By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com October 07 2013 8:40 PM ET
Russian president Vladimir Putin lit the ceremonial Olympic Torch in Moscow's Red Square Sunday, but the torch was briefly extinguished when a former Russian athlete carried it through a particularly breezy passage en route to the Kremlin.
Shavarsh Karapetyan, 60, a former champion Soviet swimmer, was carrying the torch through a long passageway leading to the seat of Russian government when wintry temperatures and gusts of wind extinguished the flame. A bystander, who ABC News speculated is likely a member of President Putin's security detail, quickly relit the flame with a lighter.
The Olympic torch will continue its relay around the country, spending the next three days in Moscow, before traveling from the western province of Kaliningrad to the nation's easternmost point across the Bering Strait from Alaska, according to ABC. The 39,000-mile relay will take the torch through some of Russia's best-known regions, while also putting the spotlight on some areas of ethnic and cultural unrest under Putin's oppressive regime, which has taken to harshly silencing dissent.
That silencing will be on full — if quiet — display when the world turns its attention to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, which begin February 7. Putin signed an order forbidding any kind of rally, demonstration, or gathering throughout the city of Sochi during the Winter Games, in a move that LGBT activists say is aimed at trying to hide the nation's recently passed ban on so-called gay propaganda.
Putin signed the ban on "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" visible to minors this summer, imposing fines and possible jail time for anyone found to be speaking positively about LGBT identities. LGBT Russians and tourists have been arrested, beaten, and harassed for merely walking down the street, and sometimes for engaging in peaceful protests like unfurling a rainbow flag.
The International Olympic Committee said it is "completely satisfied" that Russia will uphold the Olympic Charter during the Sochi Games, though that charter does not expressly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Russian officials have repeatedly claimed that the law, which only criminalizes public mention of LGBT identities, not heterosexuality, is not discriminatory, since anyone, gay or straight, could be charged with spreading propaganda. The national sports minister essentially proposed a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" policy for LGBT athletes and spectators at the Winter Games, saying that "people of nontraditional sexual orientations can take part in the competitions…" so long as "a person does not put across his views in the presence of children."
Watch the Olympic torch go out as it enters the Kremlin in the video from ABC News below. And try to ignore the irony that the flame was extinguished as it entered the Russian governmental property being carried by a burly man in a rainbow snowsuit.