Just days ago, the Russian government released a statement assuring the International Olympic Committee that the country's strict anti-gay propaganda law will not be enforced at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. But Vitaly Milonov, the co-sponsor behind the legislation, suggests that gay and pro-gay Olympic athletes and tourists may not actually be immune from the law's penalties.
Russia's anti-gay law has declared it illegal "to provide minors with information that is defined as 'propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism.'" It has been propagated by both the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church in order to promote traditional Russian values over "Western liberalism." Unsurprisingly, the law has stirred up a great deal of controversy both domestically and internationally.
The Russian LGBT community's protests over the legislation have been met by police brutality and extreme censorship. The U.S, too, is taking measures to pressure the Russian government to revoke the laws. Earlier this week, the U.S journalist Dan Savage asked his fellow consumers to boycott Russian vodka to "show solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, and straight allies in Putin's increasingly fascistic Russia." Other U.S corporations with stakes in the 2014 Winter Olympics have even brought up the idea of boycotting the international competition.
Other Russian companies and organizations such as Stolichnaya Vodka have also spoken out against the laws. But as the world waits to tune into Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, the international community is also harshly denouncing Russia's extreme anti-gay policies.
Yesterday, Milonov issued a statement that will be sure to arouse a new wave of international objection: Since it has been approved by the federal legislature and signed by President Putin, the anti-gay law "will remain enforced during the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in 2014." Milonov also said that the Russian Federation "has no authority" to suspend the law.
This announcement contradicted the International Olympic Committee's assurance that "the Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes."
If Milonov is correct, then the Russian government retains the right to detain gay or "pro-gay" athletes and foreigners for up to 14 days before expelling them from the country.
Chad Griffin, the CEO of Human Rights Campaign, has been skeptical from the start and warned NBCUniversal's CEO Steve Burke that "there is no way to guarantee the safety and security of openly-LGBT Olympic visitors in a country now defined by this draconian state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia."
By its very nature as an international competition, the Olympics cannot be apolitical. The opening and closing ceremonies are, essentially, manifestations of international solidarity. While boycotting the Olympics is an extreme statement — for example, President Carter's refusal to take part in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the USSR's activity in Afghanistan — the competition is often an arena where nations express and resolve political tensions.
The draconian anti-gay propaganda law must be protested because it stands in stark contrast to the liberal and progressive direction in which the U.S has recently been moving. If the U.S and its international peers did not have enough incentive to put pressure on the Russian government, Milonov's statement is certainly a call to action. Americans must stand up against homophobia and discrimination, and attending the 2014 Winter Olympics despite the anti-gay laws would be an abandonment of our nation's morals.