Sochi puts Russian policy on world stage

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Anti-gay laws passed in Russia this past summer are just now coming under the spotlight as protests against these laws have increased in recent weeks due to the international focus on Russia’s 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. In Russia, these laws were passed in the name of tradition. However, the Russian government’s official stance on homosexuality differs greatly from the views of many governments and activist groups, especially in the West.

Although homosexuality itself has been decriminalized in Russia since 1993, anti-homosexual sentiment in Russia has in recent times been much greater than in Western countries, including the United States. Putin and the Kremlin have publicly disapproved of homosexuality, as has the Russian Orthodox Church. Both groups believe that homosexual propaganda has corrupted Russia’s youth while also undermining Putin’s regime. These sentiments led to the passage of Russia’s anti-homosexual laws.

The main piece of the legislation has banned the distribution of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” Although this doesn’t make homosexuality illegal, it does strike a blow against treating homosexuals equally. Many activists in and outside of Russia believe that this law will cause discrimination against homosexuals to increase. This has led to protests in and around Sochi.

The Russian punk group “Pussy Riot,” which had previously been imprisoned in Russia, has promoted boycotting the Sochi Olympics due to the anti-homosexual laws. Google has spoken out against Russia’s law and put their sentiment on display with their Feb. 7 Google Doodle, which promoted equality regardless of sexuality. AT&T, an official sponsor of the Olympic Games, has said that Russia’s law hurts LGBT individuals and their families, while working against promoting a diverse community.

“Terrible, just awful,” Henrik Zetterberg, a member of the Swedish hockey team, said in a Sports Illustrated article. “I think that everyone should be able to be themselves. It’s unbelievable that it can be this way, especially in a big country like Russia.”

U.S. figure skater Ashley Wagner has also spoken against the law.

“I have such a firm stance on this.  I believe we should all have equal rights,” she said to the Chicago Tribune.

The Australian bobsled team has also made a statement regarding homosexual rights in USA Today.

“We’re against discrimination in sport, full stop. That means we also oppose discrimination against gay and lesbian athletes,” the team said.

Despite the recent increase in attention surrounding gay-rights issues in Russia, the 2014 Sochi Olympics have proceeded without insicident, and the conversation since the games started has centered on athletics. Competitors have stated that they are at the games to compete, not to protest.

in a Feb. 8 Washington Post article, Wagner also said that her number one priority is to come to the Games and compete. In the same article, Brian Orser, a Canadian skating coach who is gay, said that he doesn’t believe now is the right time to bring the issue up. He stated that he is more concerned about his athletes and their performances.