By Vera van Rossum
With the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi approaching fast, the gaze of the world turns towards Russia. What it sees, does not please its eyes. Especially criticized is the so-called ‘anti-gay propaganda law’, which came into act on June 30 of this year. LGBTQ-organizations across the world have protested fiercely against the law and the alleged discrimination against gay people it incites. President Putin, however, seems unwilling to make concessions.
Officially the law prohibits the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors”. It is designed to prevent the spread of homosexuality among teenagers, which is seen as a threat to population growth. Those who are found guilty of violating the law will be sentenced to either a fine between 100 and 12,500 euros (if Russian) or immediate deportation from Russia (if foreign).
Problematic is that the specific meanings of “propaganda” and “nontraditional sexual relations” are not explained or defined, which makes it unclear when and how the Russian authorities will implement them. In practice, however, the law is generally interpreted as banning gay pride parades – since children might see them – and preventing any discussion about homosexuality among teenagers.
As 88% of the Russian population supports the ban on the promotion of homosexuality, hatred against LGBTQ people seems deeply rooted in Russian society. Although Russian UN-ambassador Churkin stresses that the new law is not an anti-gay law, many Russians extremists tend to interpret it as such. Ever since the anti-gay propaganda law has been introduced, violence against LGBTQ people in Russia has increased considerably, while the police is under no obligation to protect them.
YouTube videos showing the physical abuse of gay men can be found circulating on the Internet. At the beginning of August news came out that one of the abused victims died after having polyurethane foam sprayed in his anus. Other videos show gay men being forced to drink urine. And it is not even restricted to this kind of humiliation. Whoever demonstrates or protests against the propaganda law gets arrested and prosecuted. Lesbian and gay couples run the risk of having their children taken away from them. Consequently, many have fled.
“Generally, being openly gay in Russia is pretty dangerous, even if the people close to you are tolerant,” says first year Mike Khokhlovych, who is Ukrainian and bisexual. “I came out to my parents really late, at 19. I always thought my parents kind of guessed about my sexuality, but I waited to tell them until they learned I would definitely be going West to study. This way, they wouldn’t have to worry about my safety.”
This is not only a dangerous situation for inhabitants of Russia. The anti-gay propaganda law has made gay athletes and spectators fearful of discrimination and even arrest at the Olympics. The question arises whether the Sochi Olympics should not be banned altogether. Mike disagrees: “As much as I would like for Russia to get punished, it would be totally unfair to the athletes.” And that seems to be the attitude of most of the world. Recently, the International Olympic Committee announced its assessment that the Russian anti-gay propaganda law does not violate its charter and gave the 2014 Sochi Olympics the green light. Then what is there left to do for those who disagree with the Russian regime? Perhaps the German National team provides us with an answer.