State Department Warns LGBT Americans Traveling to Russia

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com January 10 2014 7:46 PM ET

The U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert Friday directed at American citizens planning to travel to Sochi, Russia, to participate in or attend the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, which begin next month. 

Warning citizens that they should "remain attentive regarding their personal security at all times," the alert mentions the recent suicide bombings in the North Caucasus region and cites a video produced this summer by terrorist group Caucasus Emirate that threatens attacks on Olympic spectators or scheduled events in Sochi during the games.

Friday's alert also warns U.S. citizens to avoid large crowds or public demonstrations, noting that even those "intended to be peaceful can develop quickly and unpredictably, sometimes turning violent."

Notably, the alert includes an entire paragraph dedicated to LGBT visitors. Citing the nationwide ban on "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors that became law last summer, the State Department explains its understanding that the law will be enforced and applies to Russian nationals as well as visitors.  

"Russian citizens found guilty of violating the law could face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,100)," explains the alert. "Foreign citizens face similar fines, up to 14 days in jail, and deportation. The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public, but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms. Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes 'LGBT propaganda,' and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as 'LGBT propaganda.'"

The State Department directs LGBT travelers to its LGBT Travel Information page for additional info and suggests that all travelers register for the department's Safe Traveler Enrollment Program, which keeps subscribers informed of the latest updates and helps the State Department reach them during an emergency.