hating career with the Oregon Citizens Alliance in my own state of Oregon. I am grateful that he will now have to defend his hate crimes in a U.S. court.

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