By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com January 17 2014 12:46 PM ET
Just three weeks from the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, President Vladimir Putin today warned LGBT Olympic visitors to "leave children in peace," according to a translation from Russian news outlet R-Sport.
Speaking to a gathering of Olympic athletes at the Russian mountain Olympic village Friday, Putin said that gay and lesbian visitors — and presumably athletes — will be safe, as long as they stay away from children.
"We do not have a ban on nontraditional sexual relationships," said Putin, according to the London Guardian's translation. "We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and paedophilia. I want to underline this. Propaganda among children. These are absolutely different things — a ban on something or a ban on the propaganda of that thing."
"We are not forbidding anything and nobody is being grabbed off the street, and there is no punishment for such kinds of relations," continued Putin. "You can feel relaxed and calm [in Russia], but leave children alone, please."
Aside from implying that LGBT people are inherently predatory and looking to "recruit" young people, these latest comments undermine months of vague "assurances" from Putin and numerous other Russian officials that LGBT people would be safe and welcome in Russia, despite a nationwide ban on "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" in areas visible to minors that took effect last summer.
Putin himself has previously promised that LGBT people will be "comfortable" in Sochi, claiming that his administration's top priority is to host a well-organized Games with "the creation of equal terms for all athletes." But Russian politicians and sports officials have issued contradictory messages about whether the anti-LGBT law will affect Olympic athletes and spectators, essentially proposing a "don't ask, don't tell" policy wherein they promised no one would be prosecuted under the law so long as they don't speak publicly in support of or about LGBT identities. The International Olympic Committee said it is "completely satisfied" with Russia's vague promises that all rights will be respected at the Games.
Since the ban on so-called gay propaganda took effect last July, LGBT Russians and visitors have been beaten, harassed, and arrested for attempting to peacefully assemble, carrying pro-LGBT signs, waving rainbow flags, or sometimes simply for walking down the street. A 22-year-old transgender woman in Russia committed suicide shortly after she was kicked out of her home and fired from her municipal job because her employers feared running afoul of the propaganda ban.