In a statement in time for Pride Week 2013, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has come out swinging against the Russian government’s recent implementation of its anti-gay policies and the implications for LGBTQ athletes and visitors during the upcoming Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
The Russian government’s policies against LGBTQ individuals can best be described as a widespread crackdown and state-approved homophobia to repress gays. In June, the Duma (Russian Parliament) passed a bill that would allow police to place fines and arrest homosexuals for spreading “gay propaganda”. The bill is specifically targeted at Russian gay youth, tourists, and the media.
While homosexuality was decriminalized following the fall of the Soviet Union, prejudice and anti-gay sentiments still runs very high. According to a lawmaker of the ruling United Russia Party, 90 percent of the Russian population supports the government’s policies of cracking down on gay youth. The recent laws have not only permitted violent police oppression against homosexuals during pro-gay protests and “flagrant displays of homosexuality”. LGBT demonstrators have been brutally beaten by not just police but also bystanders.
It goes without saying that Russian police have also turned a blind eye to public violence and intimidation against homosexuals. Although silent in Russian media, many incidents have become high profile cases after making their way to human rights groups and the international media in recent weeks. Western media, NGOs, government leaders, and the public have come out criticizing the Russian state for its inaction and provocation.
According to Spectrum Human Rights Alliance, this includes at least one incident of a neo-Nazi group allegedly luring, capturing, torturing, and publicly outing gay male teenagers:
Oddly enough their idea of fighting pedophiles targets exclusively male teenagers who respond to the same-sex personal ads and show up for a date. Captured victims are bullied and often tortured while being recorded on video.
These self-proclaimed “crime fighters” perform their actions under the broad day light, often outside and clearly visible to general public that indifferently passes by or even commend them. Video recordings of bullying and tortures are freely distributed on the Internet in order to out LGBT teens to their respective schools, parents and friends.
Many victims were driven to suicides, the rest are deeply traumatized. So far Russian police took no action against these “movements” even though Russian criminal code was clearly violated and despite numerous complaints from parents, victims and LGBT activists.
In another high-profile incident reported by the human rights group, an underage Moscow male was bullied and sprayed with urine in broad daylight. The bullies filmed the interaction and the video has since made its way on YouTube (with subtitles):
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The Russian government’s crackdown and public violence against homosexuals has left the international community, specifically Western countries, pondering on the safety of their athletes at the Sochi Winter Olympics in February 2014.
Societal norms and the treatment of homosexuals will sharply contrast with how gay athletes were openly and warmly welcomed by organizers and the Vancouver community during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games which even saw the first “Pride House” open for an Olympics.
Some groups have called for countries, including Canada, to boycott the Sochi Games – to not have their athletes participate in the Olympics. This has happened before over several occasions during the Cold War era when tensions were high between the two polarizing ideological fronts.
However, such boycott action against Russia during the Sochi Games will likely create further backlash against Russian homosexuals and it will only punish athletes whom have been training for years. For some athletes, this could also be their last opportunity to compete at the Olympics before retiring from international sport.
From one Olympic host city to another, and just in time for Vancouver Pride Week 2013, Mayor Gregor Robertson condemned Russia’s anti-gay crackdown and called for the international to pressure Russian officials to ensure the Sochi 2014 Games remain safe and inclusive for all athletes and visitors:
As host Mayor of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, I have been alarmed to learn of further discriminatory legislation and violent actions targeting the LGBTQ community in Russia ahead of the upcoming 2014 Games in Sochi.
It is my firm belief that the Olympic and Paralympic Games should be fully and unequivocally open to all athletes, officials, spectators and journalists who are able to participate, regardless of their nationality, gender, or sexual orientation. It is clear to me that the Russian parliament’s homophobic assault on the fundamental human rights of the LGBTQ community will prevent many of these individuals from safely and openly participating in Sochi.
As we welcomed the world for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, we were proud to have the opportunity to showcase the diversity, acceptance, and freedoms that make Vancouver such a vibrant place to live and visit. We were also proud to feature the first Pride House at any Olympic Games, which provided a safe space and resource centre for LGBTQ athletes, coaches, spectators and other visitors. I am dismayed to see this important progress rolled back ahead of the next Olympics in Sochi.
I would like to join the millions worldwide who are calling upon Russia to end its violent crackdown on the human rights and free expression of the LGBTQ community ahead of hosting the world in Sochi. I am also calling upon the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee to urgently explore every possible option to ensure that the next Olympic and Paralympic Games are hosted in a manner that guarantees the full, safe, and open participation of the LGBTQ community.
– Mayor Gregor Robertson