The opportunity for social change from the Olympic Games
As the world turns to Russia ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian Government’s controversial “anti-gay propaganda law” is making headlines worldwide. 52 current and former Olympic athletes have signed the “Principle 6 Campaign” which calls for the Russian Government to re-examine the law, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and all the Olympic sponsors to denounce it. To fight the discrimination, the “Principle 6 Campaign” sells protest clothes in order to subsidise LGBT organisations which fight against the law in Russia to promote the cause.
However, it is not the first time this law has been criticized around the world. A few months before, 27 Nobel Prize winners condemned Russia’s anti-gay stance as well as pop stars like Elton John, Madonna and Lady Gaga, and even Government’s leaders such as Barack Obama. Obama himself even included gay athletes in the US delegation to Russia Olympic.
“The Anti-gay propaganda law” – the unofficial name for the federal law that banned the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” – was adopted by The Duman (Russian parliament) on Tuesday 30th of June 2013 and signed by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. In a few words, the distribution of information concerning LGBT rights to under-eighteens and within the media is banned and condemned with large fines. Indeed, fines to promote “non-traditional relations” can go up to 5,000 robles (around £90) for individuals and 1 million (around £17000) for organizations (NGOs, corporations etc). Foreigners can also be fined, imprisoned for fifteen days, or deported for breaking the law. The irony in this law is that it does not clearly uses the word “homosexuality”, but instead references “non-traditional sexual relations”, a euphemism prevalent in the Russian Orthodox Church’s discourse. The orthodox church of Russia, an institution that remains prominent and powerful in the devoutly religious country, is clearly hostile of same-sex relationships.
The Sochi Winter Games is an occasion to underline the infringements on human rights for the LGBT community in Russia. Indeed, the LGBT community obtained common rights very late in Russia: same-sex intercourse between consenting adult was only decriminalised in 1993, the possibility for transsexuals to legally change their legal gender came in 1997, the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness came in 1999, and the age of consent for same-sex intercourse was only reduced to 16 in 2003. Still today, The Government do not recognize same-sex relationships in civil partnership. A law prohibiting gay parades has been condemned by the Strasbourg court in April 2011. The Russian Government banned 164 pride events and marches between 2006 and 2008. Moreover, since the law passed, violent attacks against homosexuals or “presumed homosexuals” are common in Russia today and often go unchecked.
Beyond the fact that the Russian legal system clearly discriminates against the LGBT community and presents them as ‘civil aliens,’ it puts the right to freedom of speech in jeopardy. With the help of the international community, the Sochi Winter Games could be a chance to force change and promote equality in Russia.
Let the games begin!
Laura De Oliveira is an a MA exchange student studying European Gender and Equality Studies at the Centre for Women’s Studies at the University of York.