In the wake of the Pussy Riot scandal last year, this summer has been marked by growing fears that gay people are increasingly less safe in Russia due to a growing antipathy to LGBT rights. In May, a 23-year-old man in Volgograd was tortured and raped with a beer bottle by homophobic thugs, and in June another young gay man was stabbed and burned.
The so-called “gay propaganda” bill was drafted last year but was not introduced by Russian lawmakers until June this year. The draconian bill bans “homosexual propaganda” to minors and media organisations and includes harsh punishments such as fines or even custodial sentences.
The Russian government has defended the laws by arguing that “traditional sexual relations are relations between a man and a woman…and these relations need special protection from the government.” But critics of the laws have argued that they are linked to a wider crackdown on the rights of LGBT people in Russia, and they are allowing violent crimes against gay people to be justified.
Indeed, these laws were only the first in a string of anti-gay legislation introduced by the State Duma over the summer. On 18 June, a ban on adoption by foreign same-sex couples was passed unanimously; this ban prohibits the adoption of Russian children from same-sex couples as well as single parents who live in countries where same-sex marriage is legal.
Even more disturbingly, a Russian MP called for a law allowing gays to be whipped in public squares in late June. Just last month, Dmitry Isakov became the first person to be convicted under the new laws during a solo protest; he was attacked and arrested by his own parents who brought him to authorities.
The implications of these laws have become a huge political issue, resulting in protests, boycotts and the cutting of diplomatic ties. Dan Savage, the founder of the It Gets Better Foundation, called for gay bars across the US to stop buying Russian vodka. With the growing political pressure and media attention, the Russian government assured the IOC (International Olympics Committee) that foreign athletes and spectators will be exempt from the laws.
Last month, writer, broadcaster and actor Stephen Fry wrote an open letter to David Cameron, Jacque Rogge (the head of the IOC) and Lord Coe warning them that Putin is making scapegoats out of gay people, as Hitler did the Jews before and after the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Fry called not for a boycott but for a ban and relocation of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The prime minister responded that he does not believe a ban or boycott is necessary and argued that political pressure against the Russian government should be used instead.
The Olympics are rarely free of controversy, and the human rights violations at the 2008 Beijing Olympics proved that the Russian situation is not unique. Yet with such recent progress in LGBT rights across Europe and the rest of the world – and with gay marriage being legalised in France, England, and many US states – the backwardness of Russia’s laws is particularly frustrating for those who support LGBT rights.
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