Homophobia in Russia under scrutiny in leadup to Winter Olympics

by Toby Manhire / 22 August, 2013
Boycott or not, homophobia in Putin's Russia - including online violence - is in the spotlight.
A gay rights protest in New York. Photo/AP

New laws in Russia banning homosexual “propaganda” have prompted numerous calls for next years Winter Olympic Games in Sochi 2014 to be boycotted – most prominently and persuasively in the form of an open letter by Stephen Fry, to British prime minister David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee.

In the letter, published on August 7, Fry voices “the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, two years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth”.

He continues:

The idea that sport and politics don’t connect is worse than disingenuous, worse than stupid. It is wickedly, wilfully wrong. Everyone knows politics interconnects with everything for “politics” is simply the Greek for “to do with the people”.

An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillehammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.

David Cameron and the IOC, to whom the letter was addressed, have said a boycott is not the answer to the problem.

Some argue that the best response in the interests of Russian gay people is to attend, while New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup has intimated that he will quietly defy the “anti-propaganda” law – something the IOC has advised against.

Boycott or not, increasing light is being shone on the pervasiveness of homophobia in Putin’s Russia, and its sanction by the state.

At the New Yorker site, Emily Greenhouse details the  online manifestation: self-described “paedophile fighters” who post online video clips of gay men being beaten.

They pursue the “ugly sport of luring men, young and old, with fake online personals ads, then setting upon and filming them when they arrive at designated meeting spots”.

And the police allow them to “operate with impunity”, she writes.

For gays and lesbians in Russia, the culture creating these vicious and violent videos, and sharing and tweeting them, is only gaining ground; Putin’s new law all but encourages the distribution.

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