No One Cheers for Olympic Oppression

New Russian law has people questioning what should we do

By Jessica Vella

Everyone looks forward to the Olympics, from athletes to attendees, from watchers to article readers; the Olympics pulls in eyes from all over the globe as people watch their teams compete to win medals to make their country proud.

 But what would the Olympics be if a full class of people were discriminated against and scared of competing and attending? Russian leader’s recently passed a law banning LGBT propaganda from being spread to minors. The law defines propaganda as any act of distributing information to minors that has a purpose of creating non-traditional sexual attitudes, making homosexuality seem attractive or creating an interest in homosexuality. Anyone who does spread propaganda faces serious charges including being held behind bars, being deported and being charged extensive fines.

The Olympics this year will be held in Sochi, Russia leaving every LGBT athlete and attendee with the choice between remaining silent and safe or standing up for their human rights and being prosecuted for doing so.

A novelist of multiple works, Helen Lenskyj, has looked into the inner world around the Sochi Olympics and the sexual oppression involved in Russia in her upcoming Novel “No More Rainbows.”

Lenskyj says that even with all of the sparked anger over the new controversial laws, Russia has always been a place for LGBTQ oppression.

“Russia has a severe history of oppression and it included sexual oppression,” Lenskyj says. “There was an anti sodomy law in 1933, any gay men who were arrested and convicted could be imprisoned for 5 years minimum. The oppression of the sexual minorities has gone on for years (In Russia).”

With the view turned on Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin, Lenskyj says that Putin feels that the new law is rightly justified.

“He says he has a demographic crisis meaning the population is shrinking every year and he doesn’t want anything to interfere with the birth rate and he sees gays and lesbians as a strange view,” Lenskyj says. “He thinks we are not capable of having children which is false. Queer people have family arrangements that include children.”

Lenskyj continued to explain that even with the world’s eyes on Russia, in her opinion, Putin will never admit to the sexual oppression involved in the laws.

“I think what Putin will say is that it’s not a question of having the human rights of sexual minorities threatened; he says that gays and lesbians have equal human rights with straight people,” Lenskyj says. “What he and his government calls homosexual propaganda should not be displayed in any shape or form to minors. If you ask the Russian leader he wouldn’t say that there is a homophobia at work.”

When asked about the IOC’s (International Olympic Committee) acceptance of the new Russian laws being put into place so close to the Olympic date, Lenskyj says that they’ve never seen it as included in the rule against discrimination.

“The Olympic charter doesn’t exactly have a law against discrimination; globally it just says in the charter that discrimination in the context of the sport, every reference to discrimination talks about sport,” Lenskyj says. “So if Russia has gay athletes competing and nobody reports that a gay/lesbian athlete has been disqualified from a Russian team for their sexual orientation that would be a violation of the Olympic charter.”

Gold Medal Message (GMM) is a group, which focuses on getting not only Canada-wide but world-wide attention to the Olympic controversy, has created a petition campaign to get the IOC to allow athletes and attendees to voice their opinions about LGBT rights in Russian.

Dayne Moyer from GMM says that he believes that if you take the Olympics out of Russia, you take the voices from the LGBT Russian community.

“When you take LGBT people out of hostile communities or when you don’t hold events in protest to this, it never gets better,” Moyer says. “Taking the Olympics out of Russia would create a hostile environment for LGBT Russians. It wouldn’t help change and reform laws that promote a healthy LGBT community there.”
Suggestions of boycotting the Olympics have come up, but Moyer says that in his opinion boycotting would just lead to a more hostile Russian environment.

“There are so many Russians who have economic and emotional stake in it and if it was boycotted and if the games didn’t happen I believe that it would result in violence against the LGBT community in Russia,” Moyer says.

When asked about the reassurance from the IOC that attendees and athletes will be safe, Moyer says that a verbal assurance is only that, a verbal assurance.

“There’s no formal written assurance and there’s nothing really specifying what they mean by that,” Moyer says. “More pressure needs to be put on the IOC to come out and express exactly how athletes and attendees are going to be protected because those laws are already so vague. All you have to do is walk past a minor wearing a rainbow pin and you’re spreading propaganda to minors.”

Judith Timson a local columnist for the Toronto Star says that even with all of the ideas of protesting and boycotting, it might not make a difference.

“If Putin isn’t swayed by world condemnation from state leaders, a bunch of rainbow flags isn’t going to matter,” Timson says. “But the protests should happen anyway because the reason leaders push ahead with repressive measures is that they look around and say, hey, no one outside this country cares what we do to our citizens.”

Timson says that Russia needs a new accepting leader if they are ever going to move forward.

“(They need) a new leader that people aren’t so afraid of. More people getting comfortable knowing someone is gay which means more Russians need to come out,” Timson says.

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