Olympic committee must take stand for gay rights

The Olympic games are designed to bring people of every color, creed, and belief together through the shared experiences of sport and competition. Hosting these games is an honor for the host country, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) takes many factors into consideration when deciding on a city. However, given the lack of action taken by the IOC with regard to current laws in Russia, where this year’s winter games will be held in the city of Sochi, it seems that human rights were not a priority during this process.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, it seemed that gay rights might be positively addressed in Russia when the Duma, Russia’s parliament, repealed a law from the old regime outlawing the act of homosexual intercourse. However, two decades later in Putin’s Russia, the gay rights movement and LGBT Russians face a new round of threats and persecution.

At the end of June, the Duma unanimously passed a law that bans exposing those under the age of 18 to “gay propaganda.” Any form of advocacy for LGBT rights in public, or anywhere a minor may access it without a warning about age appropriateness — including the Internet — carries with it the possibility of jail time and thousands of dollars in fines. Foreigners face immediate deportation for the same offenses. The term “propaganda” in this case includes “the direct promotion of homosexual relations among minors,” according to Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

This law comes at a time when LGBT members of the Russian community are in particular need of protection from the government, as pro-gay protesters are frequently violently beaten and harassed by other Russian citizens during gay-pride events, according to independent news organization Mother Jones. Some Russian lawmakers say that the laws that inspired those protests and led to those beatings will be fully enforced in Sochi during the Winter Games, according to The Huffington Post.

The IOC has offered little comment on the matter, and while the Russian government has said it will not prevent gay athletes from taking part in the games, what ability these athletes will have to speak on their rights remains unclear.
The IOC’s lack of commentary is troubling, especially after the creation of the Pride House in the Olympic Villages of the 2010 Vancouver Games and the 2012 London Games, which provided a place for LGBT individuals involved in the Olympics to share their experiences and help educate visitors about the issues in their communities.

It is discouraging to see the IOC remain silent on an important human rights issue in a country hosting the games. This event will help raise the prestige of the Russian Federation at a time when it is mistreating a large minority group deserving of protection.