IOC President Won't Meet With LGBT Activists in Russia

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com October 30 2013 5:10 PM ET

The president of the International Olympic Committee has reportedly refused to meet with Russian LGBT activists during his tour of the country less than 100 days before the 2014 Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia. 

But Thomas Bach, the newly elected president of the IOC, did tell the Russian activists he's willing to host a conversation with them at the IOC's headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, according to The New Civil Rights Movement.

"LGBT activists in Russia see this decision as yet another indicator that the Sochi Olympics are far from being a platform to uphold and promote the Olympic values," said Anastasia Smirnova, coordinator and spokeswoman for the Russian LGBT Sport Federation, a member group of the Federation of Gay Games. 

LGBT activists in Russia initially sent an email requesting a meeting with Bach to the IOC October 13, then sent a formal letter October 22, seeking to foster a discussion about "ways the IOC can ensure observance of the nondiscrimination clause of the Olympic charter, in particular — commit to the respect of rights and human dignity of LGBT athletes and visitors through establishing a 'Pride House' in Sochi," according to a statement published Wednesday by the Federation of Gay Games. 

Russian president Vladimir Putin tried to assuage growing concerns over his country's violent repression of LGBT people, including a law that bans so-called "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships" in any forum or venue that might be visible to minors, earlier this week when he hosted Bach and toured Olympic venues.

"We will do everything to make sure that athletes, fans, and guests feel comfortable at the Olympic Games regardless of their ethnicity, race, or sexual orientation," Putin told a gathering of Russian sports ministers who were in Moscow to meet with Bach on Monday.  "On my own and on [behalf of Russian sports ministers], I have assured Mr. [Bach] that we will do our best, and our athletes and fans will do their best too, so that both participants and guests feel themselves comfortable at Sochi Olympics regardless of their ethnicity, race, or sexual orientation," continued Putin. "I would like to underline that."

But Smirnova, the spokeswoman for the Russian LGBT Sport Federation, said she doesn't buy vague assurances from Putin and other Russian sports officials that LGBT athletes and spectators will be safe in Sochi. 

"It is now impossible to imagine an inclusive event where rights and human dignity of all are respected," Smirnova said in the release. "The law on ‘propaganda’ is degrading in its nature, suggesting that LGBT people are dangerous to children, families, and society, and that it is the responsibility of the authorities to protect other citizens from us. It is crucial to discuss and define concretely how implementation of the non-discrimination principles will be ensured in such climate. The refusal by Thomas Bach to meet with LGBT organizations in Sochi is disappointing, but we are glad that this discussion with the IOC will still take place."