The excitement of the winter Olympics has given way to continued debates over what to do about the Russian crackdown on their gay and lesbian citizens and how they may treat both athletes and tourists who come to the games which begin in Sochi on February 7, 2014.
The legislation that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed and intends to enforce will punish individuals in the LGBT community and essentially try to wipe out homosexuals in Russia. The Russian laws include a bill that classifies homosexual propaganda, (leaving what can be considered propaganda as very vague) as pornography. The law appears to say that if anyone even dares to say they believe homosexual people are normal or deserve fair treatment it will be considered propaganda. According to The Huffington Post a second bill allows police officers to arrest tourists or foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual, lesbian or in any way "pro-gay" and detain them for up to 14 days. The Washington Blade reported that the Russian government has said they will enforce these laws during the Olympics. A third law would ban adoption of Russian-born children by gay couples but also any couple or single person living in a country where marriage-equality exists in any form.
The rash of anti-gay government action in Russia has instigated a series of hate crimes against the LGBT community there. One of the worst was reported on the Vocativ website:
"When during a night out drinking beer, Vladislav Tornovoi revealed to a pair of longtime friends that he was gay. The 23-year-old's dead body was found naked the next morning in the courtyard of an apartment complex in the southern Russian city of Volgograd. His skull had been crushed with a piece of broken pavement. His genitals were mutilated, his ribs broken and he had been sodomized with beer bottles with such force that they damaged his internal organs. Before they left, his assailants set fire to his battered body". "When his drinking companions were asked why they did this they responded, 'Because he was gay'."
All this anti-gay activity has spawned calls for everything from a total boycott of the Olympic Games to boycotting Russian Vodka and everything in-between that could have an impact on the Russian government to change their policies.
President Barack Obama said that the United States will not boycott the Sochi Olympics and based on the lack of success of our last Olympic boycott in 1980 many agree with that. In 1980 President Carter announced a boycott of the Moscow summer Olympics to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan but it had no impact on Soviet actions. In a curious juxtaposition today it is American troops that are in Afghanistan. The only ones hurt by that 1980 boycott were the athletes who had trained their whole lives and in many cases lost their dream of ever participating in an Olympics.
Clearly not organizing or participating in a boycott is very different from accepting the Russian crackdown on the LGBT community and the brutality that members of the community are facing every day. The international community must take action to try to effect change. Now that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed they will not move the games out of Russia the focus must move to other options. There must be an organized effort to ensure that these Olympics are not the public relations bonanza the Russians have been hoping for since the IOC won't act. One idea is a boycott of travel to Russia and bringing pressure on tour operators and cruise ship lines to stop calling on Russian ports like St. Petersburg.
There needs to be pressure on NBC which has the rights to broadcast the Olympics to change the way they have handled these broadcasts in the past. That pressure must come from governments, potential viewers, human rights organizations and advertisers. For years Olympic broadcasts have been a series of advertisements for the host country showcasing the best that these countries have to offer tourists and consumers. As long as the Russians won't change their current policies toward the LGBT community among other groups they discriminate against, we should demand that NBC focus only on the athletes and competitions and not on the country hosting the Games. There is enough excitement watching sports such as skiing, snowboarding and skating to build an audience that they don't need the sidebars about what is available for tourists to do and buy in Sochi and the surrounding area.
Then we should ask NBC to make a really strong statement on their respect for the LGBT community by asking Rachel Maddow, an open and outspoken Lesbian, to anchor or co-anchor their broadcasts. Her presence will make a statement to the world about how NBC believes the LGBT community should be treated. NBC has already asked openly gay figure skater Johnny Weir to be a commentator for the skating events. There should be interviews and short pieces prepared and shown throughout the coverage of other gay Olympians, both from the winter and summer games, like Greg Louganis and other athletes who are supportive of the LGBT community who can talk about the great diversity in sport and how important that is. Every member of the NBC crew in Russia including on-air personalities should wear a specially prepared patch that has the NBC logo and the rainbow flag. There are many ways to ensure that we are speaking out to the world since the IOC won't act to move the Olympics out of Sochi and we need to focus on all of them.
There is a push for LGBT equal rights around the world. It's important to note that 85 nations have backed a UN General Assembly declaration in support of LGBT rights and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently co-hosted an important meeting of global LGBT public and private donors held at the Ford Foundation during the UN General Assembly meeting the morning of Sept. 24, 2013. The meeting was co-hosted by the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA) and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.
While progress is too slow on gaining equality for LGBT individuals there have been great strides made around the world and in the United States in the last few years. We are not there yet but as the fight for full rights continues we can't allow actions like those taken by the Russian government to turn gay men and women, who god made in her image, into criminals for who they are or victims because of how they live their lives. Every life is important and we need to stand up for the rights of all people who are being oppressed anywhere around the globe.