Yelena Isinbayeva
Russian Athlete Says She Was Misunderstood on Antigay Law

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com August 16 2013 5:14 PM ET

Russian pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, being criticized for her comments supporting her nation’s antigay law, now says she was misunderstood.

“English is not my first language and I think I may have been misunderstood when I spoke yesterday,” Isinbayeva, one of Russia’s top athletes, said in a statement issued Friday, the Associated Press reports. “What I wanted to say was that people should respect the laws of other countries particularly when they are guests. I respect the views of my fellow athletes and let me state in the strongest terms that I am opposed to any discrimination against gay people.”

Yesterday, at the track and field world championships in Moscow, she defended Russia’s so-called gay propaganda law by saying, “If we allow to promote and do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people. We just live with boys with woman, woman with boys.” Two Swedish competitors at the championships had protested the law by painting their fingernails in rainbow colors, and Isinbayeva denounced them for the protest. Her comments drew attention especially because she is a representative for the Winter Olympics, to be held next year in Sochi, Russia, and has been appointed “mayor” of the Olympic village.

Isinbayeva’s remarks brought swift reaction. “It blows my mind that a young, so well-educated woman can be so behind with the times,” Nick Symmonds, an American runner who won a silver medal at the championships, told the BBC. “Guess what, Yelena: A large portion of your citizenship are normal, standard homosexuals.” Symmonds had said earlier that he was dedicating his medal to his gay and lesbian friends.

He has continued speaking out strongly against Russia’s recently adopted law, which essentially prohibits any public discussion of LGBT issues and even acknowledgment of LGBT identities. “As an American who believes in freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, I take huge offense that the Russian government is limiting their people in that way,” he told CNN today. He added that LGBT rights “is the defining civil rights movement of our time.”