In an interview with the AP, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied claims that Russia or its laws are anti-gay in anyway. In fact, he said, the law banning “gay propaganda” wouldn’t impact athletes at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, suggesting rainbow flags will be perfectly acceptable. He also encouraged President Obama to meet with LGBT Russian activists, suggesting he might do the same:
I assure you that I work with these people. I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields. We have absolutely normal relations, and I don’t see anything out of the ordinary here. They say that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a homosexual. Truth be told, we don’t love him because of that, but he was a great musician, and we all love his music. So what?
All of the evidence contradicts his claims in this interview.
Putin has banned any and all rallies and protests that might take place during the Olympics or within a month before or after they officially take place. A few people engaging in a “gathering” with rainbow flags while at the Olympics could easily violate this. Even the most basic statement in support of LGBT people has proven to be grounds for arrest under the “gay propaganda” law. One 24-year-old activist is facing conviction for standing outside with a sign that read, “Being gay and loving gays is normal. Beating gays and killing gays is a crime!”
Further, Putin does not determine Olympic policy, and it is the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that has told athletes that rainbow flags or rainbow-painted fingernails would not be allowed. Thus, there is an interesting two-way contradiction: the IOC says that athletes won’t be punished under Russian law, but they’re not allowed to engage in any public political displays; Putin says the law is in effect, but athletes should be free to engage in expressions of support.
The ongoing confusion does little to alleviate concern for the many LGBT athletes, coaches, staff, and fans who will travel to Russia next February for the games. Clearly the law is being used to censor even the most benign support for LGBT people. Until Putin can love Tchaikovsky both for his music and for being gay — instead of one in spite of the other — the situation is unlikely to change.