russia flagPost submitted by Tushar M, HRC Global Engagement Fellow

Earlier this week, Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee, refused to meet with a coalition of Russian LGBT organizations during his visit to Sochi. This news comes days after President Putin offered verbal assurances that everyone will be welcome to the Sochi Olympics, regardless of sexual orientation.

The coalition said Bach turned down their invitation to sit with activists during his trip, offering instead to meet at an unspecified date in Lausanne, Switzerland. Activists say they have been asking for a meeting for more than two weeks. The coalition met with the Human Rights Campaign and other organizations recently in St Petersburg to discuss the increasingly homophobic environment in Russia. Even as the meeting was going on, a large group of anti-gay protesters violently attacked a peaceful march of LGBT activists.                                                                                                

Crackdowns on Pride-related events and brutal attacks on LGBT people in the country are becoming a common occurrence. In the last few months, the United States has seen a surge in the number of Russian citizens seeking asylum based on claims of persecution due to their sexual orientation. It is clear that the international focus around ongoing discrimination in Russia is putting pressure on President Putin, who is now trying to convince the world that no discrimination against LGBT people exists in Russia, or will happen at the Sochi Olympics.

The Olympic Charter does not allow for any form of discrimination against a country or a person, including on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. President Putin’s assurances are out of step with his own lawmakers, who have claimed that the implementation of Russia’s ban on “homosexual propaganda to minors” and the penalties won’t be put on-hold during the games. The HRC has already mobilized its member base to speak out and tell the IOC to take a firm stand on respecting the rights of LGBT people and speak out against Russia’s “homosexual propaganda” law, and has asked the IOC to not accept verbal promises given by the Russian government.

“It is now impossible to imagine an inclusive event where rights and human dignity of all are respected,” says Anastasia Smirnova, spokesperson and coordinator of the Russian coalition. “The law on ‘propaganda’ is discriminatory and degrading in its nature, suggesting that LGBT people are dangerous to children, families, and society, and that it is the responsibility of the authorities to protect other citizens from us. It is crucial to discuss and define concretely how implementation of the non-discrimination principles will be ensured in such climate. The refusal by Thomas Bach to meet with LGBT organizations in Sochi is disappointing, but we are glad that this discussion with the IOC will still take place.”

Russian courts also refused to allow a Pride House in the Sochi Olympics, something that was seen in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and the London 2012 Olympics, and will be seen in Rio de Janeiro when it hosts the Olympics in 2016. Advocates are pushing countries to host unofficial Pride events in their respective houses at the Sochi Olympics, and New Zealand has decided to appoint a special diplomat to Russia to ensure none of its citizens are mistreated under the propaganda law.

While the U.S. president made time to meet with Russian LGBT advocates in September during the G-20, Bach could not find the time when in Sochi. But, according to IOC spokesman Mark Adams, "the IOC remains committed to dialogue." Just not in Russia.

Filed under: International

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