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Russia’s Anti-Gay Legislation and the Sochi Olympics – by K. Scott Kohanowski

Russia recently passed legislation that bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” What speech and activities constitute propaganda are unclear, and the law has been implemented to ban not only gay pride parades but also any demonstration raising awareness of the plight of LGBT people in Russia. The law has had the secondary effect of inciting violence against the LGBT community by placing an official stamp of disapproval on it. This state-sanctioned stigma has resulted in job loss, gay baiting, and police indifference to violent hate crimes against LGBT community. The US has seen an increase in LGBT Russians seeking asylum as a result of this worsening situation.

Russia is currently hosting the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The unambiguous, express language of the Olympic Charter states “[a]ny form of discrimination … on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise, is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.” The International Olympic Committee had an opportunity to stay true to its charter and call to task its 2014 host nation. Instead the IOC has supported Russia’s stance by claiming that it is not in violation of the Olympic Charter and that the Olympics are not a political forum. The IOC has warned both the athletes and spectators not to engage in any form of political protest or demonstration during the Winter Olympics. This seems to include wearing rainbow flags or holding hands.

While other nations, notably in Africa, the Caribbean and the Middle East, may have a more chilling human rights record with respect to their LGBT citizens, Russia is now the focus of international attention due to the Olympics, which presents a unique opportunity to raise global awareness of a persecuted minority. The controversy will not end, as the World Cup will be held in Russia in 2018 and in Qatar in 2022, where men can be jailed for up to three years for homosexual acts, and the FINA world swimming championships will be in Kazan Russia in 2015.

The City Bar Justice Center is cosponsoring a forum titled Human Rights and International Sporting Events: Russian Anti-Gay Legislation, the Sochi Winter Olympics, and Next Steps at the New York City Bar Association on February 24 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. You can register for the event here: http://bit.ly/1bvALyE

K. Scott Kohanowski is a Staff Attorney at the City Bar Justice Center and Co-President of the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics Association

 

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