Will Russia arrest gay Olympic athletes at 2014 games?

Will Russia arrest gay Olympic athletes in 2014? And does the International Olympic Committee even care?3

Answers:

1. Maybe.

2. Doesn’t look like it.

Russia, as it veers further and further away from even trying to pretend that it’s interested in becoming a more democratic state, has become increasingly homophobic as well.  A number of cities now have laws banning any public expression of support for homosexuality, and Russian legislators are pushing a nationwide ban on “gay propaganda.”

“Propaganda”means pretty much anything said or done in public that suggests being gay is okay.  The law is so vague that it could including holding a pro-gay sign.  Wearing a pro-gay pin.  Wearing rainbow suspenders.  Holding hands with someone of the same-sex.  Kissing someone of the same-sex.  Appearing at a Pride parade.  Defending your gay child anywhere in public.  Writing a pro-gay letter to the editor.  Writing a news story that appears to be “pro-gay” to the authorities.  And possibly even living with your same-sex boyfriend or girlfriend.  The law is open to interpretation by local authorities.  Propaganda laws were the most-common way the Soviets would oppress dissidents. In the past, the Soviets were quite liberal with their interpretation of what constitutes a violation of “propaganda” laws.  The Russians are showing the same openness.

Which brings us to the Olympics.

We’d already expressed concern last year over the Russians banning the games from having a “Pride House” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes.  A Russian judge ruled that if they permit Pride House at the Olympics, it could stop Russians from having babies, and thus their entire nation would quite literally fall apart.  Seriously, that was the judge’s ruling.  The IOC, when pressed on the issue, got all weasel-y, and basically isn’t lifting a finger to help.

Which brings us to next year’s 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

New Zealand speedskater Blake Skjellerup, who is gay, is understandably concerned about competing in Russia next year, should he make the team, as he tells USA Today.  And I don’t blame him.  The USA Today reporter, however, doesn’t get it:

Though it’s hard to imagine a gay Olympian being arrested for wearing a rainbow pin, will athletes be worried about the impact of homophobia at a time when they should be focused on competition?

Not that hard to imagine, actually.  They arrest people for wearing rainbow suspenders, and they’re going to be okay with a rainbow pin?  These are people who threatened Madonna and Lady Gaga.  They couldn’t care less about the supposed perils of arresting an Olympic athlete – these are not people who are shy about being bigots.  They had no problem man-handling Dan Choi, in spite of his already-international fame.  Not to mention, they could always leave the athlete alone and arrest his or her gay or trans Russian friends who associate with him.

What did the US Olympic Committee have to say about any of this?

The U.S. Olympic Committee declined to comment when asked if officials planned to address such concerns with athletes before the Games.

Nice.

And why are we even having this discussion in the first place?  What are we doing having the games in a country that doesn’t respect basic human rights, and is already discriminating against Olympic athletes based on their sexual orientation?  Would the IOC be so blasé about bias based on race or religion?  Doubtful.

Now for a few words about openly-gay US figure skater Johnny Weir.  Weir is a huge fan of Russia, speaks Russian, and is married to a man whose parents grew up in the USSR.  Weir had this advice for those concerned about Russia’s horrific human rights record on gay and trans issue:

If he makes the Olympic team, Weir doesn’t want to make an issue of his sexuality, he said. For him, the Olympics should be about sport and competition. But he does have advice for gay athletes unfamiliar with the culture.

“My advice would be: Watch what you do when you leave the Village, don’t be aggressive, don’t wear a big rainbow flag fur coat. If you don’t call attention to yourself, attention won’t come to you.”

Then Weir added, in a way only he can, “I’m not going to be having sex in a Metro station. And if you are doing that, then maybe you deserve to be caught.”

Mother of God.  I get that not every famous gay person has had the years of experience working on these issues that a lot of us have had, and thus they don’t have the understanding, or the nuance, that others in the community have on issues like this.  But when famous gays speak out about issues concerning our civil rights, they should be held accountable for not knowing what they’re talking about, especially when their words are harmful to the community.

WTF, Johnny?

You think the issue here is gay people wanting to have public sex in the metro?  Do you even know what is happening in Russia right now to gay people?  Gay Russians are being beaten up by the police, or, worse, far-right neo-Nazis who are working in cahoots with the police, for simply trying to hold a minimal Pride march.  Moscow has banned Pride for the next 100 years.  They arrested a guy for wearing rainbow suspenders.  And you’re making cracks to USA Today about gays having sex on the metro?

And you recommend that athletes “don’t get aggressive” about being gay?  It sounds like you’re telling gay people not to “flaunt it.”  Where have we heard that advice before?  Oh, from every homophobe on every issue we’ve ever fought.  If only those flaming gays would stop flaunting themselves in public, there wouldn’t be a problem.

I think part of the problem is who Weir is.  He’s a gay man who, dare I use the phrase, likes to “flaunt” it.  That picture I posted to the right is pretty middle of the road for the photos you find of Weir online.  So I can imagine in his mind, if you don’t dress like that, you’ll be fine.  The thing is, there are a lot of ways that gay people “flaunt” who they are, and it’s not just by playing with our hair, wearing make-up and sporting silver Michael Jackson gloves.  As anyone in the military, or who’s been fired from a job, can tell you, we’re routinely accused of flaunting it for basically doing anything that even vaguely suggests that we are gay.  Be it having a photo of your spouse on your desk at work, or even answering a coworker’s question about where you went last night (out with your boyfriend, or to a bar known to be gay?).  Or how about, an Olympian wins a gold medal and runs to the arms of their same-sex spouse and shares a big kiss on international TV.  In parts of Russia, that will get you thrown in jail.

It’s extremely easy for a gay Olympic athlete to be caught up in Russia’s growing patchwork of anti-gay propaganda laws by simply saying the “wrong” thing at the wrong moment.

Whether intentional or not, Weir is serving as a public apologist for the Russian regime’s horrific homophobia.

Marc Naimark, the Federation of Gay Games vice president for external affairs, summed things up nicely for USA Today:

“When they choose a country that’s homophobic, they send a message to the world and to gay athletes, among those messages is, ‘if you’re not out, stay in the closet.’”

Johnny Weir’s message seems to go farther: “Even if you are out, stay in the closet.”


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

Share This Post

  • DannyEastVillage

    I haven’t seen her in years. I’m glad to know about it: hope it’s true.

  • ComradeRutherford

    Yeah, the IOC make up all kinds of flimsy excuses to hold the Olympics in repressive states.

  • Crystal Nelson

    LOL yeah right, just because their the Olympics doesn’t mean the law the land are stopped. It is really stupid holding games in dangerous countries.

  • Crystal Nelson

    Weir does not get how dangerous it is over there. Since the law is not clear, anything, ANYTHING could be seen as gay, you talk about gay sexual, you get fine, take to jail. Russian people don’t want homosexual to have an existence/ What the gays are facing in Russia is what Hitler did to the Jews.

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  • Detroit Loft

    There is. They call themselves “Log Cabin Republicans.”

  • Sweetie

    Hey, just like Jodie Foster, he is entitled to advocate for the closet.

    (Right, John?)

  • http://www.ryanstake.net RyansTake

    If men hold hands in Iran or Saudi Arabia in a way that is even perceived as gay, they could very well end up hung.

    You must be intentionally obtuse to say that, when the kind of hand holding Butch was talking about is clear — ie, romantic hand holding.

  • http://www.ryanstake.net RyansTake

    I’m fine with any nation sending athletes to the games, but only nations that have civil rights for all (including the franchise and protections for minorities) should be allowed to host. It’s the right thing to do, it would nudge countries toward civil rights since they’d want to host (hosting could be a great ‘reward’ for a country that progresses) and because, ultimately, it’s necessary to protect the athletes.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    The great equalizer is the love pocket of a jelebeeya.

  • Butch1

    Yes, but could we pretend we were not gay to do it?

  • UncleBucky

    Haha, but not for the same reasonnnnnnnn….! :)

  • UncleBucky

    “wash the cat” Arrggh! Funny! You made me laugh, nicho, thanx!

  • UncleBucky

    Normal.

  • UncleBucky

    So?

  • UncleBucky

    Becca,

    If Russia goes “schtum” on LGBT visitors, and perhaps relaxes bans on bars and places of entertainment, that sounds a bit like the 1936 Games in Germany, where they papered over their anti-Semitism and fascist culture for the Summer. Then it came raging back after the Olympic Flame went down. China did that with dissidents, as you wrote. So could Russia do the same thing. Seems to me that anyone “not liked” in Russia oughta get back on the first plane, eh?

    I bet the IOC next picks North Korea or Nigeria next, huh?

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Opps. I am so glad to hear that! Rollerna IS ALIVE! YEA!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Men hold hands in Iran or Saudi Arabia.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Make that Tante Tom.

  • Butch1

    What ARE the gay athletes AND their spouses going to do when they are in Russia walking arm in arm or hand in hand? Staying in a hotel suit in the same room in the same bed? If they have a kiss in public and it is caught by a camera at the stadium in front of all the crowds? Are the police going to ignore it because of all the publicity or are they going to make a scene and arrest the couple?

    These are important questions that should be addressed before gay couples enter this backward homophobic country. It might as well be Iran or Saudi Arabia.

  • http://twitter.com/DennisVelco Dennis Velco

    Thanks for this article and your reporting. What you do is appreciated.

    I posted it to my LGBT Group on LinkedIn with over 17,500 global members to spur members to read your article and to make comment. I also scooped it at Scoop.It on my LGBT Times news mashup.

    Link to group >> http://www.linkedin.com/groups/LGBT-Gay-GLBT-Professional-Network-63687/about

    All LGBT+ and community allies…. please come join me and 17,500+ of your soon to be great connections on LinkedIn. The member base represents 80% of the world’s countries.

    It’s core value is – Visibility can lead to awareness which can lead to equality. Come stand with us and increase our visibility on the globe’s largest professional networking site. Be a professional who just happens to be LGBT – or a welcomed community ally.

  • http://twitter.com/gaygeekdad Mark

    Well, it’s great we have Johnny Weir to tell us all about what is and isn’t a human right. How did we figure it out before Johnny? I’m tired of homophobic gay men getting a pass on their homophobia because they are gay.

  • S1AMER

    Forget the IOC. This is something gay groups in civilized countries should join together to fight. Russia should be shamed before the whole world.

  • http://twitter.com/JakeOrlando Jake Orlando

    Given your defense of obesity, I’m not surprised.

  • Ann Northrop

    Rollerena is alive and well in NYC. And Johnny Weir does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as our great Rollerena.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I’m not saying that at all.

    I’m saying the IOC will probably define it as such.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Weir owes everything to Rollerrina, who, is sadly not with us anymore having gone to that great derby in the sky.

  • nicho

    Overhyped “sporting” event in which professionals pretend to be amateurs.

  • kurtsteinbach

    I am an English teacher and am considering teaching overseas. I was going to teach in the ROK and then Russia. I am definitely rethinking that. I think GLBTQ people and supporters, including GLBT athletes and supporters should boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. actually, I think the IOC should show some spine and take the Winter Olympics away from Russia, but I’ll settle for a boycott.

  • Skeptical Cicada

    You really missed the male soft-core porn extravaganza last August? :)

  • Skeptical Cicada

    Great reminder! I totally forgot about that.

  • caphillprof

    So you’re saying that when a guy wins the gold and is kissed by his boyfriend/husband, that is a political statement? or normal human behavior?

  • Drew2u

    Wait, isn’t the Olympics a private industry?

  • caphillprof

    If Jimmy Carter were President, we’d boycott the Russian Olympics.

  • ComradeRutherford

    The IOC has already endorsed China’s inhumane policies and slave labor, so why would anyone expect the IOC to do anything about the legalized homophobia in Russia?

    And while the IOC makes up lies like, ‘holding olympics in oppressive nations will help them see the error of their ways’, the truth is that the IOC is eagerly giving it’s approval of oppressive nations by allowing the games there.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    And women, I would add.

  • http://twitter.com/JakeOrlando Jake Orlando

    Yes, it’s a major sporting event every two years. Better a sporting event in the news than another Kardashian wedding.

  • http://twitter.com/JakeOrlando Jake Orlando

    When I read a headline about this earlier, I seriously thought it was a joke. I expected to click on the link and see Weir in some satirical video mocking the Russian government.

    Can you say “Uncle Tom”?

  • dula

    This narcissistic little moron will only condemn homophobia when it is perpetrated on him:

    “Johnny Weir has a message for the two sportscasters who gained media attention by suggesting the eccentric Olympic skater should be forced to “take a gender test.”
    The Advocate reports that the French-Canadian sportscasters, Claude Mailhot and Alain Goldberg, went after Weir on the air saying that all boys who skate will end up like him.

    After placing sixth in last week’s long form program, Weir told reporters Wednesday he wants the sportscasters to “think twice before they speak in the future,” but he said he wasn’t interested in apologies.

    Weir said he found the comments “offensive” but was more concerned about what effect such comments might have on kids and other athletes, stating that he had great parents and a great childhood.

    “Every little boy should be so lucky as to turn into me,” Weir told Access Hollywood’s Dorothy Hamill in an interview following the remarks. “And that’s all I have to say about that.”

    http://www.shewired.com/g-spot/johnny-weir-chides-homophobic-canadian-sportscasters-think-twice

  • nicho

    Sort of like presidential campaigns. One ends and the next one starts the next day — sometimes before the current one ends. People were talking about 2016 last September.

  • nicho

    That’s the problem with online hookup sites. It’s totally superficial and based solely,on looks and “stats,” — and whatever lies the guy tells. This guy is cute and there are plenty of people who would meet him without knowing any more than that. If you met him in a bar and started talking to him, you’d probably all of a sudden remember that this was the night you had to wash the cat.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gamelan9 Scott E Conlan

    Agreed!

  • http://fighttherightwingnuts.blogspot.com/ mike31c

    Just as backwards as the RWNJ’s here in the US.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I stopped watching when they split the Olympics into ever 2 years. Just felt like they never ended, so it was never a big deal when they happened. STill bugs me to this day.

  • MyrddinWilt

    Maybe like straights everywhere he is just really jealous of the fact that Grindr works really well and anything like it for straight guys is going to totally suck because there are far more men looking for NSA sex than women and the men end up completely flooding the thing.

    Of course from now on he is probably going to be finding that he is the only gay guy on grindr who can’t get a date.

    Unless there is some subculture I have not heard about yet of gay men who really dig in-the-closet homophobes.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    But of course.

    As for what’ll happen? I dunno. I think it’s going to depend on whether Obama gets his often re-tabled Social Security and Medicare cuts.

  • nicho

    The IOC is a bunch of assholes. Remember that they made gay groups change the name of the Gay Olympics.

  • nicho

    Right. There is no such thing as an ex-gay — just gay people who have been taught to believe that they are hideously disgusting. I knew a guy in Boston who belonged to one of these Catholic gay “therapy” groups. He was one of the loneliest, saddest people I knew. It’s hard to get people to like you if you don’t like yourself.

  • MyrddinWilt

    Don’t forget the war on women.

    Women not too happy about the GOP gun fetish either. That might decide the mid term elections next year.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Honest reaction: Every time I hear there are upcoming Olympic games, my first two thoughts are, “They’re still doing those?” and “Wait, didn’t they just have one?”

    I stopped watching long, long ago.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    There’s that. And there’s also the need for any authoritarian society to have its scapegoats, to distract the proles from their real enemies, the men who rule over them.

    A few decades ago, it was Russian Jews and ‘counter-revolutionaries’. Now it’s gays.

    Here in America, it’s gays, Muslims, and brown people.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Wow. A genuine poster-boy for ‘self-hating gay’, huh?

  • nicho

    Or in London, or in . . . .boring

  • usagi

    Nice to have confirmation that my perception that Weir is a little prick was correct (based purely on promos for Food Network’s Rachel vs, Guy “celebrity” cook-off).

  • nicho

    OT — but funny as hell. Therse “Ex-gays” are the most pathetic group possible.

    ‘Ex-gay’ Christian blogger admits to using Grindr dating app after being publicly outed but says he hasn’t changed his anti-homosexual views

    A blogger for The Christian Post who writes extensively about how religion has helped him turn away from a homosexual lifestyle has been outed as a user of the gay dating app Grindr.

    Matt Moore’s Grindr account was exposed on Monday by atheist activist and Freethought Blogs writer Zinnia Jones. Initially she questioned if the account could be real given how unlikely it seemed that someone so publicly anti-gay would be using the hookup site.

    Theauthenticity of the profile seemed particularly questionable given that the photo was the same one used by Moore on other social media platforms where he regularly promotes his anti-homosexual message.

  • MyrddinWilt

    I think it is pretty important to recognize that Putin’s anti-gay crackdown is just a larger part of the crackdown on any groups that might form the nucleus of an opposition movement.

    Putin has four separate groups of thugs modelled on the NAZI stormtroopers whose purpose is to ‘own the streets’ if a colour revolution type situation is threatened. The groups were originally funded by private donors but keep themselves going making money through organized crime. They have been linked to several murders and one was linked to the ‘Russian Business Network’ a notorious Internet crime ring that operated out of St Petersberg under protection from Putin’s government.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    “Would the IOC be so blasé about bias based on race or religion?” Yes, the IOC is homophobic and always has been. As for Johnny Weir, Honey, there is so much glitter in your closet it follows you everywhere you go—even St. Gulagsberg.

  • William Cooper

    Guess I’ll be watching as much of the Olympics in Russia as I did of the OIympics in China. None.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    That’s been my guess as well: The Russians will pretty much ignore any out-of-closet visiting gays and lesbians at the games for the duration. The IOC will appease them by not allowing a Pride House and furthermore will warn athletes that any expression of support for gay rights will earn them a fine and possible disqualification, under their rules prohibiting political expression or statements.

    In short, there won’t be any arrests or diplomatic incidents…and afterwards, the Russians will go back to beating up and imprisoning gays like they have been the last few years. Sadly, as with China, there won’t be any real pressure on the IOC to stop picking objectionable host countries.

  • MyrddinWilt

    I took a look at the US state dept regulations. Visitors to Olympics held in the US have Official Guest status.

    That means that they do not have diplomatic immunity. But any criminal charge has to be cleared with the State Dept first.

    Prosecution for a gay rights pin is unlikely but the Olympic regulations do prohibit a long list of ‘political’ activities by athletes. They really don’t like that black power salute from the Mexico city olympics. The IOC is entirely made up of establishment types who don’t like the idea that the status quo might ever change. They are mostly selected by governments whose main priority is that athletes should not use the games to protest their own shity governments.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    It’s gotten very creepy over there. One thing about visiting during the Soviet times was that you were generally safe as a foreigner. Most people wouldn’t dare even speak to you, let alone rob you. Now neo-Nazis beat up gay people, seemingly with official consent.

  • hola

    I have no intention of ever visiting Russia again. We had planned to visit next year, but this outrage is sufficient to ensure we never visit or support or buy anything from Russia. I recommend others consider this.

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