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Russia’s Gay Ban Could Have Chilling Effect On 2014 Winter Olympics In Sochi

Blake Skjellerup 3As athletes the world over prepare for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia is on its way to passing legislation that would ban “gay propaganda”—a law that could put the peace of mind and even safety of gay Olympians into jeopardy.

“I don’t want to have to tone myself down about who I am,” New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup (right) tells USA Today. “That wasn’t very fun and there’s no way I’m going back in the closet. I just want to be myself and I hate to think that being myself would get me in trouble.”

Out figure skater Johnny Weir is hoping to compete in his third Olympics at Sochi. He also hopes his celebrity can help draw attention to the plight of the LGBT community in Russia:

“I love Russia and there is nothing that will change that,” Weir said. “I’m a true patriot and spokesperson for their country. It’s appalling they can censor their public, but I try to do everything I can. I have been in talks with different LBGT organizations in Russia with how I can help.”

“…My advice [to gay Olympians] 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.”

It’s not clear if Olympians will be subject to the same scrutiny as Russian citizens, but you can bet there won’t be a Pride House at the Sochi Games, as there had been in London and Vancouver games. The Russian Ministry of Justice already nixed that idea.

Vancouver Olympics Figure Skating

If it sounds like Skjellerup and Weir are being a little too soft in their criticism, its worth remembering Olympic competitors (even ones as outspoken as Weir), tend to avoid outright activism. They’re intently focused on competition, and dependent on good will and sponsorship dollars to get them to the Games.

But LGBT advocates are vocal in their disappointment that the International Olympic Committee hasn’t taken a stand on the issue:

“The IOC is very happy to claim victories when good things happen and say that they are not involved when bad things happen,” said Marc Naimark of the Federation of Gay Games.

“There’s a great history with the reaction of worldwide sport to apartheid with the exclusion of South Africa from international sport, and that’s something the IOC should be very proud of. But they don’t seem interested in repeating it when it comes to countries that discriminate against women or gays and lesbians. 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.'”

The issue won’t fade away after the Soshi Games, either: Russia will host the World Cup in 2018, followed in 2022 by Qatar, where homosexuality is punishable by up to five years in prison.

    • ginasf

      I think of the Sochi Olympics as being a unique opportunity to express worldwide disgust at the Russian policies and solidarity with Russia’s LGBTQ community.

      Feb 7, 2013 at 2:55 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Katbox

      Johnny weir is fucking disgusting.

      Feb 7, 2013 at 3:02 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • dazzer

      At the London Olympics last year, the gay, lesbian and bi athletes – and spectators – were celebrated. In fact, the Olympic pin that first ran out because of demand was the rainbow flag one.

      As far as I’m aware, the Olympic high command does not regard being gay as a political statement, therefore if the Russian authorities try to prosecute gay or lesbian Olympians, I suspect they would face an avalanche of international shit raining down on their heads.

      Feb 7, 2013 at 3:34 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mr. Enemabag Jones

      If you don’t call attention to yourself, attention won’t come to you.

      So says the man desperate for attention.

      Feb 7, 2013 at 3:35 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Ron Jackson

      Perhaps the Olympics should not be held in countries with such hate laws? That would certainly get the attention of several governments.

      Feb 7, 2013 at 3:44 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • litper

      @dazzer, how gay athletes were celebrated in London? Only 14 out gay athletes… out of tens of thousands! They could find a swimming teams of guys with no legs for the Paralympics, but only 2 out gay men from the whole world? The IOC is anti-gay, hate organisation!

      Feb 7, 2013 at 6:03 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • LadyL

      @Ron Jackson: My thoughts as well. Why are we participating? Why is any country that considers itself evolved on this issue?

      Feb 7, 2013 at 7:29 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • FStratford


      Because the USA is not really an “evolved” country. A little less than half of us are anti-gay. less than 20% of our states are pro-gay marriage. There are still states like VA and WY where gay sex (blow jobs and anal) is still a criminal act.

      Feb 8, 2013 at 12:46 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • dazzer

      @litper: Although there were only something like 20 ‘out’ Olympians, there were a tremendous number of gay athletes and sportsmen taking part in the Games. They enthusiastically embraced London’s gay scene and there were some highly energetic gay parties in the Olympic Village (I worked on the Olympics, so got to see a lot of it first hand). Also, for UK audiences the lead TV interviewer/commentator for both the Olympics and Paralympics was an ‘out’ lesbian called Claire Balding.

      The IOC line seems to be that the Olympics are all about the sport and everything else is incidental, so long as it’s not illegal. I never got the slightest whiff of homophobia from the IOC staff (several of whom are gay themselves), although there are probably some scumbags in the upper echelons.

      Feb 8, 2013 at 9:06 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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