Calls to Defy Russian Anti-Gay Law at Olympics Intensify

IOC cites rule against political demonstrations, while Pride House launches hand-holding campaign

The International Olympic Committee has responded to calls for protests against Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law when the Winter Olympics are held in Sochi next February, and a U.S. lawmaker and a global LGBT sports organization are encouraging peaceful demonstrations.

Answering inquiries from Gay Star News, a global LGBT news website, the IOC referred to its charter, which says in part, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

An IOC spokesman told the website that “the IOC has a clear rule laid out in the Olympic Charter (Rule 50) which states that the venues of the Olympic Games are not a place for proactive political or religious demonstration. This rule has been in place for many years and applied when necessary. In any case, the IOC would treat each case individually and take a sensible approach depending on what was said or done.” It was unclear whether the IOC viewed gay people simply being out, or interacting with their same-sex partners in public, constituted a “political demonstration,” or how guidelines for behavior would be determined. Also left unclear was whether the IOC would defer to the anti-gay law if a jurisdictional dispute arose.

Contrasting the IOC’s stance, Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, suggested that the contingent of American athletes at the Games should carry rainbow flags as they take part in the opening ceremonies. Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this week, Schumer told host Mika Brzezinski, “I’ve called [Russian President] Putin…a schoolyard bully, and the only way you deal with bullies is stand up to them. When we march initially, all the countries should wave the multicolored flag for gay rights. That would be pretty embarrassing for Putin, let our athletes participate and still take a stand.”

Today, Pride House International, a coalition of LGBT sport and human rights groups, announced a Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative to peacefully protest the anti-gay law, which bans “the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations among minors.” The group says the law includes any expression of real or perceived homosexuality, even hand-holding, as potentially illegal. Pride House International is calling on athletes, staff, media, officials and others in Sochi to hold hands with members of the same sex.

“There are extreme restrictions on the uniforms and other items worn by athletes at any Olympic Games. Flags, badges or pins are not allowed without IOC approval, a near-impossibility, and wearing something as seemingly innocuous as pink socks or shoelaces is very difficult for athletes to do, and complex to organize for other participants and spectators,” explained the Federation of Gay Games’ Les Johnson. “But everyone can hold hands with his or her neighbor. Indeed, raising your rivals’ hands in camaraderie is an image we see on every podium at every sporting event.”

Pride House said hand-holding should happen only in public view with as many witnesses as possible, media and otherwise.

Konstanin Yablotskiy from the Russian LGBT Sports Federation, part of Pride House International, was instrumental in conceptualizing the Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative. As Yablotskiy explained, “Long after the 2014 Olympics, we in Russia will continue to live under this horrible law. For a few weeks we have the opportunity to bring the attention of the world to the situation in Russia. The Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative enables everyone to get involved with a simple yet iconic gesture. We know from gestures like Usain Bolt’s lightning stance the impact of such images that are simple, replicable and identifiable.”

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