February 7

In Sochi, gay activism remains wild card

Russia’s anti-gay policies loom in the background as the Olympic Games open.

By Barbara Barrett
Mcclatchy Foreign Staff

And William Douglas

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Demonstrators protest Russia’s anti-gay policies in London on Tuesday. The protest was held as part of Global Speakout for Russia, which is taking place in more than 30 cities across the globe ahead of the Winter Olympic Games.


“We think it’s really important that human rights do not get lost in the Olympics,” said Shawn Gaylord, Human Rights First’s advocacy counsel.

Some athletes have spoken out against the law. Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff, who is openly gay, told the BBC recently that she won’t be waving any rainbow flags, but that she might raise six fingers – after Principle 6 – to show solidarity with the LGBT community. Some American athletes, notably figure skater Amanda Wagner and skier Bode Miller, have voiced criticism.

But little else has been said publicly by athletes.

“It’s unfortunate that in that position, if you do take a stand, everyone’s going to jump on it,” said David Pichler, an openly gay American diver and former team captain who competed in the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics. “The media’s going to jump on it. It could alter your performance, or you could face action from the Russian government.”

On Thursday, competitors in Sochi seemed to shrug at the controversy.

“We don’t care so much about this. To be gay or lesbian is fine with me,” said Wolf Hannes, an Austrian speedskating coach. “We know they don’t want it here, or to talk about it on the podium here. We know it’s another country. When you go to another country, you have to adapt to them at least.”

Even in the United States, where much has been made of Russia’s law even as same-sex marriage is seeing a stunning new wave of popular support in the past year, the human rights concerns in Russia pale next to the public’s worries about security.

A recent Pew poll found that 44 percent of Americans think Russia should not hold the Olympics. But when asked why, only 4 percent cite the treatment of gays and lesbians as their top reason – about the same number who cite political unrest, the fact that Russia’s president is Vladimir Putin and a general dislike of Russia. Many more respondents – 62 percent – say they worry most about security.


Still, governments and outsiders are finding ways to let their views be known. President Obama, while dismissing calls for a boycott, appointed three gay former Olympians to the official U.S. delegation. (One of them, tennis great Billie Jean King, has had to back out to care for her ailing mother.) Other members of the delegation have been outspoken in favor of gay rights.

Just this week, a diversity organization in Canada aired an advertisement showing two men lunging back and forth on a luge with the tag line, “The Olympics have always been a little bit gay. Let’s keep them that way.”

This week, IOC President Thomas Bach said in Sochi he’s confident that Russia will adhere to the Olympic charter, which forbids discrimination. Other than that, he said, the committee cannot dictate to Russia what to do.

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