On June 30 this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” which bans any talk about being gay while in the presence of children. International criticism has been levelled at the Russian government around the possibility that in Russia you can be fined or imprisoned for participating in a pride parade, waving a rainbow flag, or even talking about homosexuality, unless it is to condemn it.
Anecdotal evidence indicates this has led to an increase in homophobic violence, including trapping gay men via online mediums, then physically assaulting them.
One television journalist came out during a live broadcast last week, protesting the laws, and was immediately sacked. And during the recent World Athletics Championships numerous athletes have taken the opportunity to subtly protest the laws via whatever avenues are available. One Swedish athlete painted her nails rainbow colours and tweeted them with the hashtags ‘#Moscow2013’ and ‘#pride’, but competed with her nails painted a single colour. An American silver medalist used his immediate post-run interview to say “all humans deserve equality as however God made them. Whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, we all deserve the same rights. If there’s anything I can do to champion the cause, I will, shy of getting arrested”.
In recent weeks pressure has been building against the law through the lens of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, with calls to boycott the games being made by several organisations. Stephen Fry in his open letter to David Cameron, and IOC executives, calls on them not to give Putin “the approval of the civilised world”. President Obama strongly criticised the laws on an American late-night talk show, but has not indicated support for a boycott of the games.
The sacked Russian journalist commented to CNN that he opposed a boycott of the games because Russian gays need international support, and a boycott of the games is a boycott of the gay population.
All Out has delivered a petition to the International Olympic Committee calling on the IOC to urge Russia to repeal its laws, and not support the stance the government has so far taken.
Many people have drawn parallels between these anti-gay laws and the laws passed by the Nazi government prior to World War II. These laws will silence and make invisible the LGBT population of Russia, estimated at approximately 7 million.
Although the Russian government has guaranteed the safety of all athletes, this is contingent on them respecting Russia’s laws. This is not enough. These laws dehumanise the LGBT population of Russia, and LGBT people worldwide. While our brothers and sisters around the world are suffering oppressive regimes that seek to at best, silence us and at worst, eliminate us, true equality will always be elusive.
Lainie Arnold is a co-convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.