Anatoly Pakhomov, mayor of Sochi, where the 2014 Olympics is being held, told the BBC in an interview that aired Monday that there were no gay people living in the city. This statement has further created outrage from many gay rights activists in light of a June 2013 law that was passed in Russia banning the promotion of gay or “non-traditional” sex to people under the age of 18. Those opposing the new law believe that the law makes it legal to prohibit gay rights protests throughout Russia; while in contrast, many supporters believe the law merely makes the “advertisement” or “propaganda” of homosexuality illegal to children.
A member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s party told the BBC that regardless of this law, gays are welcomed at the upcoming Olympic Games. He was quoted saying, “Our hospitality will be extended to everyone who respects the laws of the Russian Federation and doesn’t impose their habits on others.” An opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, stated that there are several gay bars throughout the city and laughed at the mayor’s comment wondering, if it were true, how these bars would be able to stay in business. John Sweeny, BBC Panorama reporter, even visited a gay bar in Sochi the night before his interview with Pakhomov and was able to speak to a few locals about the ongoing issue. Apparently many attendees were reluctant to speak on the topic, but were able to confirm that there is indeed a gay community throughout the city, as well as in other areas throughout Russia.
President Obama has confirmed that he will not be attending the Sochi 2014 Olympics, showing his aversion for this new law as well as creating an example to support human and gay rights. One of America’s retired athletes, Billie Jean King, an American tennis champion who is openly gay, will be attending the Sochi Games on behalf of the USA, as well as participating in the delegation of the opening ceremony.
She spoke with the BBC in early January and said, “it took about 10 seconds” on deciding whether or not she would attend the Games in Sochi. King visited Russia throughout her career as a tennis player. “The Russian people have always been so wonderful to me, personally,” she said. King also spoke about Rule 50 of the Olympic Games that states, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
King hopes to help the LGBT community in Russia and wants to stand up against any discrimination that comes from ignorance and misguided fear about homosexuality. The presidents of Germany and France will also not be attending the Games in Sochi. It is doubtful that this symbolic act for distaste towards anti-human rights laws will bring any difference to the Russian government, but the validation it creates for not supporting discriminatory laws has created ripples of impact on the nations who stand by civil rights and liberties.
By Carolyn Dean