The Olympic Closet

In a move combining hatred for certain peoples inborn nature with the social conservative values of the Russian Orthodox Church, President Vladimir Putin recently signed a bill on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors”. This regressive law criminalizes public expression of support for “nontraditional” relationships, and could lead to heavy fines for any Russian citizen taking part in a gay pride event or even discussing LGBT rights in person or online. The situation will be noticeably worse for foreign citizens, who could be punished with fines of up to 100,000 roubles, imprisonment for up to 15 days and deportation.

Not only does this strongly imply that homosexuality will be considered a crime, it also suggests that same-sex public affection and even pro-gay paraphernalia will be criminalized. With the bill now law, videos have been released of Russian vigilantes kidnapping, beating and torturing young gay men. The Neo-Nazi group calls itself “Occupy Pedophilia” and clearly sees no distinction between homosexuals and pedophiles.

This strange belief has pervaded Russian history, with Stalin outlawing homosexuality in 1933, seeming to think it had some relation to child molestation. Before that, homosexuality was first criminalised by Tsar Peter the Great, though it was decriminalised by Lenin following the 1917 Russian Revolution. Following Stalin’s recriminalisation, it wasn’t until after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1993 when Boris Yeltsin decriminalised homosexuality once more. And now Putin seems content to strip his gay citizens once more of their human rights.

Events in Russia led Steven Fry to write an Open Letter to David Cameron, calling for an “absolute ban” on the 2014 Russia Olympics in Sochi, arguing that “at all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilized world.” Throughout his letter, Fry makes reference to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which took place despite the persecution of Jews under the Nuremberg Laws. Usually, comparisons to Nazism in arguments are trite and inappropriate, yet as Eleanor Margolis notes in the New Statesman, “when it comes to Russia’s draconian anti-gay laws, Nazi comparisons are apt.”

Unfortunately, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) seems content to repeat the past, having warned that the games are not a place for “political” statements. This implies that Olympic athletes or spectators who speak out against Russia’s draconian law will not be protected by the IOC and could even face punishment from them. This absurd notion suggests that the IOC considers voicing support for gay rights or being openly gay a “demonstration of political propaganda”. That the IOC sees someone expressing their love for another human being as a form of political propaganda is deeply worrying.

It seems this passive notion is unfortunately common in the sporting world; it’s not just Olympics fans who will be forced to remain silent. The 2022 FIFA World Cup is scheduled by be held in Qatar, a Muslim majority country which outright bans homosexual relations. FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s response to this was to give the advice that gay people “should refrain from sexual activities” while present, though he did later apologize for his remarks.  He went on to say that, though we live in a world of freedom, “Qatar is another culture because it is another religion.” This gratification of the will of homophobes is sickening, and should be denounced wherever it arises. No ethical middle-ground can be found between countries who believe gay people should be free to express their love for whoever they desire and countries who believe that homosexuality is an abomination.

It’s a great shame that worldwide sporting events such as the Olympics, which once sought to offer the opportunity for the exchange of ideas among cultures, have decided to remain quiet on the issue of homosexuality. While the IOC still supports the participation of gays and lesbians, it refuses to allow them to use the Olympics as a platform to highlight the impact of Russia’s laws. Worse still, it has been suggested that they will actively punish those who protest against Russia’s human rights abuses. This great shame will allow Russia to continue to persecute its citizens for their inborn nature and force those visiting the Olympics to reserve judgement; lest they are also punished.


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