Russian official: Pro-gay Sochi Olympics athletes, guests, face arrest

In a disturbing development, a Russian lawmaker responsible for writing the St. Petersburg version of the new nationwide law that bans anything perceived as pro-gay in that country, said yesterday that the Russian government had no right to promise the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the law would not be enforced against Olympic athletes and guests.

Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in the town of Sochi.

The new anti-“gay propaganda” law makes illegal anything perceived as being “pro-gay.”  That includes speech and actions perceived as being pro-gay, even including same-sex kisses and wearing the rainbow flag (a popular symbol of gay and trans rights).  Showing how broad the new law actually is, a Dutch film crew was arrested last week in Russia for simply filming a documentary about gay people in the country.

An LGBT rights activist after being attacked by Russian thugs this year. (Photo by Ilya Varlamov, with permission)

An LGBT rights activist after being attacked by Russian thugs this year. (Photo by Ilya Varlamov, with permission)

Gay and trans people in Russia are increasingly targeted for violence by vigilantes that many think are in cahoots with Russian authorities.  The violence has now extended to the entrapment, kidnaping and torture of gay Russian teens.  The perpetrators, who freely show their faces in videos across Russian social media, are left untouched by the Russian authorities.  Who will be the first Sochi Olympics athlete or guest to meet a Russian online and suddenly find themselves the victim of a paramilitary kidnapping?

The IOC had hoped to allay growing concerns over the possible arrest of, and violence towards, gay and gay-friendly Olympic athletes and guests by assuring the world last week that the Russians had granted an exemption to the anti-gay for Olympic attendees.  Of course, even were such an exemption real – and we now know that it is not – the Russians can give no credible assurances that the anti-gay skinhead thugs that they’ve enabled won’t beat gay Olympic athletes and Olympic visitors to a bloody pulp.

Russian vigilantes kidnap and attack a young gay Russian they first stalked on a local social media site.

Russian vigilantes abduct and attack a young gay Russian they first stalked on a local social media site.

The International Olympic Committee, in what appears to be a growing panic over the deteriorating human rights, and safety, situation in Russia, has now issued a public letter stating that it is “engaged in active discussion” to secure the safety of Olympic athletes and guests during the Sochi Olympics.

But as noted above, such assurances are meaningless unless the IOC has suddenly found the power to strike down Russian federal law, and control the country’s anti-gay neo-Nazi thugs.

Russia is now facing a global backlash against its seeming-return to the old Soviet ways.  The response so far has been focused mainly on boycotting Russian vodka, and particularly Russia’s most famous brand, Stolichnaya.  The boycott, less than a week old, has already been surprisingly effective.

But now, with increasing concerns of anti-gay violence in a country where the authorities are either unable, or unwilling, to control their own citizens, the world’s focus is shifting to the brewing disaster that may be Sochi 2014.

How is the International Olympic Committee going to protect us against this?

Russian vigilantes show off a young gay boy they claim to have abducted and then doused with urine after entrapping him via a gay social media site.

Russian vigilantes show off a young gay boy they claim to have abducted and then doused with urine after entrapping him via a gay social media site.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in New York City, and is the cofounder of TimeToResign.com. Bio, .

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  • John Straight

    Good for Russia’ While you’ve got them please shoot them and make the world a better place for normal people to live.

  • Yes, John Doe, this is indeed a heart-felt and important statement. However, please do not capitalize every word in your comments henceforth. It is equivalent to Internet shouting, and it annoys people and tends to detract from the point you are trying to make. Thank you.

  • John Doe

    I CALL UPON ALL INTERNATIONAL PARTICIPANTS OF THE 2014 RUSSIAN OLYMPICS TO ‘COME OUT’ (GAY OR NOT) DURING LIVE TV/RADIO BROADCASTS AND MEDAL CEREMONIES. THE LARGER THE GROUPS OF SYNCHRONIZED ‘COMING OUTS’, THE HARDER THIS STATEMENT WILL BE TO IGNORE, BOTH TO THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT, ITS PEOPLE, AND THE REST OF THE WORLD.

  • runfastandwin

    The IOC should move the games. It’s as simple as that. It’s really too late to do anything else.

  • Brilliant illustration Thom. We ( adgitadiaries) borrowed it (with credit) on our boycott COKE sponsorship of the Sochi Olympics.

  • Take it and run S…..

  • Stephen

    I think just getting the phrase “Russian Olympic Pogrom” out there will help the cause. I’m going to steal that if you don’t object.

  • Stephen

    I’m pretty sure we disagree about a few points, but I think on top of that there is just some good, old fashion miscommunication, so I’ll try and clear up my point of view.

    I should have been better with my pronouns in this. I conflated US government actions with individual actions by using the “we”. I wasn’t talking about the boycotting of Russian goods, but about what, if any, actions our government can do.

    So, try number two – my intended question, which is a bit divergent from the article above, and it is an honest question, not a rhetorical one:

    Are there any reasonable actions the US government can take that would help LGBT people in Russia? I’d like to know if I should write my congressman or direct my efforts elsewhere.

    Available actions that I can think of are verbal condemnation, threat of or actual economic sanctions, or saber rattling. I hadn’t thought of the US not sending athletes (I actually don’t know who controls that, but the State department could always forbid them to go).

    To go through why I don’t think any of those are good ideas, first, the verbal condemnation. It wouldn’t carry any weight, and would likely antagonize the Russian regime without producing any results. Furthermore, it wouldn’t win over the hearts and minds of the Russian people, who are extremely xenophobic and likely to double down on their views if told by an outsider that they should change them.

    As for economic sanctions, Russia is a part of the WTO. I don’t think the US government can impose sanctions for human rights violations against another member, but I could be wrong. If I am, please, someone let me know. Also, if we imposed any restrictions against Russia, they would likely use their control of the gas pipelines to Europe to hurt our allies (they are still a regional player who could still do some serious regional harm).

    As for saber-rattling, it’s an ugly statement, but I don’t think this pogrom is worth doing that over (anyway, what exactly would we threaten – to invade? To nuke? To send in special forces to smuggle out gay folk (I like that last idea, actually)). They are an actual military power, and escalating the world back towards the Cold War days is a terrible idea.

    I’m not sure what else the US government could do (other than offer asylum to every gay Russian who makes it to our shores). I guess boycott the games, but others have explained better than I could why that isn’t a good idea (what would a boycott really produce. Defiantly showing up in rainbows would be such a more powerful message, albeit a risky one to those who try it).

    I’d like to see a push to get our government to stand up for this horrific human rights abuse, but I can’t think of an effective way that it can do that. If anyone can, please reply back.

    And of course, reading what I wrote both times, not to go Godwin on myself, I see echoes of Chamberlain.

  • lynchie

    This is about sacrifice not personal glory. Sure I feel for the athletes, the rainbow is like our beloved yellow ribbon on cars and trucks. It is another of our grand cosmetic hand jobs. Hold the games in Canada they have everything built and just need to provide infrastructure/.

  • lynchie

    So what the hell are you saying. We don’t boycott because they will throw nukes at us. Are you losing your senses. What tension are we increasing this is about human rights which i admit we are not all that great at. We are great at condemning others, but lose sight in our treatment of minorities and the guy puffing the odd dobbie. Just boycott, keep our athletes home. We should go to Canada and invite all the athletes there. They have all the facilities, no cost to build rinks, and ski hills etc. Let Putin win all the gold medals and stand up and be counted. If we participate as a country we show the world we have lost all expectation of respect.

  • I do it regularly for sanity sake :-)

  • Yep, if Johnny Weir breaks a nail in a man pile, it’s all over.

  • Check out adgitadiares on Google to see our response. I don’t link here because it’s not usually done.

  • Oh yes you are…… I want to see American Johnny Weir twirl his way through Sochi wearing a body lycra covered in glitter and lei motifs of entitled attitude. I think one punch and a taser would do the job, before wee Johnny gets a second opinion on collaboration.

  • FLL

    Yes. If the pressure extended to Olympic corporate sponsors, those sponsors would certainly let the IOC know about their feelings. Money always talks.

  • Any one wearing a dress with a beard is probably suspect and will be thumped…..oh excuse me Fr. Nicholas Ivan. We though you were gay.

  • Like!

  • FLL

    That may be true, but you are still entitled to a basic assurance of safety by the host government. That includes safety from local anti-gay militias that go to great lengths to discover people’s sexual orientation.

  • UncleBucky

    IN FACT, that should be the better route. Daylight and boycott (as in various efforts here, such as Chick-Fil-F) US companies and services. I already don’t watch NBC, anyway, hahaha!

    You have it!

  • Joe

    You have me confused with someone else because this is the first comment that I made in this article

  • Nail, head, hitting it directly on-target.

    Athletes, support staff, media and journalists, and visiting international spectators. Not only anybody LGBT or perceived as being such, but anybody who has pro-gay views. All in danger of violent assault, arrest, imprisonment and/or deportation.

  • AdmNaismith

    Sebastian Coe can say all he wants about sports being above politics, but we are talking about the safety of the participants here. This is not some hypocritical stand against invading a sovereign country (being against the invasion of Afghanistan is sooooo 1980).

    This is about the safety of the athletes and spectators walking the streets of a country whose govt has vowed violence against people (and whose citizens have no trouble being violent for the govt).

    Coe can stuff it and I think there should be serious talks of boycotting.

  • COKE is a worldwide and powerful symbol. We are working on a Post that says: COKE Proud Sponsors of Russian Olympic Hate Pogrom.

  • Open in new Window, then: Save As, retrieve from file and then try posting

  • Well done!

  • Just crawl under the kitchen table and quake until it’s all over. Throw a blanket over the table to avoid fallout.

  • Start with COKE—that’s a biggie: COKE Proud Sponsor’s of Russian Olympic Pogrom

  • NOT

  • This comment of yours is entirely 180 degrees in opposition to a comment under the same name posted just a short distance below.

    Which is it to be? In the closet for all gay people when visiting Russia for any reason or a ‘Spartacus’ moment?

  • Whitewitch

    It is not about representing sexual orientation – it is about the safety of our athletes. What if they are arrested or beaten simply because they are perceived to be gay. I would hate to see any American athlete hurt or arrested simply because someone decided they were promoting gay ideas, or acting gay, or simply because they can arrest them based on these silly ideas. I understand a boycott is a big deal- however I support a boycott of the Olympics.

  • Joe

    When you are headed to the Olympics whether your the athlete, a parent, or just a spectator; you are representing your country, NOT your sexual orientation..

  • Betty McG

    The 2013 World Athletic (Track and Field) Championships in Moscow start August 10th. According to the Moscow Times english edition “Unlike other large-scale events that Russia is set to host, the track and field championship did not require great capital investment. And unlike the Sochi Olympic Games, it has remained unscathed by calls for a boycott over controversial legislation that many view as anti-gay.” And goes on to quote Sebastian Coe who feels sports should be above politics. It seems Russia will count on a lack of protest at the World Championships. I heard nothing about the International University sports event except results. So if there were issues of intolerance with that event it wasn’t in the news. The international sponsors for the Moscow event are:TDK, Toyota, Adidas, Canon, Seiko, Sinopec (a Chinese petroleum and chemical company), TBS (something asian) and VTB (a bank with a link Social Responsibility in Russian).

    The Moscow Times also writes about the Russian vodka boycott and some of the gay athletes that will be going to the Olympics and wearing rainbows.

  • Going after the corporate sponsors would be the most effective way of getting the IOC’s attention.

    Anything other than that, they’ll continue to pretend nothing’s wrong.

  • Betty McG

    Also sponsoring are: McDonald’s, General Electric, Dow and Omega.

  • Dave of the Jungle

    Yep.

  • mirror

    Yes, there must be a way to turn up the heat on the IOC.

  • Devlin du GEnie

    I think it’s time for a “we are all Spartacus” moment by the attending athletes.

  • In a way, I’m very glad Vitaly Milonov (let’s get the name of this virulent anti-gay bigot out there, shall we?), co-sponsor of Russia’s new pogrom-enabling legislation, has made it clear he feels the law should apply to all LGBT individuals, with no temporary carve-out for visiting Olympics athletes or staff.

    The IOC should be far less able to keep papering over this atrocity and to keep pretending it’s really no big deal. The Olympics is huge — it’s not just the athletes. It’s their families. And the team staff. Let’s also not forget all the visiting international media: Journalists, broadcasters, technical support staff, camera crews, and so on.

    The IOC should be in a panic. Unfortunately, their reaction should’ve been to move the games to a country where games participants (and all the visiting staff, etc.) aren’t in danger of arrest, assault, or worse.

    Personally, I think the vodka boycott is a good place to start. But I’d say it’s time to hit the Olympics corporate sponsors. THAT would get their attention.

  • iamlegion

    Like so many other things, this won’t be addressed until someone truly famous gets rousted & abused. It might not happen until the actual Olympics.

  • jomicur

    Corporations are a lot more interested in making money than in what people think. When negative publicity about their sponsorship of these Olympics starts costing them money (even a fairly small amount of money), they’ll listen.

  • jomicur

    Why boycott only Russian goods? Why not as many of the Olympics’ corporate sponsors as is feasible–and, of course, let them know WHY. And don’t forget the pressure we and our allies can put on NBC.

  • jomicur

    Of the Olympics AND its corporate sponsors.

  • davidinchelseama

    The vodka boycott has had some effectiveness, and the Olympics should certainly be boycotted as well.

  • MichaelS

    Where and how did you get these graphics? They’re wonderful, and we should be spreading them. But when I tried to post to Facebook, I got a message “The message could not be posted to this Wall.”

  • MichaelS

    Our cowardly government won’t do shit. Look at how the US stood by and watched the millions of Jews being slaughtered in the last century — how we even turned away a refugee ship, returning those poor souls to their death-masters.

    Our only avenue right now, I fear, is economic — make it hurt whatever Russian companies we can, and also whatever AMERICAN companies do business with Russia — so that our local businesses can put pressure on our government to act.

    It should start with the Olympics… if the US won’t boycott, then WE should boycott any company that associates itself with the Olympics.

    And, btw, the gay community should BOYCOTT any bar here that’s participating in this shameful “Stoli Guy” competition going on right now. — That’s happening TOMORROW in DC: http://www.gaycities.com/stoliguy/washington-dc/

    BOYCOTT Cobalt / 30 Degrees (1639 R St., N.W., Dupont)!!

  • Sorry, I had deleted that comment and moved it to another article concerning the beating of gay youth by Russian gangs, where I felt it would be more appropriate.

  • silas1898

    The Olympics have become one giant infomercial with hours and hours of blather with some sports clips thrown in.

  • Stephen

    A question for the crowd: are there any actions the US government can do, besides verbal condemnation (if that)? Russia is part of the WTO, so I don’t think we can threaten trade sanctions very easily. And, if I remember right, Putin already kicked out USAID and US foreign aid.

    Part of me would like our government to speak out and do what it can against Russia’s human rights abuses; however, to take a not very popular view, I’m not sure it’s worth escalating tension from a geopolitical standpoint. The Russians still have a powerful, nuclear capable military infrastructure and are at least a major regional player (their global reach isn’t what it used to be, obviously).

    Of course, I feel like Chamberlain just writing that.

  • Hue-Man

    I was thinking about how the anti-bullying effort – http://www.stopabully.ca/ – has garnered strong support across the political spectrum. (e.g. http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/06/03/pms-wife-laureen-harper-behind-launch-of-anti-bullying-program-prompted-by-suicide-of-ottawa-councillors-15-year-old-son/ ) with pockets of opposition from right-wing religious groups. Manitoba is the most recent province to face strong opposition, this time from the predominantly-Mennonite (if you’re not familiar, they are like a modern Amish sect) community of Steinbach. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/religious-leaders-battle-manitoba-anti-bully-bill/article9845049/

    These groups have a new weapon: “Why are you ‘taking away our religious freedom’ while you tolerate the situation in Russia? Hypocrites much?”

    I should have mentioned the irony earlier; from wiki: “Steinbach (meaning “Stony Brook” in German) was founded in 1874 by German-speaking Mennonite settlers from Russia. Mennonite immigrants were led to Canada by the promise from the Canadian Government of military exemption.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steinbach,_Manitoba

  • Stephen

    I don’t think targeting multinationals will be effective; we’ll just dilute the message. People tend to become dismissive when you start targeting American companies doing business overseas – they’ll say things like, “that’s just the way business works” (I’m not saying it’s right; I’m saying people are amazing at cognitive dissonance). I think for boycotting terms, targeting Russian exports and brands will be more effective (in getting people’s attention, not in actually hurting the companies).

  • Well, it would not be much of a gesture for me to boycott the Olympics anyway, I don’t find them interesting, so I don’t watch.

    But I am taking part in the boycott of Russian products. I mentioned to my bartender that I will not drink Russian vodka. And there’s another way I have participated.

    I repair vintage and re-issue musical instrument amplifiers that use vacuum tubes. A lot of the tubes used in these amplifiers are made in Russia. If you’re a guitar player, or play another instrument that uses vacuum tubes (such as a classic Hammond B-3 organ with a Leslie tone cabinet), take note of the tubes you buy when renewing them.

    There are a couple of Russian-owned companies, such as Sovtek that manufacture and sell vacuum tubes both under their own names and others. Groove Tubes (owned by Fender) has a selection of Russian tubes. There are others as well.

    Musicians, pay attention to the source of your tubes when renewing them. Make sure your you (or your tech) is using non-Russian tubes. There are actually a few American-made tubes around, believe it or not. And there are other countries that source vacuum tubes (although buying Chinese tubes does not make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside).

    I know that this might seem a little odd of a topic to bring up in a political blog, but the principle holds – don’t buy Russian goods. Awareness among musicians is important, many of whom are LGBT supporters who would be horrified to hear that they are buying from a country that is institutionalizing hatred of LGBT people.

    There are likely other products made in Russia that we’re not aware of. Spread the word!

  • emjayay

    There’s no way the rule about competitors wearing political stuff will be rescinded. The Olympics is already nationalistic, with athletes competing under their national banner. They march in at the opening wearing national uniforms under the flag of their country. They are not there individually. If political stuff was allowed it would turn into a political propaganda fest. Imagine what totalitarian regimes would have their athletes wear and carry.
    But stuff like what the black medal winners did in Mexico City in 1968, as individuals, after winning medals, certainly is a possibility. I’m guessing that gay and human rights concerned athletes are working on something for Sochi.

  • loona_c

    It’s hard to say boycott the games. When we last boycotted the games so many athletes who had trained for years were screwed. However, that seems to be a logical solution. OR EVERY countries’ uniforms should have a rainbow on it.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Given the level of violence already attributable to bigotry of Putin, United Russia and the orthodox cult no real assurances for the safety of LGBT athletes can believed.

    I’m looking to see if GLBT groups in EU and elsewhere can be mobilized to back the Sochi gay village demonstrations and to see interest in divesting from NBC and the IOC’s sponsors.

  • cole3244

    nations and corps will not react since the bottom line is the holy grail, its left up the the 99% to make change as always.

  • Badgerite

    Move the games.

  • notrack

    Those pictures are going to give me nightmares for weeks and week on end. I can’t…even..

  • Thom Allen

    Other corporations that have huge financial interests in Russia: Caterpillar, Hyatt, Marriott. e-mail them. The UN’s site, Free and Equal on homophobia: https://www.unfe.org/en/actions/the-riddle–15

  • Thom Allen

    Petition the sponsors of the Olympics (Coca Cola, Proctor and Gamble, Panasonic, Visa, Samsung) to condemn Russian repression: http://www.change.org/petitions/stand-against-russia-s-brutal-crackdown-on-gay-rights-urge-winter-olympics-2014-sponsors-to-condemn-anti-gay-laws

    Petition to pressure the IOC to MOVE the Olympics to Vancouver: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/international-olympic-committee-ioc-relocate-the-2014-winter-games-to-vancouver-2#

    E-mail NBC and express your disgust at Russia’s actions.

  • UncleBucky

    Well, I wouldn’t go to Russia for anything. I will be sure to not put a penny toward any Russian-made thing. No Ladas, no AK-47s, nothing. The thing is that many of us probably can’t do much more than NOT buy Stoli. I couldn’t afford a trip to Russia for the games.

    BUT: We need to have a list of all other imports or things made in Russia. We need to have a list of US firms that will be staffing the Sochi games, including TV, Radio, sporting goods companies, health food, medicines, etc. And put THEM on the boycott.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Winter_Olympics#Concerns_and_controversies

  • sunmusing

    Is Putin a seriously repressed human being? I mean what the fuck. It seems russia has not absorbed what the Olympics is all about…MONEY…I will not watch or read anything to do with the Olympics…

  • Dave of the Jungle

    Full Boycott

  • voltronforce

    The IOC needs to tell Putin to suspend the law or the games will be held at an old venue.

  • Strepsi

    @ John Aravosis: yes to the comment “such assurances are meaningless unless the IOC has suddenly found the power to strike down Russian federal law”. North Americans sometimes forget that when you are in a foreign country you are subject to their laws — the Olympic Committee has no power to make such assurances. But as The Guradian pointed out, even if it does secure such in writing, it’s almost even MORE repellent: “Sure, we beat the crap out of gay people all the time here, but not you gay people for these 2 weeks“. Not supportable.

    My suggestion:
    If the IOC wants to do something that IS within its power, it will for this Olympics remove the rule stating that competing athletes are not allowed to wear or make political statements.

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