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Russia Will Allow Displays of Pride During World Cup Despite 'Gay Propaganda' Law

Russian LGBT rights activists at a May Day rally in Saint Petersburg this year

World Cup organizers promise LGBT soccer fans they'll be safe in the country where queer people have routinely been persecuted and arrested. 

Despite the fact that hate crimes have doubled since Russia implemented its "gay propaganda" law in 2013, LGBT people attending the World Cup, which kicks off there June 14 and runs through mid-July, will be met with a warm welcome, even allowing attendees to put their LGBT pride on display, according to the country's World Cup organizing committee, the Associated Press reports.

"All visitors to Russia in 2018 -- regardless of race, gender, religion, ability or sexual orientation -- can expect a warm welcome," the committee said in a statement. "Persons will not be fined for expressing their feelings. The display of rainbow flags in the stands or at public celebrations will be allowed."

The head of Russia's LGBT Sports Federation, Alexander Agapov, backed up the committee's assertion that LGBT attendees can expect to feel safe in a country where the government has arrested its citizens under the "gay propaganda" law for disseminating material supportive of LGBT rights or even discussing such identities in any venue where minors could be exposed to it.

While World Cup organizers promise to ensure the safety of LGBT soccer fans, at least one of the architects of the "gay propaganda" law, Vitaly Milonov, continued to insult LGBT people while calling for tighter restrictions on LGBT World Cup fans while they're in the country.

"I want to remind them that, no matter how much they try lobbying, their hideous way of life is condemned all over the world," Milonov, who's called LGBT people "sodomites" and compared them to chimpanzees, told the AP. "They do not have the right to propagandize their hideousness."

The Sports Federation has assured LGBT fans they'll be treated with respect in Russia, but it doesn't mean the ban on LGBT expression has totally been lifted, and it's come at an additional cost, according to Agapov, who explained that while a soccer tournament may only require two fields for competition at a sports complex, a third has to also be rented out nearby to block it from being rented for a children's event, which would violate the "gay propaganda" law.

While Russia may come off as somewhat tolerant, or at least not openly hostile, toward LGBT people during the World Cup, it's still surprising that Chechnya will house Egypt's World Cup team for the duration of the event. LGBT rights groups have found that at least 200 gay and bisexual men may have been detained and as many as 26 killed in concentration camps in Chechnya over the past year or so despite a Russian-led report last month that denied such atrocities.

Agapov said that the Sports Federation has promised LGBT soccer fans will be safe during the event but that it likely won't change the climate over the long run. "The World Cup is over, we are still here, and the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya and other regions is still going on," he said.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist