Retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova attacked a Russian bill passed unanimously by lawmakers that would ban the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors.
The bill passed in a 436-0 margin in the Russian Duma last week, and is expected to be approved by the upper house of parliament and signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin. Navratilova says Putin is “just trying to go against whatever the West is doing. If the West would be bad about gays, he would have gay marriage, but because the West is good with the gays — or getting better — he goes the other way.”
In 1981, Navratilova became one of the first professional athletes to come out as gay, shortly after she won her fifth Wimbledon title. It was just one of more than two dozen Grand Slam singles and doubles titles in a professional career that lasted nearly 40 years.
In a phone interview from Paris with the Washington Blade this week, the out athlete spoke of how "frightening" it was that Russian lawmakers so vehemently supported the bill.
Under the proposed measure, individuals found to be disseminating vaguely defined "homosexual propaganda" would face fines of between 4,000 and 5,000 rubles ($124-155 USD), while government officials could be fined ten times that amount. Media organizations and other groups would face fines of up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) or suspension of their activities for up to 90 days for "promoting" or discussing LGBT issues. Foreigners could face up to 15 days in jail and deportation.
With the bill expected to pass, some have urged the United States to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be hosted by the Russian city Sochi.
Although Navratilova says that Sochi should not have won their bid for the Olympics at all, she doesn’t believe in the boycotts. “It’s more effective to get in people’s faces and prove them wrong rather than run away,” she said. “To me a boycott kind of runs away from the problem."
Navratilova was also present at the men’s final for the French Open this month, when an opponent of France’s same-sex marriage law interrupted the match, carrying a flame onto the court near Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal. She recalled the man who stabbed Monica Seles during a German tennis match 20 years ago, and remarked that it's as if “you’re still not safe on the tennis court.”