Will Hate and Homophobia Characterize Sochi Olympics?


(Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia)


(Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia)
(Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia)

This past Saturday, Russian LGBT activist Pavel Lebedev was detained by Russian officials for unfolding a rainbow flag during the national Olympic torch relay. This event occurred just days after President Vladimir Putin spoke to the international community to assert that he and his government are not homophobic in any way. In addition to mentioning his friendship with several LGBT individuals, he went on to explain that Russia “do[es] not have a ban on non-traditional sexual relationships,” but rather “a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia.”  The ban is the result of a law signed by President Putin last June that forbade promoting “gay propaganda” to minors.

LGBT activists claim the law is vague and could be used to ban any public support of LGBT rights.  Putin attempted to defend the law, claiming Russia needed to “cleanse itself of homosexuality in order to increase its birth rate.” This outrageous assertion and the association of homosexuals with pedophiles are repressive and undermine the basic dignity of LGBT people in Russia.

Lebedev’s arrest reinforced the Russian government’s practice of repressing LGBT activists, all but undermining Putin’s supposed assurance of tolerance and equality.

Under the faulty guise of protection of youth, the Russian government is reinforcing homophobic policy and repressing a portion of its populace.  Putin’s action infringes upon the basic freedoms of speech of members of the LGBT community in Russia. The degree of homophobia toward Russian LGBT citizens should not be underestimated.

The Russian government and its media continue to reinforce this policy of intolerance and homophobia.  In December, President Putin appointed Dmitry Kiselyov as the head of the Russian state news agency, Rossiya Segodnya. Kiselyov previously had said that he believed that LGBT people’s “hearts should be burnt or buried in the ground as unsuitable for the continuation of life.”

Meanwhile, homophobic rhetoric has been gaining popularity in Russian culture, with TV actor Ivan Okhlobystin beginning a campaign to re-criminalize gay sex this past month. Okhlobystin posted a popularly distributed open letter to Putin calling for a Soviet-era law against sodomy to be restored.

This culture of hate and homophobia is also reflected in the Russian government’s prerogatives. A Moscow Times article from Jan. 16 reported the findings of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Report, which accuses the EU of promoting an “alien view of homosexuality and same-sex marriages as a norm of life.” The report also severely critiques Europe’s “dissemination of neo-liberal values as a universal lifestyle for all other members of the international community.”

The Russian government is clearly taking the offensive against members of the LGBT community, attempting to diminish equality and acceptance.  The report attempts to tie the trend of increased equality and acceptance of LGBT individuals to the “steady growth of xenophobia, racism, violent nationalism, chauvinism and neo-Nazism” in Europe. This official report is overwhelmingly negative to non-heteronormative individuals; it demeans the dignity of LGBT individuals by associating them with Nazism and violent extremism. This, coupled with the underlying assumptions of anti-gay propaganda law, namely the asserted association between homosexuality and pedophilia, perpetuates a culture of intolerance, hatred and homophobia.

Putin’s attempt to understate this repressive culture is akin to a gilded lily; his claims are undermined by his government’s clearly offensive and homophobic prerogatives.

One question remains: What are the ramifications for visitors to Sochi during the Olympics in February?  Although Putin has asserted that visitors would not be persecuted and LGBT people could travel freely in the country, it remains unclear to what extent the law will be enforced with foreign travelers. Some argue that any expression of LGBT support could be viewed as “propaganda” and be punishable by detainment or arrest.

Even if this is not the case, the environment of the Sochi Olympics reflects a culture of hate and homophobia, which thus far the other governments of the world have ignored.

James Demetriades, FCRH ’15, is a history and political science double major from Cromwell, Conn.