The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia will be the site of many gay rights activists. People concerned about legislation restricting gay rights in the country are organizing globally, as well, against the corporate sponsors which help finance the quadrennial event.
Trinity students have coalesced to ban the sale of Coca-Cola and Proctor and Gamble products at all student union campus shops in response to the product makers’ sponsorship of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.
Feeling that Russia’s continuing violations of human rights law, along with persecution of LGBT individuals, created a firestorm among students. “We want to show solidarity to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Russia and banned the sale of the products on campus as a mark of respect,” said student union spokesman, Leanna Byrne.
During the two weeks of the Sochi Olympic games, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) will be a Coke free zone. In conjunction with the Coke boycott, TCDSU will be organizing protests against the leading international corporations that have decided to sponsor the Sochi games. The first protest will be February 5, outside the Russian Embassy, before the opening ceremony. A second protest is planned, but the location has yet to be determined.
An overwhelming student mandate led to the boycott and LGBT groups across the country are supporting TCDSU’s ban of Coke and Proctor and Gamble products. The students admit that the ban won’t have a large impact on Coke’s revenue or that of the other sponsors. But the cost to the student union is one the students are willing to absorb.
“We’re willing to take that financial hit as a mark of respect for those two weeks,” Byrne said.
While the soft drink maker says it supports the LGBT community, their marketing campaign might show different. Coke’s website wants fans to create a personalized virtual Coke can on social media. One can go to the marketing website and create the can with a friend’s name or message, but Coke has banned the word “gay”. If a user tries to personalize the can with “gay” or four other forbidden words, the website responds, “Oops. Let’s pretend you didn’t just type that.”
LGBT activists are using parodies and unique spins on the social media campaigns of Olympic sponsors. Queer Nation NY has circulated a video that mashes Coke’s 1970s jingle “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” with pictures from gay-rights activists being assaulted in Russia.
In the past few days, Coke argued for the arrest of a man who spread out a gay flag. In a video released online, Pavel Lebedev is tackled and briefly detained after he opened a rainbow flag as the torch passed through his hometown, Voronezh, about 550 miles north of Sochi. Lebedev, who refused to give up the flag, was taken to the local police station “to clarify the circumstances” of the incident. According to a spokesman for Russian LGBT organizations, Lebedev could be fined for violating public order since he ran into the street with the flag.
Lebedev has a history of LGBT activism in Russia. He was part of five same-sex couples who tried to get married at in St. Petersburg last June. Attacked a year ago during a protest he has continued to speak out against Russia’s “gay propaganda” ban.
In December 2013, VICE launched their documentary, “Young and Gay in Putin’s Russia” in an attempt to raise awareness about the situation in Russia. The film examines how gays in Russia are being affected by the anti-gay ‘propaganda’ law passed in Moscow in 2013.
LGBT activists in Russia have been asking people to not boycott the Sochi Games, but rather to keep raising awareness through gay rights protests. VICE activists feel the film is one way to accomplish this. The organizers are planning to show the film throughout Sochi during the games.
By Jerry Nelson