TROUBLE IN RUSSIA
Over the last decade the Russian Government has been cracking down on the rights of the LGBT community and individuals. President Vladimir Putin has been looking to divert attention from corruption, a struggling Russian economy, and to solidify nationalistic support by directing discontent towards the gay LGBT community. Buoyed by various religious groups, the Government started banning Gay Pride and festivals in 2006, and enforcing the new regulations with "tough measures" from the police. Officials on all levels ramped up incitefull language, and in many of the events that took place, violence was directed towards participants by right wing vigilante groups and members of the general public, while the police looked on and in some instances arrested victims.
As gay activists became more inventive, utilizing flash mob protests and holding press conferences in foreign embassies, in order to mitigate the violence against them, the Government’s line hardened further and by 2012, Pride in Moscow was banned for 100 years and a precursory legislation first appeared in St. Petersburg to ban "homosexual propaganda". The following year members of the Government engaged in a propaganda campaign to garner public support for a country wide ban, and in June 2013 a law passed 4360 in the State Duma, allegedly with the support of 88% of the population.
What this Means for Russian LGBT
With a Russia wide ban on "homosexual propaganda", the broad and vague law criminalizes anything that could be interpreted by the state as supportive of the ‘homosexual lifestyle’. Any expression of LGBT identity, public show of affection, a rainbow flag, and even publicly admitting sexuality could carry the risk of arrest and fine. Organizations including NGO’s and the media face hefty fines, and foreign citizens arrested under the law can be jailed for up to 15 days and deported. It is also believed that under the new law, gay parents and parents suspected of being gay could face losing their children to state care.
Effectively the Russian state has sanctioned discrimination and forced the enmass closeting of the entire LGBT community. But more worrying than this, state incited and sanctioned hate crimes and harassment towards gays are becoming common place across the country. Vigilante and right wing groups are targeting individuals, tormenting, kidnapping, torturing, publicly humiliating and in some cases killing them. In many instances general members of the public have been filmed hunting down and attacking people they suspect of being gay.
How the Olympics Fit In
Sochi is the host city for the 2014 Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) claim that they stand for inclusiveness and equality, which is at complete odds with the systematic Russian state sanctioned discrimination towards the LGBT community. As things stand, the Olympic brand will be tarnished by the recent developments in Russia. On a broader level, because the Games are a forum for a country and government to showcase their culture to the world, by association the IOC and all associated organizations including sponsors, will be seen as a complicit and willing endorser of the Russian antiLGBT agenda. More practically the IOC cannot even protect any of the athletes, supporters, and media who will be attending the Games, from either the authorities, enforcing discriminatory laws, or the vigilante groups and members of the general public.