Russia Declares Open Season on Gays

Peter Gray / Wikimedia Commons

Peter Gray / Wikimedia Commons

With even Pope Francis wondering, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” it would appear that the world has reached a milestone in gay rights. However, a quick trip to Russia would quickly confirm that this progress is decidedly uneven.

President Vladimir Putin recently signed into legislation a series of anti-gay laws that ban the adoption of Russian-born children to gay couples and to anyone living in a country where marriage equality exists. The new legislation will also allow police to arrest tourists and foreigners suspected of being “pro-gay.”

Despite statements from the International Olympic Committee that foreign athletes and visitors for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi won’t be affected by this law, already four Dutch citizens have been detained after attending a gay rights festival in Russia.

Gay rights supporters abroad have begun to take notice. Dan Savage, a gay rights advocate and sex columnist in the United States, started a movement that has bars, both gay and straight, boycotting Russian vodka when he pledged to stop drinking it in response to these new laws. Though this boycott won’t be able to change the laws, it has already been successful in raising awareness about what is happening in Russia.

The new laws come amid an increase in violence toward gay teens and adults in Russia. In May, a man was set on fire after being stabbed and trampled to death because he revealed that he was gay at a bar. The following month, another gay man was killed. A neo-Nazi group, led by former skinhead and Russian ultranationalist Maxim Martsinkevich, has reportedly been using social media sites to lure young teens out only to then bully and torture them. In one such meeting, a member of the group poured urine onto a teen while another kicked him. These acts have often occurred in broad daylight with passers-by simply turning a blind eye.

While the United States and the IOC have made statements concerning the events in Russia, both need to be more forceful in ensuring that these laws are repealed and that action is taken to protect the rights not only of athletes and spectators at the upcoming Olympic Games, but everyday Russian citizens as well.

These games provide a key platform from which international human rights activists have already begun to lobby the Russian government to repeal the laws, and for NBC sports—which has the broadcasting rights for the games—to spotlight the anti-gay laws during its coverage. A recent blog post on the Huffington Post’s Gay Voices suggests several boycotts of American companies that do business in Russia, like the Holiday Inn and Procter & Gamble, that have the power to put substantial pressure on both the U.S. and Russian governments to take action before the Winter Olympics.

Lizzie Rajasingh is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.