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Reflecting on the Russian Open Games and the Anti-LGBTI Climate Here

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Editor's note: Greg Louganis wrote this blog post during the LGBT-affirming Russian Open Games, which took place in Moscow from Feb. 26 to March 2.

Wow! Table tennis went without a hitch! But it was publicized that I would be participating in that event.

A group of us went with Konstantin for an ice-skating lesson, but after we'd been on the ice for a bit, just doing basic-skills stuff, the "Kremlin guards," who I understand are above the police, closed the rink because there was a report of "strange people" on the ice in the rink -- us! We were escorted off the ice and directed to leave.

Poor Konstantin. He announced to the group the options we had and started to apologize and lost it. He was crying -- I am sure from emotion, but also from exhaustion and everything else.

I decided to come to the LGBTI workshop just to hear and take in what I can. The awards ceremony will take place where we did the opening, late, at 11 p.m.

There's still no soccer or basketball. I'm not sure about the swim venue. But some good news: Badminton did happen!

It's so unbelievable that this could happen, but this is Russia, as the LGBTI Russians well know. We've been thwarted at every turn, given excuses that can't be proven or disputed. I'm so sad, but I am glad I was here to witness it. It's truly unbelievable!

The group -- mostly from Russia but also from France, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, the UK, and the U.S. -- is taking it all in stride.

Of course, for the Olympics, Russia put its best foot forward, and everyone accused the Western media of "overreacting" to the anti-gay laws here. If those critics had seen what I've witnessed in Russia, they would think differently. Russia does discriminate against its LGBTI citizens.

I also learned that a documentary crew here was able to find the 17-year-old boy who was attacked by thugs, tortured, raped with beer bottles and forced to say he was a pedophile. (How can a minor be a pedophile?) I believe this may be the same boy Billie Jean King hugged in a press conference, asking someone to please help him. I believe he's seeking asylum in the U.S. This is what was reported to me by the Sundance documentary crew.

Also, during the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, it was communicated to me that the Pussy Riot women were once again beaten and detained, and that there was a group in Red Square that was beaten and arrested for singing the Russian national anthem and holding up a rainbow flag.

I know Russia doesn't always get accurate information about the U.S., and vice versa, but my concern remains what happens when everyone leaves after the Paralympics. Who is going to be here to protect LGBTI youth and let them know that they are worth something, that there is nothing wrong with them, that they are beautiful just the way God made them?

I commend the brave individuals who came to support LGBTI Russians. They and we in the LGBTI community are trying to spread not "propaganda" but education to those questioning youths who might feel despondent enough to take their own lives.

The mayor of Sochi claimed that there are no gay people in Sochi. If you don't feel safe, of course you will not come forward. You will hide and become invisible!

Yesterday I spent the day with two wonderful young gay men from Sochi, who admitted that, just like in the U.S., some regions of Russia are more tolerant than others, but that Moscow is quite "uptight."

The only way to get a clearer view is to be on the ground and mingle with the locals who live here. I can't paint Russia with broad strokes, but just like the U.S. and now obviously Uganda and other parts of the world, they need education here.

I feel it is public sex that they fear. They need to learn the difference between public displays of affection and public sex, and they need to be taught that being LGBTI is not a "lifestyle" but who we are.

At times I find the sexualization of gay and straight alike offensive. I do understand a rather rebellious desire for shock value, but I think we could all get much further in a softer, gentler way. The Devotion Project is a perfect example. My documentary Back on Board: The Greg Louganis Story is another tool to educate.

Much of this is also generational and will die out eventually, but I just don't want any more children to die for it. We have shining examples out there. To be able to "teach," you have to learn the other's language, and this goes far beyond Russian vs. English. I'm talking about reasonable conversations, sharing in a meaningful way, even taking words written by humans and translated thousands upon thousands of times and focusing on the time they were written and the intent.

It's time to teach, and it's time to learn the difference between "propaganda" and providing information or teaching.

Namaste,
Greg Louganis