Antigay Climate in Russia Bad for Olympics, Rights Group Says

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com June 22 2013 1:23 PM ET

With Russia set to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, Human Rights Watch is voicing concerns about the climate for LGBT people in the country, especially with a national antigay law nearing enactment.

In a letter to the International Olympic Committee this week, Human Rights Watch staffer Boris Dittrich noted that the pending “gay propaganda” legislation “is clearly incompatible with the Olympic Charter’s promotion of ‘human dignity,’ as well as a blatant violation of Russia’s international legal obligations to guarantee non-discrimination and respect for freedom of expression.”

The legislation advancing in Parliament would ban any positive discussion of LGBT issues that might be accessible to minors. Several Russian regional governments have adopted similar laws, including the Krasnodar Region, which includes Sochi, the site of the Olympics. Dittrich pointed out that both Russian citizens and visitors could be arrested under such laws.

Also, he said, Russian authorities have refused to grant permission for a Pride House at the Olympics. There were Pride Houses at the 2010 winter games in Vancouver, Canada, and the 2012 summer games in London; they “offered information regarding homophobia in sports and a recreational meeting place for LGBT athletes during the Games,” Dittrich wrote. Pride House organizers are appealing Russia’s decision to the European Court of Human Rights.

Dittrich urged the IOC “to send a clear signal to the Russian authorities that discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity is at sharply at odds with Russia’s human rights and Olympic commitments,” including obtaining assurances that “no homophobic legislation will be adopted or implemented and that the authorities will refrain from any additional discriminatory legislative initiatives or policies.”

Another blow to LGBT advocates came Wednesday in a St. Petersburg court, which convicted local activist group Coming Out of acting as a “foreign agent” — under Russian law, any group that is involved in political activity and receives money from overseas can be designated as such — and imposed a fine of 500,000 rubles.

According to a press release from Coming Out, “The following counts of ‘political activity’ were cited: organizing a picket under slogans ‘We are for traditional values: love, family, respect of human dignity’ (in reality organized by independent activists), organizing a campaign against adoption of the ‘propaganda’ law in St. Petersburg (conducted before the ‘foreign agents’ law came into effect), and publishing a brochure ‘Discrimination of LGBT: What, How and Why?’”

Coming Out is raising funds to help with its legal costs; find out more about the group and how to donate here.