Anti-Gay Laws Spark International Debate over Olympics

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Despite international media scrutiny and criticism from foreign heads of state and hundreds of thousands of activists around the world, Russian officials won’t back down from the country’s controversial law banning gay “propaganda” — prompting calls for boycotts of everything from the 2014 Winter Olympics to vodkas associated with Russia.

Passed unanimously by Parliament and signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 30, the law is aimed at protecting minors from “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” and is so vague critics fear it could criminalize simply being openly gay or expressing any support for LGBT equality....

“We are following the lead of the Russian LGBT Network, which issued a statement urging folks to ‘speak up, not walk out’ of the Sochi Olympics. We oppose calls to boycott the Sochi Olympics,” Brian Tofte Schumacher, spokesperson for the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, told GA Voice.

“We believe the most effective way to use the Olympics as a tool to repeal anti-gay legislation and also address the clampdown on civil society is to use them as a platform for a strong showing of international solidarity,” he said....

“The comparison to Nazi Germany immediately comes to mind when I think about how this law and other recent Russian laws are stripping people of human rights,” Jewish lesbian Yelena Goltsman, a former resident of the Soviet Union, told the Times. Goltsman now lives in New York and founded RUSA LGBT, a group for gay Russian speakers.

Even activists who stop short of comparing Sochi to Berlin stress their concern that Russia’s crackdown on gay activism is part of a broader effort to deny human rights and squash dissent.

“I am cautious to compare these policies to anti-Jewish policies directly — what I would say is these policies are just one part of a widespread repression of civil society which is deeply concerning,” said Tofte-Schumacher of IGLHRC.

Instead of simply focusing on the Olympics, “One of the most powerful things people in the United States can do is listen and respond to the requests of Russian activists,” he said, “and to see the anti-homosexuality propaganda law not as a solitary issue of LGBT discrimination, but as a just one part of a holistic strategy to limit Russians’ right to freedom of expression.”