LGBT Sports Coalition Challenges Obama, IOC To Take Action On Russian Anti-Gay Law


sochiolympicsThe LGBT Sports Coalition, an organization attempting to rid sports of homophobia, released a statement this week calling on the International Olympic Committee, the Obama administration, and NBC, among others, to stand up against the recently-passed Russian anti-gay law that is threatening to affect the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

The statement asks the Obama administration to work with other LGBT-friendly nations to “engage Russia and every nation in the repeal of all laws criminalizing homosexuality,” and the coalition wants the American ambassador to the United Nations to pursue sanctions against Russia and other such countries. Tuesday night, President Obama spoke out against the law on The Tonight Show, saying he has “no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.” Obama also canceled a bilateral summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin in part because of “recent actions against the LGBT community,” an administration official told the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson today.

The LGBT Sports Coalition statement also demands that the IOC “ensure that every LGBT athlete, coach, spectator, and media members…is safe from arrest and physical harm” during the Olympics. “The IOC selected a nation with a poor human rights track record,” the statement said. “It is on them to deliver a safe Games for everyone.” While the IOC has said it received assurances from high-level government officials that the law won’t be enforced during the Games, Russian politicians and officials have come down on both sides, with some saying Russia will enforce the law and others promising it won’t.

The statement also challenges corporations that do business in Russia to push for repeal of the law and NBC and other outlets to cover the law during their broadcasts. NBC executives have said it would cover the law if it ends up “impacting any part of the Olympics Games.” Another LGBT group last week began a petition drive asking NBC to let openly gay anchor Rachel Maddow work the Olympics as a human rights correspondent.

With the Olympics still seven months away, outrage over the anti-gay law is building, and activism against it is taking different forms. LGBT activists have boycotted Russian-made vodka and discussed an outright boycott of the games, with notable activists George Takei and Stephen Fry speaking out for a total boycott this week. Others have suggested taking activism to the Games themselves and pushing athletes to violate IOC rules against making political statements by getting athletes to wear badges of support or to show solidarity with LGBT rights on the medal stand or during competition. All Out and Athlete Ally, two prominent rights groups, delivered a petition with more than 300,000 signatures to IOC headquarters in Switzerland. The IOC, the petition said, needs to “speak out now before it’s too late.”

As U.S. News and World Report’s Pat Garofalo and others have noted, an outright boycott probably isn’t a realistic or even the best option, since neither the United States Olympic Committee nor other large countries are likely to participate. Calling on world leaders like Obama to speak out and take action and continuing to press the IOC will have a bigger impact, since those are all actors that can ultimately put the most pressure on Russia. Turning Sochi into the “the gayest Olympics ever,” complete with protests outside the stadium and a pro-LGBT version of the famous civil rights protest that took place on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, could embarrass Russia — and other countries that continue to attack LGBT rights — on a world stage in a way that might help create the change that Russia needs to embrace.