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The International Impact of Russia's Anti-Gay Laws: The Olympics and Beyond

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Co-written with Tony Bui

It goes without saying that any large international event that puts a country in the big spotlight makes them keener than ever to tidy up, show a smile, make nice, try to appease everyone in sight, and bolster their reputation and worth. China did so during the Beijing Olympics. England also cleaned things up in time for the London Olympics. But Mr. Putin and the Russian government seem to have missed the memo.

Various news sources have extensively covered the anti-LGBTQ laws that are being established in Russia and the severe impact that they have on Russian LGBTQ citizens and those who support them. And with the Winter Olympics coming up in six months in Sochi, the international community has much to worry about when it comes to protecting the rights and dignity of their citizens and Olympians.

The Russian government has clarified their intent to enforce these laws during the Olympics, making it clear that they will not hesitate to arrest any tourist or athlete in Russia who is suspected of violating these laws. Due to the discriminatory propaganda being carried out by the Russian president, there have been a lot of protests and petitions calling for the Winter Olympics to be moved to Vancouver, Canada, which was the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has stated that "Russia's anti-gay law won't affect [the] Games," and that they will work to ensure that LGBTQ athletes are not discriminated against. However, the effects that these laws will have on any LGBTQ athlete who participates in Sochi are evident. Meanwhile, the president of the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), Lamine Diack, was quoted stating that Russia's anti-gay stance "has to be respected." These blatant contradictions raise questions about how the IOC plans to protect LGBTQ athletes and their supporters in a country where their sexual orientation is essentially considered illegal to discuss.

The IOC hasn't offered much insight into how they plan to protect LGBTQ athletes and their supporters during the Olympics. The IOC has only offered an idealistic promise to protect the athletes against discrimination but no action plan explaining how that protection would be put into effect.

Moreover, the blatant contradiction between the statements by the IOC and the IAAF calls into question how the international community plans to deal with this. Vitaly Milonov, a co-sponsor of the Russian anti-gay law, has firmly stated that the Russian government does not have the authority to suspend the law, so there would be no selective application of the law during the Games. What this means is that, once under Russia's jurisdiction, athletes and tourists would be subjected to homophobic laws and undignified treatment by Russian officials -- and this with the subtle consent of the president of the IAAF.

The IOC released a statement stating that they had "reassurances from deputy PM Kozak that this law will not affect athletes, officials, [and] spectators at the Games." What, then, is stopping Deputy PM Kozak himself from coming out to confirm this statement if it is in fact true? All we have heard officially is Milonov's official statement about how the Russian government will be continuing to enforce these laws during the Olympics. Despite the IOC's claim that the Deputy PM of Russia said that the law might be suspended, Milonov asserted that the government does not have the authority to do so.

With all this uncertainty in the international community about Russia's anti-gay law, there seems to be very few options left on the table to protect the integrity and rights of athletes and spectators, aside from repeated calls from LGBTQ activists, athletes, and celebrities to move the Winter Olympics to Vancouver.

Since Vancouver recently hosted the Winters Olympic, moving the Olympics from Russia to Canada would come at limited economic costs: All the infrastructure is already in place. All reports say that the facilities created in Vancouver for the Olympics have been very well maintained, and that the additional economic cost to repair and refurbish these facilities back to working order to support another Olympics is not unreasonable.

Even though there is speculation that it would be too expensive, both labor- and money-wise, to move the Olympics to Vancouver, our priority should always be protecting human dignity and integrity, because human dignity has no price. To say that the LGBTQ community is not worth fighting for is to denigrate them to second-class status.

Obama stated during a recent TV appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno that he has been "very clear that when it comes to universal rights, when it comes to people's basic freedoms, that whether you are discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, you are violating the basic morality that ... should transcend every country."

At the end of the day, this is much bigger than the Olympics and how it is going to affect athletes and spectators heading to Sochi. This is much bigger than how these laws are going to violate the human rights of Russian citizens and denigrate LGBTQ Russians. Russia is a very strong world power with a lot of influence in the United Nations thanks to the veto power that it holds in the Security Council. The fact remains that LGBTQ issues are very prolific in our contemporary society, and it is not farfetched to presume that the international community or the UN Security Council might want to propose a resolution to address the LGBTQ issues. What then? What happens when Russia vetoes this resolution? How can the international community move forward on LGBTQ issues? This is far more than just how the Olympics are going to be affected: It's about how the dynamics of progress on LGBT equality are going to be affected, both in Russia and in the international world at large.

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