With several months to go before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the contrast between LGBT representation during past ceremonies couldn’t be more striking. Vancouver, which hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, was also the first host city to have an official Pride House. There will be no Pride House in Sochi and the safety of LGBT Olympians and fans is, at best, uncertain. BuzzFeed spoke to six LGBT torchbearers from past Olympic ceremonies about their thoughts on Russia’s anti-gay law, calls for and against a boycott and why LGBT rights are human rights.
I believe that we can try to leverage the Olympics to increase the global recognition of, and perhaps local response to, Russia’s engagement with LGBTQ communities.The danger is that we will overly romanticize the Olympics in our political rhetoric. We need to recognize how the IOC and the Olympic hosting committees are often significant contributors to social and economic injustice and to the corporate and state infringement on human rights and civil liberties. I, of course, believe that it is crucial that queer Olympic and Paralympic athletes’ safety is considered, but I think that our political priority has to be with those who have far less privilege and protection in this situation. It is critical to focus on the rights, freedoms and opportunities of Russian LGBTQ folks. It is equally important to recognize all the other marginalized people in Russia and beyond whose most basic capacity to live safely is threatened by the policies and strategies of their governments, and of multinational corporate entities like the International Olympic Committee.
For me and for many other LGBT people, I believe that having an Out LGBT person chosen to represent the community and to celebrate the Olympics was recognition of the progress made in our fight for equality. I also felt that it was a confident and clear message to the rest of the world that the UK aims to be a progressive Nation when it comes to LGBT rights, especially to those countries taking part who have oppressive regimes and laws directed at LGBT people.
Russia, who are to host the next Olympic Games, had decriminalized homosexuality in the 1990’s, therefore I am shocked and angered by the Russian parliament’s recent passing of anti-gay legislation which criminalizes LGBT freedom of expression. The new Russian anti-gay legislation is one of the most draconian laws anywhere in the world and violates LGBT Human Rights and I am in disbelief that the Olympics are still to be held in Sochi 2014.
Having had the honour of being a torchbearer in Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics Torch Relay and participating in the first-ever Pride House at an Olympics, it was very disturbing to hear of the anti-gay legislation which was recently passed into law in Russia. As we saw in Vancouver in 2010, it was important and powerful to have LGBT Olympians compete and celebrate openly at this all-inclusive international sporting event highlighting human achievement. It is my hope that the IOC, corporate sponsors, official media and world leaders, among others, will speak out strongly against this law, which is unfitting for a nation about to host the Winter Olympic Games and that LGBT Olympians will compete and stand proudly once again.
I wish to express in the strongest terms my concern at the situation in Russia, as it prepares to host the IAAF World Championships later this month and the Winter Olympics is Sochi next year. As an Olympic Torch Bearer for the London Olympics and Chairman of the Kings Cross Steelers Rugby Football Club, the world’s first Gay and inclusive Rugby Union Club, I am particularly concerned about the violence being perpetrated against Gay people, or even people who ‘look’ gay. I call on the Russian Government to protect the rights of all people. That includes the entire LGBT community. A modern democracy has to protect the rights of all people!
To host two major events as The Russian State is doing brings with it the duty to protect all its people and to ensure the safety of people visiting these events. I have taken the personal step of not attending the Athletics Championships as I did not feel that the Russian State could assure me of my safety.
I also call on the Secretary of State The Right Honourable William Hague to express these concerns to his Russian counterpart at the earliest. The British Government needs to stand beside other Governments like Sweden and Canada in challenging this hatred and oppression.
I was nominated to carry the Olympic Torch by James, my then boyfriend and now civil partner, largely on the back of the work I do for the Gay Football Supporters’ Network. One of my favourite memories of the day was waiting for the flame to arrive. I grabbed James from the crowd, told everyone that this is the guy who nominated me, that we were getting married this year and gave him a quick kiss. The crowd gave a heart warming cheer and, after being reported in the press, I received a great number of messages of support from across the world, including many places which are not as supporting of the LGB&T community. Amongst the wonderful messages there was one which took a different take, which amounted to a threat of violence against myself and the Olympics themselves for giving me that platform. This brought it home to me personally that across the world the rights of LGB&T people are not secured and for many the threats of violence are real and common place. Increasingly Russia is becoming a country of concern regarding LGB&T rights. I am quite certain that not only would I have not been chosen as a torch bearer if I were in Russia, but my public display of affection could have led to my arrest and imprisonment and my personal safety would have been at risk. It is vital that the IOC, Fifa and any other sporting body take these circumstances into account when awarding major sporting events and recognise that in showcasing these countries, they owe a responsibility to oppressed minority groups not just for the duration of the games, but also more generally, otherwise they could be seen to be endorsing the policies of oppressive nations.
Russia’s latest draconian laws targeting an already terrorized LGBT population sparked passionate international concern. With the 2014 Sochi Winter Games quickly approaching, the global community has an opportunity to comment on this dire situation. However, Russia’s minister of sports, Vitaly Mutko, warns that all athletes and visitors must not advocate for “non-traditional” sexual orientation or they will be charged. We have choices we can make. Boycotting the Games would only devastate the participating athletes and may anger some of our more potent allies in the fight for equality. Having external governmental interference may trigger even worse repercussions in related issues. This is the age of social media democracy. We can mobilize and instigate a progressive discussion. We have an opportunity to move global opinion by attending the games and winning friends and allies by demonstrating fairness and by revealing the scope and breadth of our collective voices. The torch that I carried for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics is symbolic of the essential premises on which the Games were built; the cessation of all hostilities and the imperative that all persons are equal. We must pass that torch on to our suffering Russian LGBT siblings, swiftly, honourably and courageously.