Olympic Sponsors Must Speak Out Against Russia's War On Gays

My name is Julianne Howell. Dylan, for those who know me. Over the past few weeks, I have been asking people to sign my petition on Change.org to get the sponsors of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia to pull their support. That includes VISA, Procter & Gamble, Panasonic, Coca-Cola, and Samsung. Why? Because I’m tired of fighting.

Recently, an anti-gay "propaganda" law was put into effect by the Russian government, making it pretty much illegal to even say that you are gay in front of a minor. Or, as demonstrated already, anywhere a minor might be. The law specifically prohibits promoting a “non-traditional sexual orientation” to those under the age of eighteen. This includes saying that you are happy to be gay, that you love your partner, or making it seem at all normal to be homosexual, bisexual, or anything that is not staunchly heterosexual in public or on the internet. This means that it is now illegal to be proud of being gay. It is now illegal to live the life you want with any modicum of dignity or openness, without facing heavy fines, jail time, and (if you are a foreigner) deportation. It is a law that is trying to enforce shame, fear, and the removal of self worth for the thousands of Russian LGBT who simply want the right to exist. A group of Dutch filmmakers has already been arrested under the law for attempting to make a documentary about it. And now, with the Winter Olympics set to be held in Sochi, and government officials having stated that the law will be enforced during the games, the number of people unjustly subjected to this state sponsored homophobia is bound to increase dramatically.

READ MORE: Russia's Anti-Gay Bill Spelled Out In Plain English

Even so, my concerns are not for the athletes or the tourists that will be visiting Russia during the games. Even if they are arrested, even if they are fined, they have the immunity of spotlight. The entire world will be watching whatever happens to them, and their stories are ultimately guaranteed not to be swept away because of it. No, my concerns are for the people who live in Russia; the people who will still have to be there after the lights and cameras head back home. What will become of them if we send the message that we do not care about human rights as much as we do about who wins the gold medal in figure skating? What world will crop up around them when the real world turns its back? Money decides everything, and right now, the sponsors of the Winter Olympics have the unique position to stand up and speak out on behalf of their consumers; to tell Vladimir Putin and the Russian government that they do not take a position on politics perhaps, but they do care about the lives and rights of their consumers.

I have been fighting for the right to be who I am openly and proudly since I was a very small child. Whether it be because of my gender, religion, sexual orientation, or any number of other things that are essential to who I am and the person I want to become, someone somewhere has always had something to say against it. And they probably always will. I am tired of fighting. But the things that keep me going are the help and support of those around me, the people who remind me that there is more love in the world than hate, and that my life is worth standing up for. There is nothing so wrong inside me that I do not have the right to exist, and there is nothing so wrong about being gay that the LGBT of Russia should now have to live their lives in silence and dread. I want to be there for my brothers and sisters, as people have been there for me, and remind them that as bad as it may get, we are still with you. We still love you. Your actions do have meaning. Please join me in asking VISA, Procter & Gamble, Panasonic, Coca-Cola, and Samsung to put the lives of their consumers first, and remind them that whatever they do now, the world is watching.

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Dylan Howell

Ohio native, University of Cincinnati graduate, avid LGBT Rights activist, and writer for "Roaming," an online comic.

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