Gay athletes were told to feel safe in Sochi today, but to leave kids alone by Russian president Vladimir Putin. Putin’s words came as the Russian president tried to reassure gay athletes that they were going to be safe in Sochi.
Russia has been the subject of much controversy for its upcoming Sochi Winter Games because of its laws governing homosexuality. Propaganda surrounding homosexual conduct is banned in the country, and Putin said that there is no ban on the actual practice of what he termed “nontraditional” forms of sex.
In speaking with Olympic Games volunteers, Putin tried to tell those worried about the treatment of homosexuals that everyone would be quite safe at the Games. His concern is that literature or other media will be spread among minors in the country, which would definitely break the law. Gay people are also prohibited from discussing their views about their sexual preferences to anyone under age.
The anti-propaganda law, passed in June 2013, has been condemned soundly since its passing. President Barack Obama has already said he will be attending the Sochi Olympics with two gay athletes. Tennis legend Billie Jean King will represent the U.S. at the opening ceremonies while ice hockey medallist Caitlin Cahow will represent the U.S. at the closing ceremonies.
Though gay athletes have been told to feel safe in Sochi, Putin’s statement that they need to leave kids alone has caused those planning on attending the Olympics to question whether they may be arrested should they carry a rainbow flag or placard in support of their favorite athletes. Putin says that there will be no discrimination throughout the Games, and Russia intends on enforcing the anti-propaganda law throughout the 16-day celebration of athleticism.
Putin also noted that there are other countries that are considering legislation against pedophilia but declined to name them, saying that information of that nature would be easily accessible on the Internet. He emphasized Russia’s traditional outlook towards sexual orientation and said the country refused to simply kowtow to the overriding European set of values.
The Russian president also noted that every country expected that visitors should respect their rights and traditions and saw no reason why Russian traditions and customs, including those against homosexual propaganda, shouldn’t also be honored.
Others have not shared Putin’s view. Gay bars in New York and London, among others, have boycotted Russian vodka and gay activists everywhere have urged that athletes boycott the Games themselves. Minors in possession of anything considered to be homosexual propaganda could be fined up to 5,000 rubles (roughly $155 US) and officials could face up to 10 times that amount. Businesses and schools could hurt the most; they face a 500,000 ruble fine.
While gay athletes have been told to feel safe in Sochi but leave kids alone, the run up to the Games continues. Russian security forces have said they will crack down on any protests that may occur during the Games’ February 7 to 23 run, and the International Olympic Committee continues to invest time, energy and dollars into the event. Activists continue to call upon the IOC to come down harder on the host country regarding its anti-propaganda law, but to no avail.
By Christina St-Jean