The past few years have not been Russia’s best, at least from an international perspective. Since the reelection of Vladimir Putin for a third term as president in 2012 — but even during his role as prime-minister — the country has been known for major human rights violations that often escalated into full-blown violence. Such trends started with protests against Putin’s reelection and culminated with the imprisonment of Pussy Riot in October 2012, an all-girl band that was vocal in its resentment of the heavy-handed leader.
But, in the recent weeks in particular, Russia has been under scrutiny and criticism for its anti-gay propaganda laws and its mistreatment of the LGBT community. In June, President Putin approved an anti-propaganda law whose formal “purpose” is to protect children from “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships.” Despite the official proclamation, many see this as a way of silencing gay rights activists in Russia, a community that has become more vocal over time. As expected, such a change in the constitution provoked mass riots in Moscow, St. Petersburg and elsewhere. Nevertheless, they were quickly counteracted by both the state police and civilians outraged by the cause their fellows citizens had taken up.
It’s true that Russia is not the first country, nor will it be the last, to publicly scorn and try to silence the LGBT community. Many self-proclaimed democracies have been following similar, or even harsher routes to annihilate LGBT culture. Nevertheless, as Russia is expected to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, its behavior and policies have been widely discussed and criticized. Many are calling for the Russian government to either change their laws, or otherwise the International Olympic Committee (IOC) should move the Olympics elsewhere. It’s obvious that neither will happen. Russian politicians have made it clear that Olympic athletes will be held accountable if they fail to respect the country’s laws, despite the IOC’s previous claims to the contrary. It seems though, that what worried most athletes has been the reaction of the IOC, which failed to address the unfairness of such laws and instead warned athletes, telling them to be careful once they arrive in Russia, as they will not be protected, and gay athletes will not have the opportunity, as in the past, to celebrate their victories in honor of the LGBT community.
There are some who call the reaction of the IOC sensible. Nevertheless, as an article published by the Huffington Post last week outlines, the response of the committee will have both short- and long-term negative consequences. Firstly, it puts more pressure on homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. As their immunity is not guaranteed, the fear of a misstep might affect their performance. That puts a considerable number of athletes, who have started showing their support for the LGBT community already, at an unfair disadvantage. Though this is still a hypothetical outcome, it’s certainly worth considering.
Secondly, the actions of the IOC and Russia have bigger resonance on LGBT rights across the world. Several European countries have either legalized same sex marriage or emphasized fair treatment regardless of sexual orientation. The same general movement has also been happening in the United States. Yet, for every country that promotes and implements these changes in favor of gay rights, there are more that harden the punishment for the mere “crime” of speaking in favor of equal rights, nevermind actually being a member of the LGBT community. It seems like LGBT rights have become a global game of one step forward and two steps back, and the IOC is not helping in the way forward.
In the West, the fight has been focusing more on the topic of marriage equality, and gay rights activists have won several battles. But at a larger scale, the LGBT community and its supporters have been losing the war. Russia’s actions have brought to attention the fact that not everyone is receiving the same treatment and that some people’s concerns are not even heard. The question remains how the global community, especially its members who trumpet equality and human rights, are going to respond. Because if silence or forceful adaptation is their answer, than the future looks rather grim.
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