Addressing the prospect of LGBT discrimination without actually addressing LGBT discrimination is quickly becoming a pattern for Russia ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics. After dealing with backlash against its new law banning “homosexual propaganda” by giving the International Olympic Committee weak “assurances” that the law wouldn’t affect athletes, the Russians have again provided a weak answer on LGBT discrimination in a new forum.
Russia originally left LGBT groups out of the Olympic Truce that host countries adopt every two years before each Games, promising only to include “people of different age, sex, physical capacity, religion, race and social status,” according to the New York Times. That’s when representatives from other countries at the United Nations, where the Truce is officially adopted, raised questions about why Russia left out LGBT people from its promise. In the end, the Russians acceded, but only barely: instead of adding gay and transgender people to the Truce, Russia merely revised the statement to say that it would “promote social inclusion without discrimination of any kind.”
The new version has been hailed as a victory for LGBT causes, but I agree with OutSports’ Cyd Zeigler, who wrote that “[t]he big winners here are anti-gay forces aiming to make LGBT people invisible. They managed not just to sweep our issues under the carpet, but they succeeded in tossing away issues of race, gender and religion as well — all while claiming to be against discrimination.”
Past Olympic Truces, the Times noted, haven’t included specific protections for LGBT athletes and people, but Games like the 2012 Summer Olympics in London also weren’t held in countries that were trying their hardest to discriminate and alienate the LGBT community. And the Truce doesn’t actually do anything anyway. But specifically adding LGBT people to the anti-discrimination clause would have been a symbolic gesture from a government that both swears its “homosexual propaganda” law isn’t discriminatory (since it applies to everyone) and is begging for the IOC’s help in quelling protests and anger against its attitudes and policies toward LGBT people.
This version, however, speaks even louder than a Truce standing against LGBT discrimination would have, because when it had the chance to specifically name LGBT groups, Russia balked and scrapped the specificity of the entire clause, choosing a meaningless blanket statement instead. The message is clear: Russia is opposed to discrimination based on gender, age, race, disability, and social status, but totally fine with discrimination against the LGBT community. This statement doesn’t change that — it only makes it seem like it does.