Strife In Sochi Over Anti-Gay Discrimination


Vladimir Putin

Russia has been getting a lot of play in the media recently because of the Winter Olympic Games that will be held in Sochi in the coming weeks. The games themselves and the very real security risks threatening them have been a focus of media attention, but “anti-gay legislation” recently passed by the Russian government has been the true center of the global media community’s attention.

The Russian law, passed last year, outlaws the display of what it considers “propaganda” promoting “non-traditional sexual relations” around minors. Although it does not explicitly define the term “non-traditional,” it is widely understood to be a euphemism for “The Castro District.” Essentially, the law criminalizes any public display of homosexuality, such as displaying gay pride symbols like a rainbow flag. The law also dictates that a person cannot tell a minor that being gay is A-okay.

Russia’s Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, stated, “[The] law has nothing to do with persecuting people for their non-traditional orientation. . . . My personal opinion is that society must keep children safe. . . . Moreover, individuals of non-traditional orientations cannot feel like second-rate humans in this country because they are not discriminated against in any way.”

Translation: “We are soooo not discriminating against gays for being gay . . . but I definitely think that being gay is detrimental to children and society and I want to shut them up. So we can all get along; just keep the gayness away from the kids.”

Side note: All this is so funny coming from a guy who has an infamous picture of himself riding a horse shirtless through the Siberian mountains (Brokeback Mountain, anyone? Anyone?).

To understand why many in Russia condemn “non-traditional” relationships, it is helpful to look back at the history of Soviet communism’s views toward homosexuality. Although the Communist Party did not criminalize homosexuality between consenting adults in the 1920s, it considered homosexuality to be uncivilized, condemned it, and labeled it as a byproduct of the yuppie capitalist society. This stance changed in 1933 when Joseph Stalin added an Article to the criminal code that made male homosexual acts punishable by up to five years in prison with hard labor. Gay activists have equated the discriminatory policies of the Soviet Union to the current anti-gay legislation, but Putin disagrees. In his first interview with a US television network since returning to the Kremlin in 2012, Putin rejected that characterization, noting that Soviet-era laws making homosexuality illegal were struck down years ago.

The Russian law that Putin so staunchly defends may not explicitly criminalize homosexuality per se, but it certainly advances the same objective – to bury and intimidate under threat of criminal penalty a group of people whose lifestyle and beliefs do not conform to the State’s ideal.

Now, I guarantee someone reading this will think, “The State’s ideal? This can’t be institutionalized suppression. Not everyone in Russia’s government is against homosexuality!”

Maybe not everyone, but the people who make the laws – the people with all the real power – have publicly chosen sides. Check the vote count.

Russia’s Duma, which is its lower house of Parliament, passed the bill aimed at curbing the dissemination of gay “propaganda” to minors with a vote count of 436 to zero with one abstention. The upper house of Parliament also passed the bill unanimously with a vote count of 137 in favor, none against and one abstention.

That is the epitome of institutionalized discrimination.

Speaking of governments, I love how Obama’s administration gave two star-spangled fingers to Putin and this law – deuces! In response to its passage, Ol’ Barry cancelled a meeting with Putin and didn’t include any members of his family or active cabinet in the U.S. delegation to the Sochi games. It marks the first time in over decade that a President, Vice President, or First Lady hasn’t attended the opening or closing Olympic ceremony. Instead, he is sending a delegation that includes the openly gay tennis legend, Billie King, and two other prominent gay athletes.

Critics of this move, such as the International Olympics Commission’s (IOC) Mario Pescante, declared that the USA and other countries should not embroil politics within the Olympics.

That’s ridiculous. There hasn’t been one time where politics hasn’t been inherently infused, overtly or otherwise, within a major professional, international competition like the Olympics. Even the most basic concept of the Olympics, which is pitting countries against other countries, is an exercise in proving who is better than the others. Even in the aftermath of the games, political analysis of why countries have better athletes (GDP, education levels, social infrastructure, ad infinitum) undoubtedly occur.

The games aren’t, and never will be, just friendly, apolitical athletic competition. Countries and their athletes have one of the largest stages on earth to make a statement; they should be able to do so and have been for years.

Russia has never been a bastion of freedom or equality, and the recent codification of anti-gay sentiment continues this tradition. The U.S. has the responsibility to protest the legislation – if not in the name of gay rights, then at least in the name of freedom of speech (which both conservatives and liberals can get behind).

About Eric Bates

Eric received his B.S. in political science with an emphasis in international relations from Santa Clara University in 2012. Upon graduating, he traveled and worked for a non-profit in Central America. He is a religious viewer of Conan O’Brien and also loves traveling. Eric is attending San Jose State University's graduate school program to receive a M.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications. He can be reached at
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