On October 6th, Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, lit the Olympic flame in Red Square located in Moscow. The flame will start its journey to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter games in February.
While the Olympic flame is an image of the planet’s main sporting event, it’s also an icon of peace and friendship and unity. Now, with all of these ideas of unity in mind, these ideas of acceptance and coming together, Russia, and specifically Putin, has a bloodied history of its treatment of the LGBTQ populous inhabiting the country. I am offended that Putin was able to light this flame of peace and friendship when he has advocated anything but. Why is he able to muddy the ideologies of this symbol by being so avidly against mutual acceptance of everybody, and not just those he deems traditionally moral?
In fact, this year Russia passed legislation that allows them to persecute those that perpetuate LGBTQ “propaganda”. Propaganda in their sense of the word meaning talking about anything with homosexual connotations, holding hands with your loved one in public who might possibly be the same-sex as you, or letting children know that gay people, in fact, exist. Legally speaking, on June 30 of this year, Putin signed a law that states that “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors is a crime against the country,” thusly essentially outlawing being gay in Russia. This sets the human rights movement in Russia back substantially. Under this law, violence against gays or gay-rights groups has become common.
Which part of the word unity means criminalizing an undeniable group of Russian society by calling them a “direct threat” to the aforementioned Russian society? It’s important to note that in 2011, the European Court of Human Rights fined Russia for violating articles 11, 13, and 14 of the European Convention by banning 164 pride events and marches between 2004 and 2008. And even though Russia paid the fine, they continued to ban pride rallies. Then, in May 2012, a district court located in Moscow (where this symbolic flame of friendship and coming together was lit) issued a ruling that further banned these events that propagandize the “homosexual agenda” until May 2112. Russia’s idea of coming together is to sweep gay people under the rug and literally act like they don’t even exist.
And yet still, athletes all over the world- gay and straight, alike- are to head to Russia for the Winter games. Putin has said in the past that even tourists and visitors to the country are to be held to this law, that gay propaganda can be persecuted regardless of whether you are a Russian citizen or not. However, the International Olympic Committee has “received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that this law will not affect those attending or taking part in the games…” The Human Rights Campaign is not satisfied with such verbal assurances and wants it written that LGBTQ visitors of the country will not be held to such ludicrous laws.
By what stretch of the mind do these actions of hatred and actions of breeding future hatred and ignorance scream ideas of unity, friendship, and peace? Gay people have to live in fear in Russia and in some instances have been beaten on the streets by people who apparently give that much of a shit how other people live their lives. While it’s essentially unavoidable at this point that the Games should take place in Russia, I hardly see how it was an act of valour for Putin to light the flame that has such symbolic ideologies behind it.
Russia, if you have a moment, we need a word: you stand against something that is unavoidable. And while your country’s LGBTQ youth fight an uphill battle, they will strive and win, because while you choose to act as though we don’t exist, it is an undeniable fact that we do, and we have a voice. We have a will that’s as strong as that Olympic flame, and furthermore, our ideas of unity, peace, and friendship are far greater and more meaningful than you can even imagine.
Best of luck.