Post submitted David Mccabe, HRC Digital Media Intern
Though the event is not until February of next year, the anxieties for athletes planning on participating in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia are already numerous. Will they make their country’s team? What if they are injured on the eve on competition? For LGBT athletes, there’s another concern that goes beyond the rink or slopes: Could LGBT athletes be fined, arrested or even deported?
A host of anti-LGBT incidents in Russia and a proposed law that targets LGBT individuals and allies has out Olympians worried about competing in 2014’s Winter Olympic Games, which will be held in the Black
Sea town in February. Earlier this month, Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of the country’s parliament, passed the so-called “propaganda” bill, which would make it virtually illegal for individuals to speak about or distribute materials seen to be pro-LGBT. The bill must pass the upper chamber of the legislature and be signed into law, but both of those steps are seen as likely. The bill passed the Duma by 436 votes to zero, with one abstention.
Anti-LGBT sentiment in Russia has not been confined to the Duma. During debate on the bill, LGBT activists outside of the Duma were subjected to harassment and violence, including having rotten eggs thrown at them. Some of the activists were detained by police officers, who also, according to some reports, contributed to the violence.
In February, after the bill passed its first reading, out Olympians expressed concern over what the visible tide of Russian homophobia means for the Sochi games. “I don't want to have to tone myself down about who I am,” openly gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup, who came out after he competed in the 2010 games, said in an interview with USA Today. “That wasn't very fun and there's no way I'm going back in the closet. I just want to be myself and I hate to think that being myself would get me in trouble.”
“Hopefully it won't deter gay athletes from being who they are," said openly gay soccer player Megan Rapinoe, who played for the U.S. in the 2012 London games, in the same story.
Russian authorities have already said that they will not allow a Pride House, a space where visitors can learn about the anti-LGBT movement in sports, at the games. Officials in Vancouver and London, the sites of the last two Olympic Games, approved the Pride House.
The fears about Sochi come in a time of increasing visibility for LGBT athletes. Earlier this year, longtime NBA player Jason Collins came out in a Sports Illustrated cover story and MLS player Robbie Rogers became the first active openly LGBT athlete in one of America’s major professional leagues when he took the field with the L.A. Galaxy. Brittney Griner, who was a star player for Baylor University during her college career, was the first overall pick in this year’s WNBA draft.
Those gains have been part of a larger shift towards a more accepting and open culture in the United States. What happens when gay athletes go to a country that still overwhelmingly views LGBT rights as something to be denied, on the other hand, is an open question, and one the IOC and Russian officials will have to seek to answer before the Olympic flame arrives in Sochi.
It's time for the International Olympic Committee to send a clear message to President Putin that this bill MUST NOT become law. Send an urgent letter now to IOC President Jacques Rogge demanding that he take action against discrimination now.Take Action Now.